Can Dogs Be Allergic to Grass?

Can Dogs Be Allergic to Grass?

Picture this: It’s a beautiful day. The sun is shining. Your dog is frolicking in the grass. But then you notice your pup is scratching more than they’re playing, and they’re covered in red, itchy spots. Suddenly, you find yourself worrying, “Can dogs be allergic to grass?” 

Unfortunately, the answer is yes. Just like humans, dogs can develop allergies to elements in the environment, and that includes grass.

What does that mean for your itchy dog? Get ready to find out. Here’s what you need to know about grass allergies in dogs, including causes, symptoms to look out for, and how to manage and treat this condition to ease your pet’s itchy skin.

Can Dogs Be Allergic to Grass?

Yes, not only can dogs be allergic to grass, but grass allergies are also among the most common environmental allergies in dogs. Dogs that get itchy and inflamed skin caused by environmental allergens (including grass pollens, molds, and dust mites) have a condition called atopic dermatitis. Also known as atopy, this condition affects roughly 10 to 15 percent of all dogs (1). 

A smaller percentage of dogs with grass allergies have contact dermatitis. This means that contact with the grass itself, not just the grass pollens in the air, triggers the allergic reaction (2). 

The likelihood of dogs developing grass allergies can vary significantly depending on factors like your region and the season. That’s because grass pollen levels tend to be higher in warmer climates and at certain times of the year, such as spring and summer. 

While grass allergies are not life-threatening, they can significantly impact your dog’s quality of life. If not managed properly, canine grass allergies can cause significant discomfort, manifesting as skin irritation, itching, and inflammation.

What Causes Grass Allergies in Dogs?

Dogs with grass allergies typically have an abnormal immune response and a defective skin barrier. Normally, the skin behaves like a shield, blocking particles outside a dog’s body from entering deeper skin layers. When an allergen like grass pollen makes its way inside an allergic dog’s skin, their immune system mistakes the harmless pollen for something dangerous. This misidentification triggers an allergic response, which causes the skin to become inflamed and itchy. 

Certain types of grass, such as Bermuda, Timothy, Kentucky bluegrass, Orchard, and ryegrass, are most likely to cause allergic reactions in dogs (3). 

Although any dog can develop a grass allergy, some dog breeds are genetically predisposed to developing atopic dermatitis and grass allergies. These breeds include Golden Retrievers, Labradors, French Bulldogs, Boxers, German Shepherds, West Highland White Terriers, Poodles, Dachshunds, and Cocker Spaniels (1).

Dog Grass Allergy Symptoms

If your dog is allergic to grass, they may have symptoms that appear seasonally when pollen counts are high. However, dogs with environmental allergies are often allergic to more than just grass (dust mites, for example). So symptoms can be year-round and occur inside and outdoors. 

Symptoms of a grass allergy include:

  • Persistent scratching and licking
  • Red, inflamed skin
  • Hives or rash, particularly on the belly and under the legs
  • Chronic ear infections
  • Less commonly, runny nose and watery eyes, particularly during high pollen seasons

Identifying grass allergies can be challenging due to their non-specific symptoms, which can mimic other allergies. However, dogs with symptoms that appear seasonally are more likely to have a grass allergy, as opposed to a food allergy, for example.

Diagnosing a Dog Allergic to Grass

Veterinarians diagnose grass allergies primarily by ruling out other kinds of allergies and, eventually, through allergy testing. 

Diagnosing grass allergies begins with a thorough examination by a veterinarian. Your vet will examine your dog’s skin and note the pattern and timing of symptoms. If your dog is not on a year-round flea preventive, your veterinarian will prescribe a medication for this so that a flea allergy can be excluded as a cause of your dog’s symptoms. 

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If your dog’s symptoms are year-round, your veterinarian may recommend a food trial with a novel protein or hydrolyzed protein diet to rule out a food allergy as the culprit.

Purina Pro Plan HA

Once atopic dermatitis is confirmed, skin or blood tests to detect specific allergens can be performed to identify specific allergy triggers, including different types of grasses.

Dog Grass Allergy Treatment

Grass allergies, like any other allergy, cannot be cured, but medications and other treatments can help eliminate or greatly reduce symptoms. 

Some commonly used medications include:

Steroids

Steroids used to be the only effective treatment for severe allergy symptoms in dogs. However, that’s less common now due to their risk of serious side effects (especially with long-term use) and the availability of newer, more targeted treatments.

Prednisone tablet for dog allergies

Cyclosporine

This medication is safer than steroids when used to treat chronic grass allergies in dogs. However, it may take weeks to improve symptoms, so it may not be the best choice for dealing with flare-ups. It’s available in both generic and branded forms, in capsules or liquid medication. Common side effects include digestive upset, vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite.

Atopica for dog allergies
Cyclavance for dog allergies

Immunotherapy

Allergy shots or sublingual drops containing the specific allergens a dog is allergic to can help to desensitize the immune system to grass allergies over time. This tends to be effective in about 50 to 75 percent of dogs but can take up to 1 year to be effective (1).

Cytopoint (lokivetmab)

This is an injection containing antibodies that neutralize the compounds that trigger itchy skin in dogs with grass allergies. One injection relieves symptoms of itch for 4 to 8 weeks, but the shots can be pretty pricey.

Apoquel (oclacitinib)

Apoquel has proven to be a game-changer for treating grass allergies in dogs. It targets the specific immune factors involved in the allergic reaction, offering rapid relief from itching and inflammation without the potential for long-term side effects associated with steroids.

It is much more effective than antihistamines, as histamine only plays a small role in dog allergy symptoms. Apoquel can start relieving allergy symptoms in as few as 2 hours, and it can be stopped and started as needed to relieve allergy symptoms. 

Studies support that long-term use of Apoquel in dogs is safe (5). It tends to be well-tolerated by most dogs, but may cause stomach upset on rare occasions.

Dog Grass Allergies Home Remedies

If you’re wondering whether human medications, like Benadryl or Claritin, could help tame your pet’s grass allergy itch, the answer is: not likely. These common over-the-counter solutions are antihistamines, which don’t tend to be effective for allergies in dogs. According to one study, they performed no better than a placebo pill (6). 

Also, remember it’s never a good idea to give your dog human medications without consulting your vet first. While some may be effective, it is very important to first consult with your veterinarian regarding dosing and the specific medications that are safe to use. 

For mild grass allergy symptoms, a few home remedies can provide relief:

Soothing Baths

Washing your dog with hypoallergenic or medicated shampoo can soothe the skin and help remove allergens from the fur. Just remember that over-shampooing can irritate your dog’s skin even further. So limit baths to once or twice a week, tops. And use cool water, as hot water can make irritated skin even itchier.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

These “good fats” help build immunity, improve skin health, and fight inflammation — three important benefits that can boost your dog’s defenses against grass allergies. Though these essential nutrients are found naturally in foods like fish and flaxseeds, most commercial dog foods don’t provide enough. So you may want to consider a dietary supplement to ensure your dog gets the full benefit omega-3 fatty acids have to offer.

Preventing Grass Allergy in Dogs

Preventing grass allergies involves minimizing your dog’s exposure to the allergen:

  • Avoidance: Keep your dog off freshly mown lawns and tall grasses, especially during peak pollen times. 
  • Paw and Body Wipes: Use hypoallergenic wipes to clean your dog after they’ve been outside to remove pollen and allergens.
  • Indoor Air Quality: Use air purifiers to reduce indoor pollen levels, which can help during the allergy season.

While grass allergies can be a challenge for dogs and their owners, understanding the symptoms, diagnoses, and treatments available can lead to effective management of the condition. 

If you work closely with your veterinarian, you can help ensure your dog enjoys the great outdoors without suffering from pesky allergy symptoms.

References:

  1. Gedon, Natalie Katharina Yvonne, and Ralf Steffen Mueller. “Atopic dermatitis in cats and dogs: a difficult disease for animals and owners.” Clinical and translational allergy vol. 8 41. 5 Oct. 2018, doi:10.1186/s13601-018-0228-5
  2. Mason, Kenneth, and Merja Ruutu. “Canine dermatitis on contacting grass leaf: A case series.” Veterinary dermatology vol. 34,2 (2023): 115-124. doi:10.1111/vde.13143
  3. Top 10 Pollen Causing Allergy Symptoms in Animals, Nextmune, 18, Feb 2021, 
  4. Gadeyne, Caroline et al. “Efficacy of oclacitinib (Apoquel®) compared with prednisolone for the control of pruritus and clinical signs associated with allergic dermatitis in client-owned dogs in Australia.” Veterinary dermatology vol. 25,6 (2014): 512-8, e86. doi:10.1111/vde.12166
  5. Marsella, Rosanna, et al. “Oclacitinib 10 years later: Lessons learned and directions for the future.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, vol. 261, no. S1, 25 Mar. 2023, pp. 1–12, doi.org/10.2460/javma.22.12.0570
  6. Hsiao, Yun-Hsia et al. “Effects of cetirizine in dogs with chronic atopic dermatitis: a randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled trial.” Journal of veterinary science vol. 17,4 (2016): 549-553. doi:10.4142/jvs.2016.17.4.549

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