itches puppyIf you have a dog or cat with allergies, you probably know how frustrating the symptoms (and your pet’s suffering) can be. Just as with people, there is no cure for allergies in pets. Instead, owners and their veterinarians are left to try to manage the symptoms as best they can.

For some pets, we are able to help the immune system to become less reactive to allergens. You may know a person who needs to get allergy injections periodically. This type of treatment, called immunotherapy, is available for pets as well, and can result in decreased sensitivity to allergens, and decreased allergy symptoms. But, if you’re interested in getting a pet started with immunotherapy, it must begin with allergy testing.

Allergy Testing for Pets

The term ‘allergy testing’ is a little misleading. We are already pretty sure that patients undergoing testing have an airborne allergy, but this type of testing will assess what, exactly, your pet is allergic to. This is done by testing the pet’s skin reactions to a variety of allergens that are likely to be contributing to the pet’s problems.

Once the specific allergens have been determined, the laboratory can develop an allergy injection that is most likely to help the individual pet.

There are two ways to go about allergy testing:

Intradermal Skin Testing – When a pet is tested for skin allergies using this method, an area is shaved and a grid of dots drawn onto the skin. At each dot, a small amount of a specific allergen is injected. After a few minutes, each dot is observed for any evidence of a reaction. Those allergens that elicit positive reactions will often be incorporated into an allergy vaccine for the pet.

Serum Allergy Testing – Also called “in vitro” or blood testing, this method involves a blood draw. A laboratory evaluates the sample for specific antibodies that are associated with allergies. Those substances that have significant numbers of antibodies for the antigens tested may be incorporated into the allergy vaccine.

There is some controversy in the veterinary community as to which method of allergy testing is better. Intradermal skin testing often requires the pet to be off of anti-itch medications for a period of time and may require sedation. For extremely itchy pets or those who cannot safely be sedated, serum allergy testing may be chosen.

The Benefits of Pet Allergy Testing for Pets

Because immunotherapy is the only pet allergy therapy that is aimed at changing the body’s immunological response to the allergy, it is a valuable tool. Approximately half of pets receiving allergy injections will have a significant improvement. This can help eliminate or decrease the need for other therapies.

The Limitations of Pet Allergy Testing

Pet allergy immunotherapy is not magic. It does have limitations. If you are considering having your pet undergo allergy testing, keep the following in mind:

  • About 25% of pets will not respond to immunotherapy
  • If your pet has a food allergy, immunotherapy will not be helpful
  • It can take up to a year to see results
  • Immunotherapy involves giving your pet frequent injections. Most owners can be trained to do this, however there are some  situations where administering injections can be difficult.

Allergy testing for pets can be an extremely important part of managing atopic skin disease. Because there is no cure for pet allergies, immunotherapy can help us to better manage an allergic pet. Intradermal or serum allergy testing allows us to identify which allergens a pet is reacting to and help us to modify the immune response. In some pets, this can result in dramatic relief.

If you think your pet might benefit from allergy testing, please feel free to contact us. We are happy to answer any questions you might have or schedule an allergy consultation appointment.