My aunt has a basset hound that’s allergic to grass. Considering that the grass in the yard can come up to his knees even when the lawn has been impeccably manicured, it’s kind of a problem around her house. Poor Buford’s belly gets itchy, so his rather unwise solution is to plop down on the ground and scratch it--on the grass. His paws are continually bothering him, his belly gets bald patches and he’s just a miserable ol’ hound until lawn mowing season comes to an end. After many trips to the vet, they’ve found an allergy management treatment that works reasonably well, but he’s still prone to “hot spots” after he goes rolling around in the yard.
We’re used to thinking about allergies in terms of ourselves--many of us are allergic to pet dander and many more are allergic to all manner of pollen or mold. Pets can develop allergies, just like humans. And some pet allergies are pretty tough to manage. Diagnosing a pet allergy can be an incredibly frustrating process. While it’s easy to monitor a person’s habits and reactions to their environment, our pets can be a bit trickier. Your dog may be in fine shape when he heads out the door for a walk, but by the time you get home, he may be itching, sneezing or watery-eyed. What on your walk caused these symptoms? Was it the grass you tromped through, the pollen in the air or something else?
First, focus on the pollen count. If your pet’s allergies seem to spike on high pollen days, that may be your culprit. Often, you can consult the internet for what allergens are high in your area, as well. Your pet may react more strongly to a particular allergen, like ragweed. Dr. Drew Weigner, a board-certified feline veterinary specialist and owner of The Cat Doctor in Atlanta, says that cats often don’t have actual seasonal allergies, but instead react to the physical irritation of pollen.
Second, focus on the type of turf you walk on. If your dog seems to do fine on asphalt but gets itchy on grass, it’s likely the grass that’s behind it all. If it seems sporadic, notice whether it happens more often on freshly-mowed grass or on a particular type of grass. Some dogs are fine on grass that’s had a break from mowing for a while. Likewise, some dogs do well on sod lawns while lawns that feature bluegrass or many different types of grass are troublesome. Is your pet rarely outdoors? Does your pet actually seem to improve when outside? It may be your home’s interior that’s an irritant! Dust, mold, home fragrances and other environmental factors may lead to your pet’s symptoms.
Another possible suspect is your pet’s diet. Change the protein in your pet’s food for several weeks to see if your pet’s condition improves. Consult your vet for a feeding transition timeline that will help your pet’s tummy make the switch without any problems. Found the cause? Treating a pet’s allergy can be just as difficult.
Before you try any allergy treatment, consult your veterinarian. Some medications and topical treatments won’t be sufficient for the situation or may be a hazard to your pet. Your vet may also suggest some avenues of treatment you hadn’t previously considered. Like humans, some pets with severe allergies respond well to allergy shots or steroid medications. Medicated shampoos and ointments may be recommended, as well as allergy medicines, changes in routine or anti-itch sprays. If a grass allergy is suspected, your vet may suggest you resod your lawn. While this may seem like a durastic measure, it could mean a much happier summer for you and your pet. It’s always important to remember that your pet is sensitive to his environment.
Unlike a person, your dog may not be aware of what’s causing his discomfort. He may well end up spending his afternoons rolling around in his allergen, like my aunt’s beloved Buford.