Much like humans, dogs can suffer from seasonal allergies to grass and pollen. Though humans tend to have watery eyes or a runny nose from pollen allergies, the symptoms are often different in dogs. Dogs with environmental allergies often have skin issues, like itching, dermatitis, and hot spots. With a proper workup, your veterinarian can diagnose your dog and come up with a successful treatment plan.
Can dogs be allergic to grass?
Yes, dogs can be allergic to a variety of allergens in their environment, including grasses, pollens, trees, ragweed, mold, and dust mites. Like humans, these symptoms are often worse during allergy season when there is more pollen in the air. Dogs can get symptoms from either coming into contact with grass and/or just inhaling grass pollen in the air. Common grasses to which dogs are allergic are Bermuda, rye, alfalfa, and fescue.
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In addition to environmental allergies (called atopy), there are two other categories of allergies in dogs: food allergies and flea allergies. Dogs allergic to grass usually develop skin-related issues. If you notice your dog is scratching more than usual or biting their skin, bring them to your veterinarian to determine if they have allergies.
Symptoms of dog allergies from grass
There are a variety of common symptoms dogs can have from grass allergies. Look for one or more of the following:
- Excessive scratching
- Excessive licking or biting the skin, often at the paws, belly, and legs
- Hair loss
- Changes in the skin, like redness, hives, or darkening of skin color
- Recurring skin infections
- Recurring ear infections
- Recurring anal gland issues
- Pawing at the eyes, runny eyes, or red eyes
- Scratching at the ears
- Ear odor and/or discharge
What to do if my dog is allergic to grass
If your dog is allergic to grass or other environmental allergens, they will likely need lifelong treatment. But first, your veterinarian will need to do a physical exam and get a thorough history. They may also recommend allergy testing on your dog, or they may refer you to a veterinary dermatologist. In severe cases when a dog is very itchy and needs relief right away, they will get a prescription medication to get them comfortable while your veterinarian determines the type of allergies and a treatment plan.
In addition to having their allergies managed with medication (prescription and/or over the counter), it's important to treat any secondary ear or skin infections. Both of these treatment components are essential to keeping your dog comfortable.
Diagnosing grass allergy in dogs
Your veterinarian needs to do multiple things to come to a diagnosis of grass (and other environmental) allergies. They are:
- Obtain a history: Your veterinarian needs to know in detail what your dog has been experiencing.
- Physical exam: A complete physical involves looking at your dog from nose to tail. Is there redness between the toes? How about under the tail or at the armpits or belly? Do the ears have an odor and a discharge?
- Skin tests: Quick tests, like ear and skin cytology, help determine or confirm the presence of a secondary bacterial infection and/or yeast infection.
- Allergy skin testing (or intradermal skin testing): This involves sedating your dog, shaving the side of their chest, and injecting small amounts of a variety of different allergens. Those areas are then monitored for any evidence of allergic reaction. Immunotherapy injections can then be custom made to help manage your dog's environmental allergies.
- Blood tests: Your veterinarian may run a complete blood count (CBC) and chemistry to assess your pet's overall health. There are allergy blood tests, but intradermal skin testing is considered to be more reliable.
Treatment of grass allergies in dogs
There are a variety of treatment options for dogs with grass allergies. Finding what works for your pet is often a process of trial and error, especially if allergy testing isn't done. Treatments for grass allergies include:
- Oral antihistamines
- Oral corticosteroids
- Oral steroid alternatives
- Injectable steroids
- Injectable steroid alternatives
- Topical steroids, such as sprays and creams
- Immunotherapy (customized allergy shots)
- Topical ceramide products, which help restore a dog's skin so there's less moisture loss
- Prescription shampoos and conditioners
- Prescription dog foods that are geared toward supporting skin health
Allergy medicine for dogs
If your dog's itching is severe, your veterinarian may prescribe corticosteroids in either a pill, topical, or injectable form to get the itch under control. The downside is that steroids can have some unpleasant side effects. Some of these side effects include excessive drinking, excessive urination, increased appetite, panting, decreased energy, and sometimes food bowl aggression. If steroids are used long term, a dog may also gain weight. Due to these side effects, the lowest-possible dose should always be used.
There are also prescription medications that are steroid alternatives, like Atopica, Apoquel, and Cytopoint. Atopica and Apoquel are available in oral forms, and Cytopoint is an injection that your veterinarian administers every one to two months. Atopica can take a month before it reaches maximum effect. Apoquel and Cytopoint both start to reduce itching in about a day. However, if your dog has secondary skin infections or fleas (both of which also create itchiness), those need to be managed as well.
Antihistamines can work for some dogs with allergies and can be used alone or in combination with steroids. They can have a sedating effect on some dogs and can cause hyperactivity in others. Therefore, it may take some trial and error for your veterinarian to find the antihistamine that works best for your dog. Each animal will respond differently to each antihistamine, so you may have to try several different antihistamines before finding the best one for your pet.
Home remedies for dogs with grass allergies
There is no home remedy that can fully treat or manage a dog with grass allergies or any other type of allergy. There are, however, some things that your veterinarian might have you do at home as part of your dog's allergy treatment protocol. One of them is to wipe down your dog's fur and their paws after coming in from walks or playing outside.
Your veterinarian may also have you get an oral omega-3 fish oil supplement formulated for dogs. Omega-3 fatty acids combined with antihistamines might improve skin health and reduce flaky, itchy skin. But don't expect omega-3s to treat skin infections or to immediately relieve severe itching.
Another natural option to soothe skin allergy symptoms is topical colloidal oatmeal. Oatmeal shampoos can be soothing and moisturizing for itchy, inflamed skin. Bathing your allergic dog with appropriate shampoos and conditioners may be an important part of your dog's treatment. Your veterinarian will advise you on what products to use.
People often use aloe vera on their sunburned skin or a burned hand because it feels cool and refreshing. With dogs, it probably won't hurt, but it may not help. If you want to try it, look carefully at the ingredients. Aloe vera gel without alcohol is best because alcohol can burn a dog's skin. Many other over-the-counter products, like aloe vera lotion, don't contain much aloe. Talk with your veterinarian about more effective products that are specifically for dogs.
Grass allergies are common in dogs, and they can often result in skin irritation, secondary skin infections, and ear infections. After doing an exam and running tests, your veterinarian will be able to develop a treatment plan to help your dog feel better. Allergy medications can be a process of trial and error. Once the cause of your dog's symptoms are understood and managed, they can get back to feeling more like themself.