September is here and nature awakes from its winter slumber. The chill of early morning starts to subside, the days get a little longer, the flowers start to bud, and baby farm animals are born. And some of us and our pets start to become slaves to our allergies! Spring isn’t only about itchy skin and watering eyes of course, and there are other important animal-welfare considerations to bear in mind.
For some animals, Spring signals the start of allergy season
Many of us know what it’s like to suffer seasonal allergies. Red itchy eyes and runny noses affect those of us who are sensitive to airborne pollens and other allergens, and they often flare up during Spring. Our pets can also suffer, and it can make them just as miserable as it makes us. Keep an eye out for the signs that your dog or cat could be allergic.
What’s an allergy?
When animals have allergies, their immune systems are overly sensitive to certain everyday substances. Their systems respond by identifying them as being dangerous even though the substances are commonly found in the environment and are harmless to other animals. In spite of this, they cause an extreme reaction in animals who are allergic to them. The symptoms – the signs of allergies - occur as a result of their systems trying to rid themselves of the allergens.
Things to watch for
Animals scratching and licking their paws more frequently can be signs that they’re having an allergic reaction. Just like us, scratching an itch occasionally is quite normal, but when it occurs persistently - and licking and chewing increases noticeably - then you need to look for the underlying cause. If your pets are scratching to the point of hurting themselves, then something’s wrong and left untreated it can lead to “hotspots”. Hotspots are moist, raw sores, and can create an ideal environment for bacteria.
Other signs that your pet might be allergic (Note that these may, or may not, be spring-related.)
Check your pet’s belly and paws, including between their toes. These, and their ears, frequently come into contact with plants and grasses - the things that are likely to contain allergens such as pollen. If ears are affected there may also be some odour.
Animals suffering from allergies may have red skin around their chins and mouths. Sometimes their anus may also be red and inflamed.
- Rubbing faces against things
Animals might try to scratch the itch by rubbing their faces against things, particularly textured surface such as carpets and lounges etc. Dogs will sometimes roll on their backs and rub their entire bodies across things, in an attempt to get some relief from the itchiness.
Dogs will sometimes shake their heads vigorously trying to shake the irritation out of their ears. They may also be reluctant to let you touch their ears or head.
Like us, pets with allergies can get puffy, red eyes, or watery eyes.
Cats may sometimes snore due to an inflamed throat
What causes itching?
There are several reasons for itching and they’re not all seasonal. Usually, it is caused by either fleas, food or the environment.
Dry skin, indicated by flaky skin, red or tough skin, or dandruff, can be caused by food allergies. If this is the problem, your vet will recommend a change to their diet, or medicated shampoos which can sometimes help. The only way to identify a dietary allergy is through a process of elimination, with certain foods reintroduced progressively.
Allergies generally can’t be cured and the objective therefore is usually to manage them and the symptoms in order to minimise the impact. Things that can cause allergies anytime of the year include mould, dust mites, perfumes, cleaning products, shampoos, and cigarette smoke.
Can dogs be allergic to cats?
Humans can be allergic to cats of course, and to dogs as well, but can a dog be allergic to a cat? It’s rare, but it can happen. The only way to tell for sure is for your vet to conduct some tests, but this would only be done if there was good reason and all other potential sources had been ruled out.
What to do if you think your pet has allergies
If you think that your pet could be allergic it’s time for a trip to your vet who will review your pet’s history, conduct a thorough examination, and potentially order blood tests, and/or an elimination diet if it’s suspected that food could be the cause.
Removing the allergens from your pet’s environment, or keeping your pet away from the allergen, is the most obvious preventative measure. This isn’t always possible or practical, therefore your vet might recommend various medications including cortisone, steroids or antihistamines to help control the allergy.
Spring isn’t all about allergies!
Spring is also when many baby animals are born. It’s warmer, and for many species, food is more plentiful. You may come across a baby bird – a fledgling – during Spring, and in most cases the birds should be left alone as they are not in trouble despite how it may appear.
Nestlings are baby birds that can’t move around much. They’re featherless, they can’t fly, and they need to remain in the nest. Fledglings are a little older; They are old enough to be out of the nest but they’re still too young to fly competently.
What to do if you find a nestling or a fledgling
Nestlings can be blown out of their nests on a windy day, and sometimes the whole nest gets blown away. If you find a nestling, collect as much of the nest material from the ground as possible and place it in sturdy, open container. Place the container with the bird in it, as high up in the tree as possible. The mother should eventually return to rescue it.
Fledglings are young birds that have outgrown the nest, and while they fly out of the nest instinctively, their underdeveloped landing and take-off skills mean that they might struggle to become airborne again after landing on the ground. They consequently spend considerable time hopping around on the ground and learning food-finding skills from their parents. During this period, their mother is usually nearby and will return regularly to feed the fledglings while they learn how to find food.
What to do if you find a fledgling
If you find a fledgling, keep children and other animals away from it, but otherwise leave it alone. Its parents will continue to support their fledgling bird from a distance, and in due course the bird will develop the capability it needs to fly away as an adult.
There are few situations where you would need to interact with a fledgling, but if you find one that’s injured, or appears to be cold, weak, or unable to move, then you should carefully place it in a shoebox or the like, and take it to the nearest vet.
There are various breeds of birds that will swoop to protect their nest and babies. These include magpies, miners, and the quintessentially Australian bird, the laughing kookaburra. Not all birds are aggressive and few will show aggression towards humans, but swooping is their natural way of discouraging intruders, whether they’re other animals or humans.
Native birds in South Australia are protected and the best approach is to avoid them. To learn more about the birds that swoop and how to safely deal with the situation, refer to the South Australian Government’s guidelines.
Spring is traditionally associated with the birth of baby animals, and while Spring is the season when farm animals are typically born, dogs and cats can breed at any time of the year if the conditions are right.
Something for new pet parents to bear in mind is that from 1st July 2018, all dogs and cats in South Australia must be microchipped. They must be microchipped before they reach 12 weeks of age, or within 28 days after an owner takes possession of the animal.
This year, while you’re spring cleaning, preparing your garden for summer, or simply enjoying Spring’s delightful colours and scents, remember that your pets may need some extra attention or care as well. As always, if you have any questions about your pet’s healthcare, or the seasonal impacts, don’t hesitate to reach out.