Diagnosing, Treating Grass Allergies in Dogs

If you have ever watched your dog excessively sneeze, scratch, and lick its paws, you’ve wondered what’s going on. You may find the two of you have something in common. 

As you blow your runny nose and rub your watery eyes, cursing the outdoors, your four-legged buddy may be suffering right alongside you. Dogs can get seasonal allergies, too. 

The culprit may be right under your dog’s paws. Grass allergies are the second-most common canine allergy (right after flea sensitivity).

Excessive itching is one potential sign of grass allergy.

Dogs suffering from endless itchiness may scratch until they harm themselves. Anytime a dog with no sign of flea bites or known food allergies displays signs of excessive itching skin, dog allergies may be the culprit. 

Grass Allergy Symptoms in Dogs

Unlike human allergy symptoms, dogs’ allergic reactions are primarily topical — on the skin. Common symptoms of grass allergies include irritated skin, either in isolated patches or spread all over a dog’s body. Watch for redness, hot spots, and bare patches from constant scratching, licking, and biting.

One of the most challenging aspects of grass allergies in dogs is that they can show up out of the blue, even if you don’t have a yard. Some dogs are more susceptible to grass allergies than others. Bulldogs, German shepherds, Irish terriers, pugs, retrievers, and setters are all at higher risk than other breeds.

The dog’s red skin signals atopic dermatitis, aka atopy. Credit: Maja Dumat, CC 2.0

A dog’s allergies to grass can manifest as mild allergic responses such as skin irritation to full-blown condition vets call canine atopic dermatitis (more commonly, allergic dermatitis or canine atopy).  Atopy shows up in hair loss and skin infections from incessant scratching. The bottom line? When your dog’s symptoms reach this level, it’s time for a trip to the doggy dermatologist.

Causes of Dog Grass Allergies

There’s no need to panic about the grass you see your dog eating. Grass allergies have nothing to do with the grass underfoot, but rather the seasonal pollen released by the seedheads of unmown grass left to grow to maturity. Of course, there are other pollen-borne environmental allergies that can affect dogs. If you see the symptoms, have your dog tested.

Pollen is almost invisible as it travels in the air, sometimes over great distances. This is why your dog can suffer, even if you don’t have a yard at home. Grass pollen affects dogs that inhale it into their lungs. It can also create contact allergies when it touches your dog’s skin. This is why it is important to bathe him or her often and wipe down your dog’s legs and paws each time they come in from outside.

Diagnosing Doggy Grass Allergies

Older dogs and German shepherds are among the dogs more likely to suffer grass allergies.

Visit a veterinarian if you suspect your dog suffers from a grass allergy. But be warned that getting a conclusive diagnosis of a specific allergen can be difficult. Most vets will recommend an eight- to 12-week elimination diet to rule out food allergies. By the time you’re done, the allergy season may be winding down. Allergy testing includes intradermal skin testing or blood testing. Some vets prefer to offer treatment first to see if it helps clear up the symptoms.

You can help by paying close attention to and keeping track of your dog’s allergy symptoms. It’s important to note when the symptoms started, and when they subsided. Let your vet know if your furry family member displayed any secondary symptoms such as a runny nose, sneezing, coughing, or snoring.

Treating Grass Allergies in Dogs

Immunotherapy shots may be part of the vet’s allergy treatment.

Clinical treatment for a dog with grass allergies usually starts with antihistamines and large doses of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil have an anti-inflammatory effect, and antihistamines ease itching. In severe cases, your vet may recommend a steroid shot, such as Apoquel. While steroids can cause side effects such as increased ear infections, Apoquel is considered safe and effective.

According to Dr. Nicole Eckholm, a veterinary dermatologist at Pet Emergency and Specialty Center of Marin in San Rafael, Calif., “Seasonal allergies cannot be cured, but they can be successfully managed in most cases.” She recommends allergy shots, known as immunotherapy, as the first line of defense. Up to 80% of dogs respond favorably to allergy shots.

8 Steps to Take if You Think Your Dog Has Grass Allergies 

  1. Visit a veterinarian. A vet can rule out other allergies, such as to dog food, dust mites, or fleas.
  2. Postpone vaccinations. They may cause a runaway immune system response. 
  3. Keep your grass mowed to chop off flowering grass seed and other pollen producers.
  4. Minimize your dog’s outdoor activities.
  5. Wipe your dog’s paws between every toe every time it comes in from outside.
  6. Bathe your dog at least weekly with a hypoallergenic shampoo.
  7. Apply aloe vera gel to hot spots.
  8. Add fish oil or small amounts of coconut oil to your dog’s food.

Unlike other allergies, it’s almost impossible to avoid exposure to grass pollen. If your dog has a grass allergy, take the time to treat it and use preventive measures to limit contact. A side benefit: You’ll have a reason to enjoy rainy days. Heavy rain clears the air so your pooch and romp outside without reservation.

Main image credit: Tony Alter, CC 2.0

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Written by Vivienne Rañola

About Wikilawn

Wikilawn’s mission is to provide the best resources and information to help you enjoy your outdoor spaces the way you want. Whether you are a DIY, lawn-loving, gardening guru, or someone who wants help in picking a local lawn care professional, we can smooth your path to a beautiful backyard!

About Wikilawn

Wikilawn’s mission is to provide the best resources and information to help you enjoy your outdoor spaces the way you want. Whether you are a DIY, lawn-loving, gardening guru, or someone who wants help in picking a local lawn care professional, we can smooth your path to a beautiful backyard!

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