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Allergy testing is the process of identifying specific allergens that may be causing reactions in an individual animal. This is currently the only reliable method for identifying which environmental allergens are responsible for symptoms associated with atopic dermatitis (skin and ear disease caused by reactions to environmental allergens).
Atopic dermatitis is diagnosed by a veterinary dermatologist by identifying typical age, history, skin and ear lesions, and by ruling out other potential causes. Once a diagnosis of atopic dermatitis is made allergy testing can be performed by intradermal (skin) allergy test or blood test. The intradermal allergy test is the gold standard for identification of potential allergens and is performed by Animal Dermatology Clinic dermatologists in dogs, cats, horses and other species.
The process of intradermal allergy testing includes sedation or anesthesia (often depending on the breed), clipping of hair along the side of the chest, and injection of multiple allergens into the skin. Dermatologists then observe these sites within 15 to 30 minutes for signs of reactions and record exact allergens that cause a response.
In some cases, dermatologists may perform a blood allergy test in addition to or instead of intradermal skin testing, depending on the needs of the individual patient.
The goal of allergy testing is to identify specific allergens for an individual in order to formulate a serum of these allergens that is then given as an injection or administered by mouth to de-sensitize a pet to their specific allergy triggers. This is known as Allergen Specific Immunotherapy (ASIT) and is formulated specifically for each animal based on their test results. Most often this immunotherapy is administered at home by pet owners on a pre-defined gradually increasing schedule over a period of 3-4 months. Once the appropriate volume and frequency of injection are determined, ASIT is typically continued for the life of the pet. On average, most dogs and cats receive their allergy injection every 1-2 weeks.
For those unable to administer injections, sublingual (oral) Immunotherapy is an option. Like traditional allergy injections, sublingual immunotherapy uses the results of allergy testing to formulate an allergy serum. In this case, however, it is administered by mouth, typically twice daily, every day. Unlike injectable immunotherapy, sublingual immunotherapy is a daily therapy expected to also be continued for life.
If you think your pet is suffering from atopic dermatitis, ask your veterinarian if referral to Animal Dermatology Clinic is right for your pet or contact the Animal Dermatology Clinic location nearest you.
Atopic Dermatitis in Pets
How to Give an Antigen Shot
Allergy testing for dogs can be done by intradermal allergy test (intradermal skin test) or by blood test. The intradermal test is considered the gold standard and the most reliable. For the intradermal test, dogs are typically sedated (not under general anesthesia), a patch of hair is clipped on the side of the chest and multiple allergens are injected into the skin. Reactions are measured and recorded after 15 -30 minutes.
Intradermal allergy testing, blood testing and saliva/hair all produce unreliable results. An elimination diet trial is the only accurate method to identify a food allergy.
The most common allergic reaction in dogs is flea allergy – an allergic reaction to the bite of a flea or small number of fleas (even when no fleas are seen!). After flea reactions, common allergens include house dust mites, tree, weed and grass pollens, insects (including ants and mosquitoes) and molds. Foods may also cause allergic reactions in dogs but are less common than flea allergy and environmental allergy (atopic dermatitis). If you suspect allergy in your dog, veterinary dermatologists specialize in the assessment and management of allergic disease in animals. Allergy testing may be recommended and may lead to better allergy control long term.
There is no reliable at-home allergy test. Allergy testing in pets is a tool to help identify specific environmental allergy triggers that are contributing to symptoms like itching, scratching and secondary infections. While several at-home allergy tests are available (run on hair or saliva), most of these are not validated, have not been tested against conventional allergy tests and provide no solutions for long term allergy management. For food allergy, no blood, hair or saliva test has been shown to be reliable in documenting food reactions. An elimination diet trial is the only appropriate way to assess potential food allergy. For environmental allergy (atopic dermatitis) intradermal allergy testing and blood testing may be useful tools. However, since environmental allergens are typically not avoidable, a plan for de-sensitizing an individual to these allergens is needed to help manage allergic symptoms.
ANY dog can have symptoms associated with allergies. Common breeds that are predisposed include French Bulldogs, West Highland White terriers, Cocker spaniels, Labrador retrievers, Golden retrievers and many others.
Most common symptoms associated with allergies in dogs include itching, scratching and excess licking, inflammation of the skin and ears, and secondary skin and ear infections. These may be seasonal depending on the cause. With food allergies, some animals may also have gastrointestinal problems including soft stools, diarrhea, frequent bowel movements or vomiting. Coughing, sneezing, runny nose and watery eyes may occur but are much less common than skin and ear symptoms.
Medications used to alleviate allergic symptoms in pets may include antihistamines, corticosteroids and many others. Since no two pets are alike, it is recommended to see your veterinarian to determine the best approach to manage your pet’s symptoms.
Allergy testing can be done in any pet over 6 months of age, but most veterinary dermatology specialists prefer them to be at least 1 year old. This may vary, however, depending on the degree and severity of allergic symptoms.
Some blood allergy tests may provide valuable information about environmental allergy but have no value in assessing food allergy. Intradermal allergy testing is considered the gold standard in allergy testing and may often be done instead of or in addition to blood testing. Regardless of method, the only reason to do allergy testing in a pet is to then use those results to begin hyposensitization through immunotherapy.
There is no one medication that is best for itch relief in dogs. Medications used for itch relief may include corticosteroids (cortisone), Apoquel (oclacitinib), Cytopoint (Lokivetmab) and Atopica (cyclosporine). Since many dogs/cats may have bacterial or yeast infections in their skin and ears, antibiotics or antifungal medications may also provide significant itch relief. For best results, see your veterinarian or a veterinary dermatologist to help you assess the cause of the itch and arrive at an appropriate treatment plan.
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