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Hayfever in pets - do they get it like us?

Short answer - yes, but it isn’t very common!

There are an estimated 10 million humans with hay fever in the UK, but although dogs and cats can develop similar allergies, in most cases it doesn't affect their nose.

Informative image: dog in grass

What is hayfever?

“Hay fever”, or more properly allergic rhinitis, is the most common allergic condition in humans and occurs when the person’s immune system mistakes harmless pollen in the air for an invading virus or bacterium. This causes swelling of the nasal tissues (leading to a stuffy or bunged-up nose), production of excessive fluid (hence a runny nose and eyes) and release of the chemical histamine (causing the sneezing and reddened eyes).

My pet has exactly those symptoms! Surely it must be the same?

Unfortunately not… The most common causes of “hay fever” symptoms in cats are:

●Cat flu or other upper respiratory infections

●A grass blade stuck up the nose

●Tumours (in older cats) or polyps (in younger ones).

In dogs, it’s more likely to be:

●Sinusitis (due to a primary infection or a tooth problem)

●A grass seed up the nose

●An insect sting or bite

Allergic rhinitis in cats and dogs is really rare, although there is a condition in dogs called lymphoplasmacytic rhinitis where the immune system attacks the nasal cavities which is a little more common.

So do dogs and cats not get allergic reactions to pollen and things?

Yes, they do - in fact, allergies are thought to be the most common single reason why dogs and cats visit the vets, after routine vaccinations. However, their immune systems don’t work in exactly the same way as ours does, so sneezing and runny noses aren’t usually the presenting symptoms. 

The usual sign of an allergic reaction in a dog or a cat is skin disease - typically…

●Recurrent ear “infections” - remember, the ears are lined with skin!

●Itching and scratching

●Redness

●Self-trauma (biting or scratching)

●Sore feet (mainly in dogs)

●Scabs and lumps in the skin (mostly in cats)

What about food allergies?

Food allergies normally cause skin symptoms as well! Very occasionally they may cause diarrhoea, but yes, they are a known cause of allergic rhinitis too.

How do you know what the cause is if your pet is showing symptoms?

The first thing to do is make an appointment to see one of our vets. There are usually distinct indicators that we’re dealing with an infection, for example, rather than an inflammatory condition. However, in many cases, there will be a secondary infection whatever the underlying cause, so we may give a course of antibiotics to clear that up, then reassess them and see what’s going on. 

If antibiotics don’t clear up the problem completely, the next step would usually be to have your pet in for a proper work up. We’ll X-ray their heads to see what’s going on up their noses, and often we’ll use a camera or telescope (a rhinoscope) to have a look inside and see what’s there. If there is a grass seed or a grass blade, we pull it out; if there’s a tumour or polyp, we’ll take a sample to send to the lab. 

If all else is negative, it may be that your pet is one of the rare few who actually does have hayfever! 

Can it be treated?

There are a lot of options available. Initially, we’ll often trial antihistamines - but they don’t work terribly well in dogs and cats (and are much less effective than in people). As a result, it may be necessary to use steroids to settle the symptoms down. 

Ideally, we’d also try to identify what, exactly, your pet is allergic to. This requires allergy testing - either from blood tests (that we send away to a lab), or by an intradermal test (although we wouldn’t normally do this at the practice, but refer your pet to a specialist veterinary dermatologist). Hopefully, this will allow us to predict when it’s likely to recur and if it can be avoided! It may also allow us to use desensitisation therapy to reduce their immune system’s reaction to the pollen, via a course of injections or oral liquids given over several weeks or months.

If your pet has a runny, sore or itchy nose, make an appointment to see one of our vets as soon as possible.