What a wondrous spring we had—although allergy sufferers may disagree. It came on early, strong and stayed around a whole lot longer than usual. I’m talking about that powdery pollen that coats your car in an envelope of green fog and lines your window sills daily, scoffing at your attempts to clean them. It also wreaks havoc on your sinuses. Yes, this is the time of the year where a human condition often gets transposed to a pet condition. It is easy to do, but it’s likely not the same type of illness/allergy.
Pet owners may experience actual upper respiratory allergic symptoms. This is your body’s overreaction to a normal stimulus, whether it’s pollen, mole or hay fever (whatever that is). Sneezing, congestion, runny eyes and nose, itchy eyes and general head malaise are the usual suspects. Your pets may experience these very same symptoms, and it is easy to assume they are suffering from the same allergies that you are fighting. Although that could be true, it is unlikely.
Dogs and outdoor or indoor/outdoor cats are most commonly affected by this faux allergy attack. It happens every spring. We vets see an increased number of visits and phone calls concerning pets that are mimicking or mirroring the same symptoms as humans get.
The best analogy I can come up with is that it’s like sweeping out your garage without sweeping compound. All that dirt and dust is stirred up temporarily and gets inhaled, causing coughing and sneezing. I believe that spring is the temporary garage-sweeping time and that the green ‘dust’ equates to the dirty garage. Think about it: all that new particulate matter suddenly bursting onto the scene and getting all roiled up and swirled around. It is unavoidable.
Another analogy would be the ‘canary in a coal mine.’ Your dogs or cats are down there next to the ground where all this junk is precipitating out. They are right there in the most concentrated volume of stuff, while we two-leggers tower above the malay, relatively speaking. If you think about all that pollen on just your car alone and the daily deposition of that same quantity dumped on your car after you just cleaned it, think about how much of that junk is hitting your best buddy in the face each day as he runs around your yard, nose to the grindstone, sniffing in all that, all where it is concentrated the most. That alone accounts for increased sneezing and/or coughing. It may cause congestion as the body tries to rid itself of this springtime pollen tsunami.
While your dog or cat is hot on the trail of the second generation of bunnies born this spring, the nose is not the only victim. The eyes take a brutal beating, too. I can’t even imagine having that much particulate matter hitting my open eyes like these animals must experience. The sheer volume of microscopic particles that come in contact with our pet’s corneas would bring a tear to any eye. Symptoms will range from reddened whites of the eyes to full-blown conjunctivitis (not pink eye) with greenish ocular discharge. It also may cause itching where your pet is pawing at their own eyes, which can cause its own self-inflicted damage. Squinting can result, called blepharospasm. A gamut of just annoying to problems that require medical treatment are in the offing. But this doesn’t equate to allergies.
Allergic reactions are mediated by families of reactors in the body. This springtime phenomena is more like a mechanical response. I am picturing being pinged in a hailstorm, like I was while fishing in Canada years ago—it hurt. Suddenly there were large particles bombarding my buddy and me, and we had no recourse but to sit there and take the abuse. In my opinion, the same holds true on a microscopic level. There was no green dust a week ago, and now it is unavoidable. This has to be the same as my hailstorm experience for our pets. They are inundated daily with a face full of the green menace. It gets in the eyes, ears, nose and throat. It causes seemingly identical symptoms to our own that cause us to scurry for the Benadryl. But, for pets, it is more likely a response to this phenomenal increase in particles in the air and on our lawns. Keep your moist facecloth ready to keep your baby’s eyes free and clean.
Dr. Kenneth Geoghegan, of Village Veterinary Hospital in Warson Woods (villagevethosp.com), has been a neighborhood veterinarian since 1992.