Allergies are challenging for many people in winter, but don't be surprised if your pet's allergies are just as bad or worse. Winter is a season of cold air, winter coats, and winter allergies. There's an increased chance that your furry friend will have problems in winter because of the freezing, dry air. Pets are not immune to the wintertime woes of sneezing, coughing, and itchy skin. Why do some pets' allergies seem worse in winter? Let's look at some answers and ways to manage winter allergies in your pet. 

A kitten scratches its ears.

What are winter allergies in pets?

A cat or dog could be suffering from winter allergies, but their pet parent may miss the signs as many allergies are more often associated with spring and summer. Studies show that one in seven dogs is affected by winter allergy symptoms, and many cats experience it, too. Winter allergies in house pets are on the rise, and this increase can largely be attributed to pets spending more time indoors during winter time months. Exposure to higher levels of pet dander, dust mites, and dust in dry, cold air is often a perfect storm for winter allergies in pets.

A Beagle itches its skin.

What causes winter allergies?

During winter, a common allergy trigger is an environment with little air circulation and indoor living. A more serious cause is a dry atmosphere that can lead a dog or cat to experience dust-related ailments, like asthma or dermatitis on the skin's surface. More time indoors and less air movement inside can lead to a buildup of animal dander, mold spores, and dust mites, all of which may lead to winter allergens and indoor allergies.

The four primary triggers of winter allergy symptoms are:

  • contact allergies (such as types of carpeting, area rugs, blankets, curtains, or bedding)
  • dry air related allergies
  • dust mite allergies
  • mold-related allergies

A pet may react to these allergens because of the following reasons:

  • the immune system fights against and responds to a particular allergen
  • specific allergen buildup in the home during the winter season
  • an overactive immune system
  • exposure to allergens that are cold weather-related

When the air is dry and cold, it can be even more drying for your pet's skin. Cold outside air holds less moisture than warm air, leading to dried-out skin, quickly becoming itchy, flaky, and irritated. Add icy blasts of winter air and frigid temperatures, and you have the perfect recipe for dog allergies and cat allergies.

Indoor air is a dry heat that also harms pets with allergies. The heat draws even more moisture out of the air, making pet allergies worse. Indoor allergens can be a significant irritant for some dogs, leading to symptoms like discomfort or health problems. Your dog or cat may be used to spending most of their time outdoors, and being forced inside during the colder months also means spending more time exposed to more allergens inside the home.

Furniture items such as carpets, area rugs, and curtains often host indoor allergens found naturally on their surfaces. These materials are often home to mites and molds that, when disturbed, quickly become airborne allergens. Ducts clogged with dust, dander, and dirt also increase winter allergies in dogs and cats.

An allergy chart for dogs

What are the symptoms of winter allergies?

Winter seasonal allergies often look and feel just like other seasonal allergy symptoms. They begin when the cold weather comes around and may include:

  • sneezing
  • reverse sneezing
  • coughing
  • itchy, dry, irritated, flaky, crusty, or scaly skin
  • hot spots
  • red, swollen skin (from inflammation or infection)
  • runny nose or nasal congestion
  • watery, itchy eyes, sometimes with a clear discharge
  • reddened eyes
  • continuous scratching and self-injury
  • excessive licking of feet and ears
  • hair loss or scabbing
  • red ears and waxy drainage
  • chronic ear infections

Ensure you see a vet if your dog or cat is experiencing any of the above symptoms during winter. Your veterinarian will assess the pet's health so he can figure out what might have caused this unusual reaction to occur. Your dog may be experiencing some dandruff, but it's essential to remember that there may be more to the dry skin than meets the eye. Your veterinarian will look for signs of flaking and sores on the skin as well; if they find any evidence suggesting an underlying allergy, they can begin appropriate treatment at that point.

An orange cat licks at its paw.

Diagnosis for seasonal winter allergies

To get to the bottom of your pet's symptoms, allergy testing is necessary. Testing can identify specific allergens to avoid and make sure your pet is appropriately treated for their winter allergies. If your veterinarian suspects your dog or cat may have allergies, they may want to test them for a specific cause. An allergy diagnosis may depend upon a blood test (serum allergy testing) and skin test results.

Your veterinary professional will ask you questions about your furkid's symptoms and history. They will examine them physically, looking in the ears for any signs of infection or inflammation and performing tests that are necessary based on what they've determined so far while assessing severity levels as well.

Treatments for winter season allergies in pets

Make sure to address all of your pet's symptoms when treating winter allergies. Sneezing and watery eyes may not be dangerous, but they can still cause discomfort, so you should take care if allergy symptoms occur while awaiting test results. Here are some treatments to relieve allergy symptoms and prevent allergic reactions:

Steroids

The use of steroids can suppress a dog or cat's immune system reaction to allergens and either stop or slow down the symptoms. Unfortunately, this treatment also means that necessary immune responses will be shut down. This situation may result in health problems for some pets who take them long term because their body no longer has enough natural immunity leftover from before they started taking medications such as hydrocortisone. Discuss the use of steroids with your vet to determine if they are a reasonable and effective means of countering your pet's winter allergy.

Shampoos and baths

While your cat or dog may be allergic to many things, such as pollen and dust mites in the air around him or pet dander from other dogs that they have allergies to, one of his biggest enemies is dry skin cells. To help keep dry flakiness at bay during winter months with less humidity, try using a calming shampoo with oatmeal.

Regular bathing with specialized skin-protectant, calming shampoos, and lotion can relieve winter allergies, but excessive use can dry out the soft fur coat. Don't bathe pets, especially dogs, too frequently during the colder weather as that can trigger a relapse in seasonal allergies; one bath a month during this season is more than enough.

Prescription medications

Your pet may feel better with the help of prescription-level medications that can handle allergies in the winter months. These antihistamines, corticosteroids, and topical creams are formulated to work against allergens like pollen, dust, and dander, which cause discomfort in allergic dogs and cats. A veterinarian can prescribe stronger level medications for severe allergies in a pet.

Humidifier and filter treatments

You can't control the humidity outside, but you do have some options for increasing it inside your home. Consider running a humidifier in rooms where your furkid spends most of their time; this will help combat dryness caused by winter air and a furnace filter.

The best filter to alleviate dryness is a high-efficiency particulate air or HEPA filter. HEPA filters trap around 99% of all foreign particles circulating through a space, which means they're perfect for trapping pesky asthma spores and pet dander. You and your furry friends can breathe easier with this filter, breathing fresh air without worrying about triggers like dust mites or pollen.

Desensitization therapy

If your furkid is experiencing winter allergies, then desensitization therapy may be an option for relief. Immunosuppressants or allergy shots can help the animal build up immunity to what bothers him most often through injections of minimal amounts so that they become more familiar with it over time without any discomfort on their part at all.

Keep the house clean.

Vacuum often and wash your dog or cat's bed, blankets, or favorite toys to keep them free from allergens. Dust and clean the surfaces in your home regularly to lessen the impact of dust and other allergens. If you know the specific allergen that your furkid has an allergic reaction to, do everything possible to remove this item from within your home environment.

Two cats look out the window at the snow.

Stop allergies in their tracks with pet insurance.

Allergies can be a seasonal, year-round, lifelong challenge for pet parents. Don't fight the good fight alone! Let Pet Insurance Review find the best pet insurance policy to provide the individualized coverage your dog or cat needs. Get a free pet health insurance quote, and learn how an insurance policy can help your pet live a happier, healthier life.

 

References:
 

1. Almasy, S. (2022). Pets, owners challenged by increasing allergies. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/03/26/pet.allergies/

2. Syosset Animal Hospital. (2016). Pet Allergies. Retrieved from https://www.syossetanimalhospital.com/service/allergies/

3. Rosenbaum, M. (2022). Why You Should Think Twice About Using Steroids to Treat Your Dog's Itch. Retrieved from https://www.zoetispetcare.com/blog/article/think-twice-steriods-dog-itch

4. EPA. (2021). What is a HEPA filter? Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/what-hepa-filter-1