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Itchy Dog? Spring means allergy season for pets, too

It seems like everyone and their dog is being driven crazy by allergies this time of the year.

Heavy rainfall over the past two months has created the perfect conditions for common allergens like molds to spread over San Antonio. Humans try to cope with the usual allergy symptoms, but they may not realize their four-legged companions are suffering right alongside them.

“We have seen quite a lot of animals that I suspect do have environmental allergies,” said Hunter Schrank, an associate veterinarian at the Eagle Veterinary Hospital in Olmos Park. “Is that pertaining directly to the weather? There’s a very good chance of that.”

While allergies cause us to sniffle and sneeze and cough, Schrank said pets tend to deal with skin irritation and scratching.

Schrank uses a scale that ranges from 1 to 10 to measure how much animals are scratching when their owners bring them in for allergies. He said he usually doesn’t see owners come in unless their pet is over a 5.

Currently, he has one of these cases on an almost daily basis.

“The allergies usually start the problem,” he said. “The animal traumatizes themselves, they have open wounds, those get infected. You have hair loss, and it’s a lot more to deal with.”

Schrank said problems with allergens have gotten worse over the past several months. One in particular has flourished under the abnormally rainy conditions: mold.

“We had a lot of humidity and a lot of rain, and those are perfect conditions for mold growth,” said Paul Ratner, medical director at Sylvana Research, a local medication investigation facility. He said high temperatures, moisture and humidity are optimal conditions for mold to grow under.

Once the fungus has started to grow, its spores are picked up by the wind and start to spread to other areas.

The past two years, the mold count in the early summer months has increased significantly, with an average mold count of 70,865 parts per cubic meter of air for the month of May in 2015 and 2016 compared to an average count of just 49,310 parts per cubic meter of air for the three years before that.

Lynda Melendez, a veterinarian specializing in internal medicine at Mission Veterinary Specialists, said that it’s difficult to pin down a pet allergy to a single cause like mold. But, she acknowledges that there has been an uptick in cases of dogs having negative reactions when there is more rain.

“It does appear that dogs that already have an established history of allergic-type responses, as well as new dogs, do start having more trouble, and (it’s) harder to control their signs,” she said.

“I just know that at this time of year when I see somebody on my schedule that says, ‘We’ve got an itchy dog,’ I say, ‘Yeah, of course we do,’ because that’s just kind of what’s going on out there right now.”

While irritation and infections from cuts are the most typical problems associated with pet allergies, Melendez said severe and prolonged infections can lead to systemic problems like bronchitis in dogs and asthma-like symptoms in cats.

Keeping pets indoors and away from the source of their allergies is not an option for most pet owners, but there are still ways to keep your furry friend as comfortable as possible.

Melendez said it’s important for pet owners to rinse off their animals at least once a day to get rid of any allergens that may be stuck to their coats.

She also said it’s good to have an air filter to keep allergens out of the house.

If the itching starts to get bad, there are medications such as antihistamines and topical ointments that can be used, but you should always check with your vet first to get the right dosage and medicine.

Schrank pointed out that with summer just beginning, allergy problems for pets will probably increase.

“I anticipate, as we come into the summer months and we start to see more growing of pollens and molds due to this increase of rain, I expect it’s going to get much worse.”