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What Are Grass Allergies In My Dog?

What Are Grass Allergies In My Dog?

Dog grass allergies, sometimes called allergic dermatitis, are relatively common. They can affect your dog to varying degrees. They’re usually caused by the pollen associated with grasses, such as Bermuda, Fescue, alfalfa or rye. The allergic reaction occurs when your dog’s immune system overreacts to the proteins or pollen, which is present in grass.

Grass Allergy Treatment here

What Is a Grass Allergy?

Grass pollen is a powdery, fine dust and gets everywhere because it’s airborne. Your dog takes in pollen through the skin and through the mucus membranes into the lungs. Pollen doesn’t need to be in physical contact with your dog’s skin to cause symptoms. The pollen then causes some dogs’ immune systems to overreact, and release histamine for protection. An allergic response follows. Grass allergies might lead to skin or upper respiratory allergies.

Grass allergies can occur all year round. However, generally, you’ll notice that grass allergies are worse in the Spring and Autumn when pollen counts are higher. Whilst the symptoms may be irritating for your dog, they’re rarely life threatening. A severe allergic reaction, known as anaphylaxis, is extremely uncommon.

Secondary skin infections can occur if your dog scratches to excess because of the skin irritation caused by a grass allergy.

"Our dog has very itchy and flaky skin, she is constantly itching and chewing her paws andseems so uncomfortable"

"Our dog has very itchy and flaky skin, she is constantly itching and chewing her paws andseems so uncomfortable"

itchy skin treatment

Signs of a Grass Allergy in My Dog?

  • Excessive Itching (Pruritus), Scratching or Licking: Persistent scratching, licking, or chewing, especially on the paws, muzzle, underarms, ears, abdomen, anus, and groin.
  • Red (Erythema) or Inflamed Skin: Irritation and redness, often accompanied by ‘hot spots’ i.e. areas of acute dermatitis, characterised by red, damp, inflamed, infected skin. Sometimes skin might be crusty or there could be a rash.
  • Watery Eyes and Runny Nose: Some dogs may exhibit signs of respiratory discomfort, such as sneezing or nasal discharge.
  • Ear Infections: Increased susceptibility to ear infections due to itching and scratching around the ears.
  • Bald Spots: From excessive scratching.
  • Snoring: The throat is inflamed and this causes snoring.
  • Hives: Hives, or urticaria, are small, red, localised swellings on a dog’s skin.They often develop and then disappear suddenly. Many in one location can look like a big welt.
  • Swollen Paws: Because Paws are in contact with grass, it can trigger paw irritation, swelling. You may notice your dog licking paws continuously, and the bottom of the paws may look red and irritated.

Confusingly, many of these symptoms are common to other health and skin issues. Therefore, it can be difficult to diagnose a dog specifically with a grass allergy. The scratching and inflammation may be mistaken for fleas, dry skin, or chronic dermatitis, when in fact it’s actually the grass that’s causing your dog’s allergic reaction. These problems can all present very similarly.

Specifically, it’s grass pollen, rather than the blades of grass, which is the irritant. That’s why your dog may seem fine during late Autumn and Winter, and is only affected when the pollen is being released from the grass.

Even if you were to remove all the grass from your garden, frustratingly this may not make any difference. This is because the pollen is airborne and travels. Your dog doesn’t need to have actual contact with grass to suffer from the allergy.

N.B. If your dog’s suffering from Anaphylaxis - a rare severe allergic reaction - from a grass allergy, these are the symptoms. If you notice them, treat it as a life-threatening emergency:

  • Severe hives
  • Facial swelling (around eyes and muzzle)
  • Wheezing
  • Difficulty Breathing
  • An Increased Respiratory Rate
  • Vomiting and Diarrhoea (with or without blood)

What Should I Do if My Dog has a Grass Allergy?

If you think your dog has a grass allergy, you should book an appointment with your vet for a proper diagnosis. Your vet will talk through the symptoms you’ve noticed. 

Your dog’s coat and skin will be examined for any hair loss; lesions on the skin such as pimples, rashes, dry or oily skin; scratches due to excessive itching; or skin irritations or redness (showing inflammation). Any of these might indicate a grass allergy and help your vet to form a diagnosis. Sometimes, the clinical symptoms by themselves are enough to help your vet determine an appropriate treatment.

In other instances, your vet will recommend tests to eliminate other possible conditions that have similar symptoms. These might include a scrape test to check for skin mites, a fungal culture to rule out ringworm, or skin cytology to see if there are any bacterial or yeast secondary infections.

If your vet needs more information, it’s likely that your dog will then undergo allergy testing, which can help identify specific allergens, including grass.

There are currently two types of allergy tests for dogs:

  • Serum Blood Testing: A RAST (radioallergosorbent test) is a type of blood test to detect certain antibodies. It determines whether a dog’s allergic to various possible triggers.
  • Intradermal Skin Test: This is done with your dog under mild sedation.  Allergens are injected into one side of your dog’s abdomen, which has been shaved. The area is then observed for signs of an allergic reaction, such as hives. This allows allergens to be identified. An individualised treatment plan can then be made for your dog.

Saliva or hair allergy tests aren’t recommended, as they’re not currently reliable enough.

What Causes Grass Allergies in Dogs?

Grass produces microscopic spores of pollen, which are released into the air and carried by the wind for long distances.

These spores are then absorbed by a dog’s skin and mucus membranes (through their nasal passages, eyes, or mouth) and can cause an allergic reaction because your dog’s immune system has had an abnormal response to proteins in the grass pollen. 

As noted previously, your dog doesn’t need to be in physical contact with grass to suffer a reaction. Your dog’s fur can pick up pollen from surfaces that may have it on them, or you may be bringing it into the house on clothes, shoes or bags. If your dog’s a fan of rolling around in the grass, this can also obviously bring them into contact with the grass and pollen.

Areas that have a higher grass pollen count may mean that a dog’s more likely to develop a sensitivity or allergy to grass.

Can I Prevent My Dog from Developing a Grass Allergy?

While genetic predisposition plays a role, there are preventative measures you can take:

  • Minimise Outdoor Exposure: Limit your dog’s time outdoors during peak pollen seasons.
  • Paw Cleaning: Wipe your dog’s paws after outdoor activities. This will remove potential allergens.
  • Regular Grooming: Keep your dog’s coat clean and well-groomed to minimise pollen accumulation.
  • Probiotic Supplements: Having a good balance of gut bacteria can help reduce allergic responses, keep inflammation down, and keep the immune system strong.
  • Omega 3 Supplements: Fatty acids can support skin, heart and joint health and help to maintain skin hydration, decrease inflammation and soothe itching. 

It’s interesting to note that a grass allergy does seem to come hand-in-hand with tree pollen allergy, or if a dog’s had a skin trauma (hot spots or insect bites) they’re possibly more likely to develop an allergy to grass proteins. Dogs with hypothyroidism also seem more prone to being allergic to grass pollen or other dog allergies.

What Dog Breeds and Ages Suffer From Grass Allergies?

Grass allergies can occur in a dog of any age, gender, or breed, but most dogs start having allergies after the age of 1 years old and they’re rarely seen in dogs under 3 months old.

Some breeds may be more predisposed to grass allergies. Breeds with a genetic tendency towards allergies generally - such as Retrievers, Bulldogs, German Shepherds, Miniature Schnauzers, Pugs, Setters, and Terriers - may be more susceptible.

Treatment Options: How Can I Help My Dog?

If your dog’s been diagnosed with a grass allergy and is suffering from it, there are various approaches to making them feel less irritation and itchiness. Generally, treatment isn’t given to cure grass allergies, but rather to bring the symptoms under control.  You’ll likely have to manage your dog’s grass allergy, for the rest of their life.

Obviously lessening your dog’s exposure to grass pollen isn’t always possible. However, if you know that an area’s got a particularly high grass pollen count, avoiding it will help lessen your dog’s symptoms.

Treating your dog’s skin so that the itching is reduced is an important part of allergy relief for dogs. 

Making sure your dog isn’t in physical contact with the allergen is an important step in making them feel as comfortable as possible. Getting your dog a pair of boots may help minimise the amount of pollen with which your dog’s paws have had physical contact. This in turn lessens reddening and inflammation of the skin on the paws.

Topical Therapies

  • Hypoallergenic Shampoo - Shampoo your dog’s coat, either with a shampoo formulated for dogs and with anti-itch properties or use an oat-based pet shampoo, which are very soothing. Regular bathing means allergens are removed before they’re absorbed by the skin into your dog’s system.
  • Medicated Shampoo - These don’t treat active infections but are a good preventative measure, as they remove allergens, and reduce bacteria and yeast from the surface of the skin. Check with your vet for the most appropriate medicated shampoo for your dog’s condition.
  • Paw & Fur Wiping: Removing the allergen helps to keep an allergic response minimised. So if your dog’s been outside, wipe down their paws and fur with a damp cloth, mild soap and water, aloe dog wipes, or antimicrobial/antifungal wipes for dogs

Medications:

  • Antihistamines: Your vet may prescribe your dog with antihistamines to help alleviate watery eyes, runny nose, and sneezing. Antihistamines are generally ineffective for allergic skin reactions.
  • Immunotherapy Injections / Hyposensitisation: These are similar to human allergy shots and work by desensitising your dog’s immune system to the allergen.You’ll likely give daily injections which put tiny amounts of grass into their bloodstream. Or this therapy can be given as an oral liquid medication.  Treatment can be effective but is only successful after a fairly long period of time.  The risk with this therapy is that, very rarely, anaphylaxis can develop. So you’ll also need to have epi-pen to hand in case this happens. It won’t cure the allergy but it will lessen it enough that your dog’s no longer suffering from the symptoms.
  • Corticosteroids: Steroids can be used to relieve severe itching. Your vet will prescribe them and should only be used in the short-term as they can have unpleasant side-effects if used for too long.
  • Anti-Allergy Medication: Cytopoint is an injection given every 4-8 weeks. It contains an antibody which turns off a protein in your dog’s body that causes itching. It’s a type of biological therapy. Otherwise, your dog may be given Apoquel, which is a tablet. Both need to be prescribed by your vet.

Supplements:

  • Fatty Acids: Omega 3s will help to decrease inflammation and alleviate itchiness.
  • Probiotics: A healthy gut microbiome supports a balanced immune system which in turn can lessen susceptibility to seasonal allergies.

How To Help Around The House

Regularly cleaning and vacuuming around your house to get rid of allergens, either indoor ones or those that have made their way indoors from outside, will make a difference to your dog.

Consider using air purifiers or allergen reducing filters in your home.

Make sure where your dog rests and sleeps is clean and comfortable.

Conclusion

Canine grass allergies can cause a dog a lot of irritation, and leave them suffering from itchiness and discomfort. Maintaining preventative measures can significantly reduce the impact of a grass allergy. Use all vet-prescribed medications as per the instructions. 

Dogs affected by a grass allergy can still lead a contented and happy life. Following a treatment plan that alleviates the symptoms will make all the difference to your dog’s wellbeing.

Dog Grass Allergies - Causes, Prevention and How to Help

Read Further on Grass Allergies

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