Hay fever is a term used to describe cold-like symptoms resulting from an allergy to pollen, dust, or other inhaled substances. The condition, which affects dogs and cats as well as humans, is characterized by sneezing, itchy eyes, nasal discharge, congestion, and other symptoms. Dogs tend to develop generalized itching as a primary symptom of airborne allergies.
"Dogs and cats are generally allergic to the same substances that trigger hay fever in humans."
Symptoms may come and go or persist year-round, depending on the specific allergen(s) involved. Some dogs and cats with hay fever simply sneeze on occasion, while others may appear quite ill. The severity of symptoms ranges from mild and transient to severe and chronic, with some animals developing secondary infections due to prolonged sinus congestion or self-injury caused by scratching their eyes, skin, or nose. Prompt treatment to ease symptoms and prevent complications is essential.
Causes of Hay Fever in Pets
The symptoms of hay fever are not a direct result of the offending substance; rather, it is your pet's immune system that triggers the congestion, itching, and other symptoms. When an allergic animal's immune system wrongly identifies an innocent substance as harmful, it releases chemicals to fight off the intruder. It is this process that triggers the symptoms associated with allergic reactions.
Dogs and cats are generally allergic to the same substances that trigger hay fever in humans, with pollens, mildew, animal dander, dust mites, and molds being the most common offenders. Symptoms that occur off and on throughout the year are more likely caused by pollen or other seasonal allergens, while chronic symptoms tend to result from exposure to molds, dust mites, and other substances inside the home.
Managing Hay Fever in Cats and Dogs
Managing hay fever symptoms requires avoidance of the offending substance and medication to stop the body's immune response to the perceived threat. Nearly all cases of allergies in pets respond to a combination of these treatment methods.
Dogs and cats allergic to pollen or other seasonal allergens should remain indoors as much as possible when pollen counts are highest, which is typically during the fall months. Keeping your windows closed in your car and home also helps. Frequent vacuuming reduces dust and dust mites, regularly grooming your animal minimizes pet dander, and running a filter inside your home can protect against all inhaled allergens. Also, weekly baths will remove pollen, dust, and mold from your pet's coat, which can ease itching and other symptoms.
If avoidance is not possible or does not eliminate your pet's symptoms, speak with your veterinarian. Medications, such as clemastine and diphenhydramine, are available to stop your pet's body from over-reacting to the allergen(s). Your pet may need to take allergy medications every day to control her symptoms. Acute flares of symptoms may respond to steroids or other medications.
Preventing Hay Fever Complications
Unfortunately, untreated hay fever can lead to secondary infections in pets that pose a serious risk to health. Sinus infections, eye infections, and other problems may occur when congestion is chronic or when scratching introduces bacteria to the mucous membranes. Skin itching and the resulting scratching can result in skin infections, especially in dogs. These may become severe, causing pain, hair loss, and other problems.
Prompt treatment of allergies helps prevent complications and improves the quality of life for your pet. If you suspect your pet may be suffering from hay fever, consult your veterinarian right away.