While some parts of the country are still dealing with the residual influence of winter, spring fever has hit Southern California in full force. Although heavy pollination seemingly doesn’t affect we Los Angelenos as much as our East Coast and central United States counterparts, we still get our fare share of irritants plaguing our respiratory tracts and coating our cars. Additionally, the Jacaranda trees are blooming and dropping their bee-attracting blossoms to potentially create dangers for our pets (see Spring in West Hollywood: It's the Most Hypersensitive Time of the Year).
Any pet (or person) can be affected by environmental allergens regardless of season. Most plants thrive, flower, and whither during spring, summer, and fall, so those are the seasons most associated with allergies.
Regardless of location, blooming flowers, dying plants, warmer or cooler temperatures, dryness, moisture, and wind cause allergens and other irritants to be dispersed into the atmosphere, which affect the eyes, nose, skin, and other body systems.
How does a pet owner know if his canine or feline companion is suffering from allergies? Clinical signs include:
- Eye redness and discharge — Allergens enter the eyes and cause conjunctivitis (inflammation of the tissue lining the eyelids) and scleritis (inflammation of white of the eyes) which appear as eye discharge, blepharospasm (squinting), pawing at the eyes, and rubbing the face on surfaces.
- Ear discharge and ear scratching/head shaking — The ear canal and the inner pinna (ear flap) accumulate allergens, become inflamed, and cause discomfort. Pets having ear inflammation are more prone infection with bacteria or yeast, which are often already present in the ear canal and given a better chance to thrive in the moist, dark, and warm environment of the ear canal. Affected pets can exhibit ear discharge, redness, scratching or pain, and show head shaking or rubbing on environmental surfaces.
- Nasal discharge and sneezing — Dogs and cats naturally explore the environment using their noses, so there’s a high likelihood that environmental debris will enter the nasal passages and cause irritation. Sneezing may be occasional or frequent and nasal discharge can be thin, mucousy, or even bloody depending on the severity of irritation.
- Coughing, gagging, and swallowing — Where the nose goes the mouth follows, so the same allergens that enter the nasal passages also end up in the mouth and trachea (windpipe). Additionally, the nose and mouth connect in an area called the oropharynx, so nasal discharge easily trickles down into the throat. Coughing, gagging, and increased swallowing are common signs of respiratory allergens.
- Licking, chewing, scratching, and the development of hot spots — So many bodily locations can be impacted by allergies, as the skin is the body's largest organ. Dermatitis (skin inflammation) prompts pets to self-manage the situation by licking, chewing, and scratching. Affected sites include the feet, axilla (armpit), groin, flanks (sides), areas having skin on skin contact (skin folds), and others. A pet's efforts to provide themselves relief can cause areas of severe inflammation, infection, and hair loss called pyotraumatic dermatitis (“hot spots”).
How to go about managing signs of allergies in pet is another tale all together. So, I will save those tips for next week's column. Until then, if you have a concern about your pet suffering from seasonal or nonseasonal allergies, make sure you schedule an appointment for a physical examination with your veterinarian.
Dr. Patrick Mahaney