Dog scratching an itch

Sniffly, scratchy, wheezy . . . and grumpy. That essentially sums up what spring can mean for a lot of allergy sufferers across the country.

But what about our pets? Can four-legged family members feel the effects of springtime allergens in the same way that we do?

We spoke to a specialist in pet dermatology, Dr. Heather Peikes, VMD, Diplomate ACVD, of Blue Pearl Veterinary Partners in New York City, to get the skinny on pets and seasonal allergies.

Q. Are pets affected by springtime allergies in the same way as people?

A. Dr. Heather Peikes: "Animals are susceptible to the same airborne allergens — pollen, trees, grasses, mold and insects — that we are. They’re also affected by similar uncomfortable symptoms, such as a runny nose, watery eyes, itchiness, coughing and disturbed sleep. The most severe conditions usually involve secondary bacterial or yeast infections that can cause extreme itchiness, which often leads to excessive scratching, licking, chewing and rubbing. Some pets get to the point where they’re so uncomfortable that they can’t play or rest properly."

Q. How can I tell if my pet’s watery eyes and habitual scratching are caused by allergies and not by something else?

A. "Dramatic symptoms always require an evaluation by a veterinarian, but there are clues that can point to allergic reactions. Observe your pet’s behavior. Is it normal? Overgrooming, for example, is often dismissed as stress or nerves, when it's really related to allergies. Also, is there a pattern? Do symptoms worsen during the spring or fall, possibly when your own allergies are problematic?

Certain signs warrant an immediate visit to your vet. These include a foul odor (persistent smells may be caused by a buildup of bacteria or yeast on the body, inside the ears, on the lips or in between folds of skin), hair loss and behavioral changes, such as if your pet is simply not playful or not acting like himself."

Q. What can a vet do to treat the symptoms of pet allergies?

A. "First, there are steps that you can take to reduce exposure to allergens and head off reactions. Wipe down your dog or cat — especially the paws — after he comes in from being outside.

To limit the amount of airborne particles that get into your house, take off your own shoes right after you walk through the door. Keep windows closed, bathe your dog or cat with a mild cleanser frequently, and run a HEPA air filter around the clock.

The vet or specialist may recommend the use of antihistamines, but it’s very important to note that these should not be administered without medical supervision. Depending on existing conditions, formulations and dosage, they can be toxic and can even cause death in pets. Never use OTC medications without consulting a vet.

Other prescription treatments include omega-3 fatty acids (for the anti-inflammatory effect) and probiotics. Like some people, pets with allergies may need ‘allergy shots’ or regular treatment with a vaccine. Treatment with topical or oral steroids, or another systemic immunosuppressant, may also be options. Consult with your veterinarian for the best course of treatment."