Cats, dogs and horses are like humans in terms of pollen allergies

It is that time of year in the UK and America and other countries when companion animals can be hit by a pollen bomb hay fever during warm and hot weather. These three species of animal can suffer from hay fever just like humans according to a study which is cited at the base of this article. Typically the symptoms are somewhat different.

Cats can suffer from hay fever
Cats can suffer from hay fever
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In humans, pollen allergens cause rhinitis and asthma. In canines these allergens predominantly cause canine atopic dermatitis and in cats, the allergens cause rhinitis, asthma and dermatitis while for horses, they can suffer from recurrent urticaria, purity dermatitis and recurrent airway obstruction (this would appear to be a horse version of asthma).

Similar process

In humans, in Europe, there’s about a 70% allergic reaction to pollen allergens. And for humans, dogs, cats and horses, the same cell types are involved in the triggering of an allergic reaction such as mast cells and T regulatory cells. Dogs cats and horses can spontaneously develop an allergic reaction to pollen to different extents depending upon the individual. And their reaction in the nose, skin and lungs due to an allergy to pollen is comparable to the reaction in humans.

IgE testing in humans

In humans, Ig E testing plays a crucial role in diagnosing allergies. IgE is an antibody produced by the immune system and it’s involved in the allergic response. It plays a central role in allergic diseases. Testing for IgE helps to determine which allergens a person is sensitive to because IgE antibodies are specific to particular allergens. The test is carried out using a skin prick test in which a small amount of allergen extract is applied to the skin. If a person is allergic a localised skin reaction occurs. Or it might be a blood test which measures the level of specific IgE antibodies in the blood; high IgE levels may indicate a high risk of severe allergic reactions and is useful for assessing anaphylaxis.

These tests are pretty accurate but not 100%. False positives/negatives can occur and
interpretation requires clinical context and correlation with symptoms. Also, other factors (such as medications) can affect IgE levels.

For horses, dogs and cats

The same sort of tests in cats dogs and horses are even less accurate on my research and according to the study below. It is unclear why but in animals tests for pollen allergen sensitivities is carried out using intradermal tests rather than epidermal prick tests. A small amount of suspected allergen is injected just under the skin (intradermally) and the reaction observed.

Treatments for all four species

And the way that humans, dogs, cats and horses are desensitised is through allergen immunotherapy also known as desensitisation or hypo-sensitisation. It aims to modify the immune system’s response to allergens and it involves exposing patients to increasing doses of allergen extracts over time such as pollen which trigger the allergic reactions.

The immunotherapy can be administered via injections or sublingual drops/tablets i.e. placed under the tongue. Sometimes skin patches might be used as a newer technique. These methods teach the immune system to tolerate the allergen rather than react to it. It leads to a reduction in the production of regulatory immune cells which reduce IgE production and reactivity to the allergen.


With respect to cats and dogs, caregivers can do one or two things to help minimise an allergic reaction to pollen during summer. They might time their walks with the dog for instance when pollen is low. They might keep an eye on pollen forecasts which are, in the UK, delivered with the weather forecast.

And, both for indoor/outdoor cats and dogs, they might regularly wash and vacuum their bedding to remove an accumulation of pollen. They might wipe down their cat or dog when they come in from the outside.

As for treatments, the advice is to see your veterinarian and stick to vet-prescribed treatments to ensure safety and efficacy. It is probably advisable to avoid online remedies or at least consult with your veterinarian first. Cat and dog owner home treatments can be a great money saver and they can be good but there’s a risk and when it comes to companion animal health risks should not be taken.

Study citation: Jensen-Jarolim, E., Einhorn, L., Herrmann, I. et al. Pollen Allergies in Humans and their Dogs, Cats and Horses: Differences and Similarities. Clin Transl Allergy 5, 15 (2015).

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