Is your pet itchier in the spring? Tree pollens are a common cause for spring itching in our pets (and ‘hay fever’ in their owners). The majority of maple trees (family Sapindaceae, formerly Aceraceae) spread their pollen by both insects and wind (called amphiphilous). These sweet, pollen producing flowers are very attractive to bees and often offer one of the first meals for them in the spring. Maple flowers can produce large numbers of pollen grains (up to 8000 per flower), each one of which could cause an itch, scratch, or sneeze.
Box elder is a type of maple tree that only spreads its pollens through the air (termed anemophilous); it produces the most airborne pollens of all maple trees. Due to the high numbers of wind circulating pollens, box elder is the most common human allergy in the maple group. All species of maple trees can cause allergies in pets and the pollens will typically cross react with each other (animals that react to one species of maple can also react to other types of maple trees). Common maple allergies in pets include box elder, red maple, silver maple, and sugar maple trees. In dogs, most of their allergy symptoms are produced when allergens (including pollens) are absorbed through the skin. Given how common maple trees are around people's yards, they are typically a major cause for spring time itching in our pets. Pollens can even get inside and cause itching and scratching in cats and dogs that stay inside. Maple pollen levels peak in the Northeast United States from late February through April; however, pets may continue to react to tree pollens into the summer, as they typically fall to the ground where pets can continue to react to them.
Here is an example of what maple pollens look like under the microscope:
Bathing and wiping your pet down frequently to remove these allergenic pollens can be very helpful with reducing allergy related symptoms such as scratching, biting, chewing, and licking: https://www.vetremedy.com/truth-about-bathing-your-dog
Fun fact: The fruit produced by maple trees are called samaras, which are winged seeds. They are commonly referred to as ‘helicopters’