To many people, spring means tulips, daffodils, baby animals, and SNEEZING! Just like humans, dogs can be affected by seasonal environmental allergies! While our hay-fever makes us sneeze, it usually makes them itch! Puppies usually show signs of an allergy within the first 6 months, but seasonal allergies DO get worse every year, so you may not even notice the symptoms right away. It's important to make some changes as soon as you do notice symptoms, though, to prevent the allergy from intensifying over the years!
Your vet can do many different tests to try and figure out what they are allergic to, but many of these tests are very expensive, not particularly helpful, and kind of a pain. Other than testing, many vets simply treat the symptoms of their allergies (prescribing special shampoos, steroids, or anti-histamines). Although this is one way to deal with allergies, we prefer to take a more holistic approach.
1. Support a healthy skin and coat.
We always recommend feeding the best quality diet you can. Verus' Opticoat Fish formula, Orijen 6-Fish, Acana Pacifica, and all the new Merrick grain-free formulas are great for dogs with skin and coat problems. However, because of the way kibble is produced, the fatty acids that dogs need rarely survive. If you only add one supplement to your dog's diet, Omega Fatty Acids are the one to pick. Fish oils are a great way to do this - just a little bit added to their kibble makes a big difference. Pet Naturals Skin and Coat chews provide the necessary oils and vitamins in an easy-to-feed "treat". Adding canned sardines or other fish once in a while is great too. Within a few weeks of adding a daily skin/coat supplement to their diet, you will notice a big difference in the itchy/flaky skin and brittle coat. Keep your pets on these supplements year-round to moderate or even suppress their allergic symptoms.
2. Support a healthy immune system.
Allergies are an immune disorder - the body is mistakenly fighting off a "bad guy" that it believes is harmful, even if the agent is something as simple as pollen! Again, feeding a quality diet is the first step in keeping your dog healthy, whether it be a home-prepared diet, a mixture of home-prepared "human-foods" and commercial dog foods, or just high-quality commercial kibble or canned food. Probiotics do wonders for a dog's immune system. While they shouldn't be given concurrently with anti-biotics, they should be given immediately after a course of anti-biotics, as well as any time a dog shows allergic symptoms. Probiotics are the good bacteria that live in the dog's digestive system and help with the digestion of food and absorption of nutrients. They do so much more than just digest food though - they bascially keep the entire body balanced and the immune system from trying to fight off what it thinks are "bad guys".
Coconut oil is another great supplement - the acids in it kill off bad organisms (like candida yeast) without harming the friendly bacteria. Our Coconut Chips are a fun way to feed this beneficial oil. Adding a multi-vitamin (Pet Natural's Daily Best is our favorite) is another great way to ensure your dog is getting all the basic vitamins and minerals they need.
3. Avoid common allergens, and pay attention to which ones set your dog off.
If your dog is especially itchy when you take long walks in the woods, you may want to avoid doing so this time of year. If your dog gets a rash after laying in the grass, put a shirt on them or have them lay on a blanket, or let them stay inside while you picnic. Keep your house free of common allergens - vacuum and dust often, but not when your dog is present. Install HEPA filters in your central air system and vacuum. Use dehumidifers or air filtration systems to help control mold, mites, or other allergens in the air. Think about cutting back on your pet's outdoor time during the spring, especially at dawn and dusk. When they do go outside, wipe their paws off or use Earthbath's Hypoallergenic Shampoo on their body afterwards.
4. Soothe hot-spots or itchy skin spots, and stop them from scratching at themselves.
Although this should never be the ONLY thing you do for a dog with allergies, helping ease the immediate skin problem is necessary while you use other holistic methods and work with your vet to fix the bigger underlying issue. Washing a dog too often can actually cause itchy skin because it depletes the natural skin oils, but depending on your dog, washing with Earthbath's Hypoallergenic Shampoo or even just rinsing with cool water after exposure can help get the allergens off their body. Spraying on Earthbath's Hot-Spot Spray and wiping off allergens with a clean towel can help as well. If they itch a certain spot often enough, they may lose fur or even break the skin (this is called a "hot spot"). Clean the area and treat with Lumino's Canine Cool Balm for Hot Spots a few times a day. Have your dog wear an inflatable collar to prevent them from biting at it, and depending on where the hot spot is, you may even want to wrap it with Vet Wrap Bandaging Tape.
You can use doggy behavior modification to help break itching habits. When you see your dog scratching or biting at their skin, re-direct them to a more appropriate activity. Ask for a "sit" and reward them with a treat. Provide a bully stick or other chew. Grab a toy and start a game of fetch or tug. Basically, you want to try to keep their mind off the itch and avoid them developing the habit of scratching or biting at certain spots. Sometimes stress can make itching habits worse - Pet Natural's Calming Treats, the Calming Collar, or even the Thundershirt can help a lot with stress.
Hopefully these tips can help you help your dog with their seasonal allergies. Remember, before embarking on any anti-allergy program, be sure to rule out other causes of itchy skin - fleas and food sensitivities are two other common ones. One big clue to figuring out the cause of your dog's itching is thinking about when it occurs - if it happens specifically at certain times of the year, or when exposed to certain environments, it's most likely doggy hay-fever.
Remember, treating allergies should be done as soon as you notice them - it's very easy for a mild seasonal allergy to wreck so much havoc on a dog's immune system that it turns into a severe, year-long allergy! Work with your vet and come and see us for more ideas - we're always happy to help! Happy Spring!