Just as some people get hay fever, some dogs are susceptible to airborne allergens such as grass pollen. Dogs sometimes experience respiratory problems, but more often their allergies cause skin irritation and itching. Grass pollen is one of many allergens that can cause atopy in your dog; often, more than one allergen is responsible for symptoms. To be sure whether grass is the culprit, your vet will have to do allergy testing on your dog to identify specific allergens.
Typically, dogs with atopy only have itchiness during the seasons when allergens such as pollen are most prevalent. This means that allergic dogs may find relief during the winter months -- though in 80 percent of atopic dermatitis cases, dogs who have suffered from allergies for several years become itchy year-round. Seasonal itchiness usually has an early age of onset, typically between 1 and 3 years of age.
The most prevalent symptom of atopy is itchy and irritated skin, which is usually evident in a dog’s behavior. An atopic dog can typically be seen scratching, rubbing, biting, chewing and licking himself all over, although most of the itching is concentrated around the face, belly and feet. The skin and coat might be discolored from saliva buildup due to licking, especially on the feet. You might also notice hair loss, scaly, crusty, flaky or greasy skin, bumpy skin, hot spots or open sores. Some dogs chew so much that they end up injuring themselves. Symptoms can lead to skin infections that exacerbate the problem.
An atopic dog might also present with upper respiratory symptoms similar to those of hay fever in humans. These symptoms include runny nose, sneezing and watery eyes. You might also catch your dog snoring. This is due to inflammation in the throat. By themselves, these symptoms can also be a sign of an upper respiratory disease or infection. You should consult your vet as to whether another condition should be ruled out before chalking these symptoms up to allergies.
Atopic dermatitis can also affect a dog’s inner and outer ears. A dog with atopy might have ears or ear flaps that have become red and swollen, or skin in the ear area that appears to be thickening or darkening in color. Ear infections are also a possibility. The inner ears might emit a yeasty odor and might also discharge dark, waxy fluid. Again, ear symptoms by themselves might be a sign of mites, infection or another condition, so your vet should rule these out before diagnosing atopy as the cause.
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