A veterinary dermatologist uses current test methods and proven treatments to control dog allergies and prevent symptoms from reoccurring. Your family veterinarian will refer you to a veterinary dermatologist, or you may ask them for a referral if your dog’s allergy doesn’t clear up quickly and the underlying cause is too difficult to pinpoint.
An “allergy” is a hypersensitive reaction to an allergen and usually causes terrible itching in pets. The allergen responsible for the problem can range from insect bites to a particular food or particles in the environment that you pet is exposed to. A veterinary dermatologist specializes in identifying allergens and treating pets that exhibit allergy symptoms. They will find the cause and a long-term solution for your dog.
Some Animals are More Prone to Allergies than Others
Certain breeds of dogs are more sensitive to allergens than others while some may be more hypersensitive or allergic, based on individual variations.
When Should Allergy Testing be Done?
Allergy testing and obtaining a diagnosis works best if performed when allergy symptoms are present. While humans are more likely to respond with coughing, skin rashes, or breathing difficulties due to allergic reactions, the most common symptoms of allergies in dogs include itchiness, licking or biting paws, skin infection, ear infection, head shaking, and occasionally gastrointestinal symptoms such as soft stools, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Preliminary checks should be done before allergy testing is performed:
- The usual suspects that cause itching should be ruled out: fleas, mites, fungal or yeast infections, and chronic bacterial infections. These causes are fairly easy to spot and treat.
- Food allergies are more difficult and may take longer to identify. If your dog is placed on a hypoallergenic diet and the symptoms clear up, food or certain ingredients are likely causing the problem. They can then be reintroduced, one at a time, to reveal the culprit or culprits, which can be avoided in the future.
Preliminary checks may not reveal the cause of the problem. Any dog that suffers from recurrent symptoms or does not respond to traditional treatments should be tested to find the exact allergen so that treatment can begin with a specific therapy.
There are Two Basic Types of Testing for Environmental Allergies (Canine Atopic Dermatitis)
- Intradermal Skin Test – This is considered the gold standard allergy test for the identification of allergens involved in environmental allergies in dogs. This is similar to the same test performed for identifying environmental allergies in humans, including children. Within a few hours, a veterinarian dermatologist will be able to determine if the reaction is sufficient to be considered an allergic reaction. This test helps determine the allergens causing discomfort to pets and is used to formulate therapy such as desensitization to allergies.
- Serum Allergy Test – A blood test checks for antigen antibodies in the blood. If they cause an allergic reaction, they are allergens. This is not always reliable with regards to confirmation of allergens involved in the condition—but can be used if the dog’s skin is unhealthy, or for various other reasons if the preferable intradermal testing is unsuitable.
What Happens after the Offending Allergens are Identified?
Once identified, the most effective immunotherapy (also called allergy vaccine, allergen specific immunotherapy or desensitization therapy) is manufactured specifically for your dog by a veterinary dermatologist and treatments will begin. This is done by using natural extracts of allergens that your pet is individually allergic to, into a delivery liquid and then administering these drops to your dog over a period of weeks or months so that your pet develops an immunity to it. The allergy drops or allergy vaccine may be administered using injections under the skin (subcutaneous therapy) or using oral drops given in to your dog’s mouth directly (oral immunotherapy). Both these methods are effective for desensitization against allergies. The vet dermatologist will discuss these options with you, and will help decide which option is most suited for your pet with allergies in order to bring treatment success.
Veterinary dermatologists train for, and become experienced at, testing, managing, and treating dog allergies with great success and can free your dog from suffering.
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Dr. Jangi Bajwa is a Board certified veterinary dermatologist at VetDERM Clinic in Surrey BC. He is also the dermatology feature editor for Canadian Veterinary Journal. Dr. Bajwa’s special interests include otitis and allergic disease in pets; as well as helping improve quality of life of pets and their families.