Respiratory Allergies in Pets

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Respiratory Allergies in Dogs

We recently talked about ways to help your dog battle allergies during this time of the year. In this blog we discussed how allergens generally affect your dog, namely, scratching the face, licking at the feet and pawing at the ears. However, in the last couple of years, we have been seeing more and more dogs at our doggie daycare and overnight boarders who exhibit a respiratory response to allergens, much like humans do: sneezing, runny nose, watery eyes, and coughing. It is somewhat uncommon for dogs to react in this way, but it happens. At Holiday Barn Pet Resorts, we have been particularly alarmed because of our overall interest in the health of our guests, but more specifically because of the similarity of symptoms to kennel cough. We make certain to have all of our guest’s vaccination records on-file before they visit, and that includes the Respiratory Bordetella (aka, “kennel cough”), but we were still concerned.

Dr. Parker Nash, Veterinary at Wellesley Animal Hospital in Richmond, explains that it is not “typical” for dogs to exhibit respiratory symptoms and provides us with some insight. He says, “While allergies can manifest many different ways in dogs, they are not prone to respiratory issues related to allergies. Most of their histamine-releasing cells are in their skin. So pollen and environmental allergies usually manifest as skin inflammation predominantly around paws and belly. Some dogs can exhibit upper respiratory symptoms from pollen such as a runny nose or sneezing but very rarely do they ever exhibit lower respiratory signs or distress.”

Basically, your dog’s respiratory system is divided into two parts. The upper respiratory tract includes the nose, sinuses, throat, and trachea. The lower respiratory tract involves the lungs and airways. Respiratory allergies in dogs generally affect only the upper respiratory system.

Do you think your pet may be struggling with respiratory allergies?
What should you be looking for?
What do you need to do to help your pet get well?
What kinds of symptoms might I see if my dog has a respiratory allergy?

As mentioned above, the most likely symptoms will be a runny nose, sneezing, and coughing. You may also see eye discharge, wheezing, and panting. You may notice him snoring as a response to inflammation. Your dog may appear to be more tired than usual. In addition to respiratory problems, your dog may be showing other, more common signs of an allergic response: Itchy or inflamed skin, ears, and paws, as evidenced by excessive licking and scratching.

Why are some dogs more likely to exhibit a respiratory response than others?

Some dogs are simply more sensitive to allergens than other dogs. Just like humans, some of us may sneeze occasionally at the onset of allergy season, while others require a visit to the doctor for prescription relief. Also, dogs with a weakened immune system may react more severely to allergens.

How can I find out if my dog’s respiratory symptoms are simply a response to allergens, or something more serious?

First of all, make sure your dog is up to date on all vaccinations, particularly the Bordetella and all strains of the Dog Flu. The respiratory benefits from these vaccinations may actually help to decrease your dog’s allergic response. Your vet will be able to detect respiratory allergies via blood testing or intradermal testing. Intradermal testing is when certain allergens are injected just under your dog’s skin to see if there is an allergic reaction.

When should I visit my Vet?

Dr. Nash advises, “Given the infrequency of allergy-related distress caused by pollen, any dog that is coughing or having respiratory distress should be evaluated for other causes that could be more serious such as infections or heart disease.” Respiratory allergies can lead to bronchitis and sinusitis, just like us, and we certainly don’t want our dog to have to suffer through that. Although Pneumonia is an illness of the lower respiratory system, it can develop as a secondary infection from an upper respiratory condition.

How are respiratory allergies treated in dogs?

Generally, your vet will prescribe an antihistamine. In some cases, corticosteroids will be administered to boost your dog’s immunity and provide for quicker relief. Symptoms can be controlled, but a “cure” is usually not possible. Ask your vet about the possibility of an immunotherapy program (allergy “shots”) for your pet.

Respiratory Allergies in Cats

Cats have a much more sensitive, albeit fragile, respiratory system than dogs. Therefore, cats are more likely to have a respiratory response to allergens. Dr. Nash says, “Typically cats are at greatest risk for respiratory symptoms related to allergies as they have a significantly higher incidence of asthma than dogs. Cats with asthma should always be monitored much more closely for signs of distress (panting, open mouth breathing, and labored breathing which would manifest by the patient using their abdominal muscles to help breath). The following steps can help prevent an asthma flare-up:

• Do not allow cigarette smoke in the cat’s environment.
• Use dustless cat litter.
• Consider non-topical insecticides. No sprays, either.
• Regularly replace air filters at home”

Proper ventilation and circulation in your cat’s environment is critical for proper respiratory functioning. At Holiday Barn Pet Resorts, we have addressed that issue in our cat suites by providing a unique air system that helps prevent stale air and the possible accompanying respiratory issues and disease.

What kind of symptoms might you see in a cat with respiratory allergies?

A cat’s typical upper respiratory response involves the nose and throat, causing symptoms such as nasal congestion, sneezing, inflammation of the eyelids, and runny nose and eyes. Other less common symptoms might include lethargy, fever, enlarged lymph nodes, and difficulty breathing.

When should I visit my Vet?

Because of your cat’s sensitive respiratory system, and the probability that they may develop a respiratory infection, we would suggest seeing your vet just as soon as any symptoms appear.

More tips:

If your pets are suffering from respiratory allergies, we recommend you limit the amount of time you spend outside with them when pollens are most active. “The Weather Channel” app on your smartphone gives daily allergy forecasts and will let you know when pollen is high in your area. At Holiday Barn Pet Resorts, we try to limit field walks when pollens are high and use the synthetic turf areas for walking. The synthetic turf is washed down frequently to prevent allergen buildup. Also, we reduce the amount of time we run our ventilation fans in our cat and dog boarding areas according to the pollen count. When pollens are high, we turn down the air-conditioning thermostat and turn off the fans. Likewise, you may wish to close windows and screen doors at home when pollens are high and rely on your air-conditioning for ventilation.

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