This article is the first of a three-part series on allergies in pets and the problems they cause. Today's will focus on airborne allergies and their related skin diseases.

This summer has been particularly challenging for dogs with itchy skin rashes, and the fall season will continue this trend. As a veterinarian, I frequently see dogs at the clinic suffering from rashes, skin infections, and other dermatology issues, especially during the warmer months. While many pet owners believe these problems stem from activities like swimming or walks in the woods, the real culprit is often allergies. Yes, the same allergens that cause runny noses and itchy eyes in humans also trigger our pets to scratch. The primary offenders? Pollens, molds, and dust mites.

Let's take a look at how these allergens affect our pets and how they contribute to the development of skin infections. 

The Effects of Airborne Allergies on Pets' Skin

Unlike humans, who have numerous sweat glands, pets' skin is predominantly filled with sebaceous glands, which produce oil. These oily pores allow allergen particles to penetrate the skin, where the body reacts to their presence. If a pet is mildly allergic to these particles, the body responds by inflaming the skin, causing the pet to scratch occasionally. This level of scratching is typically harmless. However, if a pet is severely allergic, the body's response is more intense, leading to uncontrollable scratching that can potentially damage the skin and, in extreme cases, reach the muscle underneath.

Dog with a hot spot from skin allergies.

Allergies can have a number of effects on pets' skin, leading to a range of symptoms and complications. These effects can vary in severity, from mild scratching to serious skin infections and everything in between. Pet owners should be aware of the effects of allergens in order to address them early on and avoid the development of infections. A few common effects outside of the basic itching and scratching and later skin infections include:

When a dog develops a skin infection, the first question pet owners often ask is, "Where did they get it?" In 99% of cases, the dog didn't "catch" the infection from anywhere. The bacteria and yeast were already present on the dog's skin. Similarly, our skin is covered in pathogens by the end of the day, but they don't cause an infection because our healthy skin acts as a barrier protecting the deeper tissue. However, if we scratch persistently, the barrier breaks down, leading to infection. This scenario is no different for dogs, except they don't realize they need to stop scratching when their skin becomes compromised and often gross-looking and feeling.

Pet Seasonal Allergies and Their Patterns

If you suffer from allergies, you're probably familiar with the seasons and times of year that carry a higher risk of allergen exposure — and you have a head start for understanding when your pet may be most prone to allergic reactions on their skin. Allergies in pets follow similar seasonal patterns as in humans. A few cases that point to seasonal allergies include:

  • In late fall and early spring, mold counts are high. 
  • Late spring brings tree pollens; summer is dominated by grass allergens, and early fall features weeds like ragweed, nettle, and sagebrush. 
  • If pets scratch year-round, they are likely allergic to household molds, dust mites, or possibly an ingredient in their food. 
  • An interesting anomaly is dogs that scratch around Christmas time, which may be due to pine allergies triggered by live Christmas trees brought into the home.

Cat in spring grass exposed to allergens.

Advances in Allergy Treatments for Pets

Fortunately, recent advancements in treatment options have provided significant relief for pets suffering from allergies. Previously, veterinarians relied on steroids or expensive anti-rejection drugs, both of which had numerous side effects such as vomiting, house soiling, and liver damage. But now, as veterinary medicine has evolved, so have our options for better treating allergies and minimizing their side effects on our precious pets. 

Today, we have a unique oral medication that works within 1-3 hours of administration and has side effects comparable to a placebo. Additionally, a new injectable treatment using monoclonal antibodies has been highly effective, providing relief for 4-12 weeks per injection. These advancements bring hope for a better quality of life for our furry friends. If you think your pet may benefit from allergy relief, talk to your veterinarian and see what we can do for your pup.

During the initial stages, many pets will also require treatment for skin infections. However, these new therapies have shown remarkable results in controlling scratching. It's crucial for pet owners to be vigilant and react quickly at the first signs of scratching, as this may prevent the development of skin infections altogether. These developments in allergy treatment for pets not only provide relief but also empower pet owners to take proactive steps in their pets' health. This shift in treatment options is exciting for veterinarians, transforming skin disease from one of the most frustrating conditions to one of the most rewarding.

If your dog suffers from any of the issues mentioned, it's important to consult your veterinarian. They can determine if your pet may be a candidate for these treatment options and provide the necessary guidance and care. These therapies could make a significant difference in your pet's comfort and health, and are becoming more and more accessible to pets across the country.

Stay tuned for part 2, where I will discuss ear infections. 

If you have questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (781) 694-6490, or you can email us at Don't forget to follow us on social media Facebook, Instagram.


  • Dog Allergies
  • Cat Allergies
  • Dog Dermatology
  • Cat Dermatology