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Protecting pets from effects of seasonal allergies

Seasonal allergies can certainly make people feel miserable this time of year, but our four-legged friends may be suffering from allergies as well.

When Sandy Laurel became a dog mom to her now 11-year-old Maltese, Buster, she thought pet ownership would be pretty simple. But a few years ago, Buster started scratching himself to the point that Laurel says he would get skin infections.

"It started with all of this scratching, itching and then he would get like little sore spots... it was more seasonal but it just continued," Laurel said, and as Buster got older, the allergies got worse. Laurel brought him in to see Dr. Jae Chang, a veterinarian who treats cats and dogs with seasonal allergies.

How to prevent allergies

People with allergies to pollen, dust, animals, or molds have bodies that think these allergens are dangerous to the body and have built up immune defenses to attack these allergens and keep them away from vital organs of the body as if they were a dangerous virus. This is called Allergic Rhinitis.

When immune system cells inside your nose come into contact with these allergens they send off chemical messages to all your cells that they are under attack. These messages cause the lining in your nose to swell and to start producing mucus. This mucus causes runny noses. The swelling and mucus can cut off your eye drainage passage which causes the itchy watery eyes. The swelling can also cut off the passage to your ears which causes stuffy head and clogged ears. There are nerves in the nasal cavity that attach directly to the brain. The mucus and swelling can irritate these nerves, and when they are irritated you start to sneeze. Finally, the mucus draining into your throat can cause the itchy throat feeling.

There are 3 strategies to treat allergies. Avoid the allergens so your body doesn’t react. Disable the immune system so the swelling and chemical reactions don’t happen. Teach your immune system that allergens are not dangerous viruses or bacteria.

How Can I Prevent an Allergic Reaction to Pollen?

Limit your outdoor activities when pollen counts are high.​ This will lessen the amount of pollen allergen you inhale and reduce your symptoms.Keep windows closed during pollen season and use central air conditioning with a HEPA filter​ attachment.​ This applies to your home and to any vehicle (car, bus, train, etc.).Start taking allergy medicine before pollen season begins.​ Most allergy medicines work best when taken this way. This allows the medicine to prevent your body from releasing histamine and other chemicals that cause your symptoms.Bathe and shampoo your hair daily before going to bed. ​This will remove pollen from your hair and skin and keep it off your bedding.Wash bedding in hot, soapy water once a week.Wear sunglasses and a hat. ​This will help keep pollen out of your eyes and off yourhair.Limit close contact with pets that spend a lot of time outdoors.Change and wash clothes worn during outdoor activities.Dry your clothes in a clothes dryer, not on an outdoor line.

Pet Allergy: Are You Allergic to Dogs or Cats?

Allergies to pets with fur are common, especially among people who have other allergies or asthma. In the United States, as many as three in 10 people with allergies have allergic reactions to cats and dogs. Cat allergies are about twice as common as dog allergies.


Is There Such a Thing as a Hypoallergenic Pet?

People with dog allergies may be more sensitive to some breeds of dogs than others. Some people may be allergic to all dogs. People may think certain breeds of dogs are “hypoallergenic,” but a truly non-allergic dog or cat does not exist.

What Is the Treatment for Allergies?

Certain over-the-counter and prescription medicines may help reduce pollen allergy symptoms by disabling the immune system reactions. Antihistamines​ come in pill, liquid or nasal spray form. They can relieve sneezing and itching in the nose and eyes. They also reduce a runny nose and, to a lesser extent, nasal stuffiness.

Decongestants​ are available as pills, liquids, nasal sprays or drops. They help shrink the lining of the nasal passages and relieve nasal stuffiness. Use decongestant nose drops and sprays only on the short-term.Nasal corticosteroids​ are a type of nasal spray. They reduce inflammation in the nose and block allergic reactions. They are the most effective medicine type for allergic rhinitis because they can reduce all symptoms, including nasal congestion. Nasal corticosteroids have few side effects.Leukotriene receptor antagonists​ block the action of important chemical messengers (other than histamine) that are involved in allergic reactions.Cromolyn sodium​ is a nasal spray that blocks the release of chemicals that cause allergy symptoms, including histamine and leukotrienes. This medicine has few side effects, but you must take it four times a day. Many people with pollen allergy do not get complete relief from medications. This means they may be candidates for immunotherapy. Immunotherapy is a long-term treatment that can help prevent or reduce the severity of allergic reactions. It can change the course of allergic disease by modifying the body’s immune response to allergens.Allergy Shots - Subcutaneous Immunotherapy (SCIT) ​has been around for more than 100 years and can provide long-lasting and permanent symptom relief. SCIT is a series of shots that have progressively larger amounts of allergen. An injection of the allergen goes into the fat under the skin. Over time, allergic symptoms generally improve. Many patients experience complete relief within one to three years of starting SCIT. Many people experience benefits for at least several years after the shots stop.Sublingual Immunotherapy ​involves placing a tablet containing the allergen under the tongue for 1 to 2 minutes and then swallowing it. In 2014, the FDA approved three types of under-the-tongue tablets to treat grass and ragweed allergies. More are in development. You take SLIT tablets daily before and during grass or ragweed season. This treatment offers people with these allergies a potential alternative to allergy shots. Discuss your allergy symptoms and your allergy treatment plan with your healthcare provider.

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Dog’s Allergies With These 5 Natural Remedies

For the longest time, our dog Grant had this thing about the dew claws on his front legs. At certain times during the year, he’d start nibbling away at them almost constantly. We applied creams, sprays and bitter-yuck remedies… all to no avail. We carefully checked around the claws, under the claws and on the legs themselves. A trip to the vet revealed no specific health issues, except for some superficial redness due to Grant’s manic chewing. Then, finally, we put it together: Grant’s dew claw dabbling coincided with the onset of his seasonal allergies.

In humans, familiar allergy symptoms often include sneezing, itchy eyes and stuffy noses. But for years, well-known holistic veterinarians like Dr. Karen Becker and Dr. Richard Pitcairn have reminded pet parents that canine allergies may manifest themselves through skin and/or ear issues. These topical, symptomatic reactions are typically termed allergic dermatitis — i.e., inflammation or generalized irritation of the skin.

Remember that “allergy season” can occur at different times of the year, depending on the dog. Our hound mix Maizy, for example, gets incredibly itchy right around Indian summer; but she’s perfectly fine by late fall. Grant seems especially reactive during the spring. And other pups may experience no seasonal changes whatsoever — yet exhibit sensitivity to something in their home environment or to an ingredient in their food.

Most pet parents are aware that mainstream veterinary science tends to treat recurrent or worsening allergies with antihistamines, anti-inflammatories and even powerful corticosteroids. While this approach can certainly help to break the cycle of itchiness or irritation, it may not fully address the underlying cause.

Dog with flowers by Shutterstock.

Perhaps more importantly, continued use of these drugs over time can potentially produce a host of undesirable side effects that may lead to an erosion of overall wellness. So it makes sense to consider some natural, proactive strategies for addressing animal allergies. You can often take at-home steps that help eliminate triggers and support the immune system. Here are some to consider:

1. Evaluate your dog’s immunity

In his Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats, Dr. Pitcairn explains that seasonal allergies are an immune system response. They manifest when your dog develops a sensitivity to something that’s been encountered, consumed or absorbed from the surrounding environment. So one of the most straightforward ways to reduce allergic response is by minimizing exposure to substances that tend to overstimulate the immune system.

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Help Ease Your Dog’s Allergies With These 5 Natural Remedies

For the longest time, our dog Grant had this thing about the dew claws on his front legs. At certain times during the year, he’d start nibbling away…

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Many drugs fall into this category, and yearly vaccines are also an immune system stimulant. Talk with your vet about less-frequent vaccination options that still offer protection. Several common vaccines, such as the rabies vaccine, are available in a three-year formulation. You can also ask your vet about titers, which measure canine immunity to certain diseases. This information can help determine whether vaccination is actually necessary.

2. Adjust their diet

In her book Canine Nutrigenomics, Dr. W. Jean Dodds notes that canines don’t have a specific, minimum dietary requirement for carbohydrates. This doesn’t mean you need to eliminate carbohydrates entirely. But it’s worth noting that especially high-carb diets tend to overload your pup’s system, thereby aggravating the inflammatory response associated with allergies.

Sardines by Shutterstock.

Here’s what you can do:

Read food labels, and minimize or eliminate white potatoes and grains. Carbohydrates like these can fuel both inflammation and yeast — the latter of which may cause secondary itchiness and irritation on top of an existing allergy.Add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of coconut oil to your dog’s daily diet. The lauric acid can help inhibit yeast production.Add 1 daily teaspoonful of fish oil, which is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. These can help decrease systemic inflammation. Dr. Pitcairn’s book notes that some of the best sources include salmon, sardine, krill and anchovy oils. Simply feeding a half-sardine daily makes for a fun, healthy snack (just ask Maizy). You can also try plant-based sources such as flax, hemp or borage oils. Many dogs don’t efficiently convert these actual seeds to their most useful structural component, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The oil version can sometimes help ease assimilation.

3. Investigate Chinese principles

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is built around dietary principles that characterize food energies as “cold,” “neutral” or “hot.” So for example, during intervals of more intense allergic inflammation, TCM would advise you to avoid foods and proteins on the “hotter” end of the dietary spectrum. These include beef, chicken and lamb. A better choice would be “cooling” proteins, such as rabbit, bison and egg whites. Find a licensed TCM practitioner to obtain additional insights. The National Certification Commission of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine can help.

4. Regulate allergens

Ever stop to think that every time your head out for a walk or romp, your dog’s fur and paws collect and carry literally millions of inflammation-causing allergens?

Try these quick, at-home fixes:

Set up a simple foot soak basin near your front door. Quickly dunking each paw can dramatically reduce the number of allergens your dog tracks into your home. Use fresh, plain water with a teaspoon of Epsom salt; or buy a bottle of iodine and add 1 teaspoon per 5 cups of water. Short on time? Dampen a clean rag with this solution and gently wipe each paw.Remove allergens and relive itching by bathing your dog every other week. Choose a gentle, organic baby shampoo product and add 2 to 3 drops of inflammation-reducing coconut oil to the bottle. You can also try an enzyme-based shampoo like Zymox. In addition, use a damp washcloth (or hypo-allergenic pet wipe) to wipe down fur at least once per day.Saturate a gauze pad with plain saline solution and wipe around your dog’s eyes once daily. I’ve found that this can greatly relieve itchy eyes during peak allergy intervals.

Pomeranian getting a bath by Shutterstock.

5. Update your cleaning routine

Switch from chemical-based household cleaners to non-toxic cleaning products. And did you know that constant vacuuming may actually kick up allergens? Instead, consider investing in an air purifier or UV germicidal light that attaches to your air conditioner. We also like to slip inexpensive pillowcases over dogs beds and simply wash them once per week.


Why does my pet need sedation?

Our patients in veterinary medicine are often less than 100% cooperative for treatments that are necessary for us to keep them healthy. Using gentle handling techniques we can perform most treatments, however, even in the nicest pets, there are just some procedures and treatments that are not appropriate to do without some degree of chemical restraint – also known as sedation.

It’s pretty hard to expect our pets to lay down flat on the x-ray table, let the nurse leave the room and not move a muscle while we take xrays. And even Lassie would not have allowed us to open her mouth and scale and clean her teeth for 1-2 hours! So to keep our pets safe and decrease stress and fear, we employ varying levels of sedation when needed.

Sedatives taken at home before your appointment

Some pets are nervous about the car or about coming into the hospital. For these pets, our doctors will often prescribe a sedative pill that you give at home before you come in. This will keep your pet relaxed for the car ride and visit. These medications are similar to what is given to people to make you feel relaxed for a quick procedure like LASIK surgery or an MRI.

Sedatives given at Frontier

To safely and comfortably perform treatments at the hospital, we will sometimes give your pet an injection of sedative which is tailored to your pet’s health and the type of treatment. These sedatives range from light sedation like what is called “Twilight” or “Conscious Sedation” for dentistry-anxious people, to heavier sedation like what is used in people for biopsies or endoscopies. We use these sedatives for:

Collecting samples – Some pets are just very afraid at the vet. In order to collect blood or urine samples without your pet or our staff getting hurt, we’ll give an injectable sedative which reduces stress and prevents your pet from having an unpleasant experience.

X-Rays – In order to get appropriate diagnostic x-rays, we really need to be able to position your pet properly and they have him lay very still. It would be very unfortunate to get x-rays that aren’t clear or have poor technique that can’t be interpreted by the radiologist properly.

Cuts and injuries - Torn nails, cuts, sores and lacerations are all painful, and need to be treated while your pet is under sedation for safety and comfort. Sedation also helps with pain control.


General anesthesia is used for surgeries and dental cleanings. This is an inhaled anesthetic which requires intubation, IV fluids, monitoring. The patient is fully unconscious, just like a human would be for a major procedure like heart or orthopedic surgery.

Why do dental cleanings require anesthesia? Dental cleanings for your pet are a medical treatment, and in order to properly clean and assess the whole mouth correctly, we need to fully anesthetize your pet because we can’t expect our pets (or many humans) to be patient enough to lie still and keep their mouth open for 1-2 hours.

What Frontier WON’T do

We will never forcibly hold down a patient to perform painful or stressful treatments. This only increases their stress, anxiety and pain. Not only is this inappropriate for us to do as caring medical professionals, it is also dangerous to your pet and slows healing.


Why your smoking habit is seriously harming your pet

Smoking is known to be bad for people, but have we been neglecting its effects on our pets’ health? According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), pets are in more danger than smokers realize.

“If 58 million non-smoking adults and children are exposed to tobacco smoke, imagine how many pets are exposed at the same time,” FDA veterinarian Carmela Stamper, D.V. M, said in an FDA consumer update.