Is your beloved cat or dog having trouble with their allergies? Is their skin becoming more inflamed? Are they showing symptoms of allergies such as itchiness, biting, licking, scratching, rubbing, skin infections or ear infections? Are skin or ear related symptoms becoming more prominent as time goes on? If so, finding the cause of the allergy and managing the problem would be a good choice for your pet.
Some allergens can be avoided, if the cause is determined. Other allergens cannot be avoided altogether. For such allergens, your pet will benefit from desensitization against the allergens causing the problem. Desensitization against allergens is also called allergen immunotherapy (or allergy shots, or allergy drops, depending on how they are administered to your pet).
Desensitization of your pet for allergens he or she is specifically sensitive to is called allergen-specific desensitization. This technique is preferred by our dermatologists in order to treat environmental allergies. It is an individualized method used to tackle the allergies in your specific pet. This is important as different pets have different allergies.
Desensitization is the process of slowly introducing increasing quantities of an allergen extract to your pet. This can be done using drops in the mouth or injections under the skin. The method will help control allergies and signs of skin and ear problems due to environmental allergies.
Allergies to seasonal pollen, or other environmental allergies, usually respond very well to desensitization with allergy drops or allergy shots. These are the common allergens in your pet’s environment in different seasons that may cause allergy symptoms:
Tree pollen – spring and early summer months
Grass pollen – summer months
Weed pollen – summer months, including early fall months
House dust mites – year round, with worsening of signs in fall and winter months
Molds – year round, with worsening of signs in moist weather
Feathers – may or may not be seasonal depending on source of exposure
Human dander – year round for indoor pets
Allergies to environmental allergens are the most common form of allergies affecting pets presented to our dermatology practice. Food allergy and flea allergy are less common problems and do not need desensitization therapy as avoidance of the problem is very beneficial on its own.
You can read more about allergen desensitization, or allergen-specific immunotherapy (ASIT), here.
How to Determine if Allergen Desensitization Therapy will Benefit Your Pet
Your vet dermatologist will need your assistance with taking the first steps towards use of allergen-specific immunotherapy.
Upon conducting a thorough physical exam on your pet, medical history related to skin problems is evaluated. Reviewing the pet’s complete medical history is most beneficial in making long-term treatment plans.
Once a diagnosis of environmental allergies is made, this is usually indicative of a need for allergen immunotherapy or desensitization. As it is a safe, effective method of helping pets be more comfortable, the diagnosis of environmental allergy indicates that allergy immunotherapy will benefit your pet.
In order to obtain best benefits of allergen immunotherapy, allergy testing for environmental allergens is needed. We do not recommend salivary testing or other tests not available through a vet dermatologist, as such tests are typically unproven in efficacy. The intra-dermal allergy test is a test similar to scratch-testing in humans with allergies. This is the test of choice in our dermatology clinic, as results are very positive in helping pets.
Benefits of Allergen Desensitization Therapy
When the results of intra-dermal skin testing have been interpreted and correlated with your pet’s complete medical history, it helps make allergen-specific immunotherapy or desensitization therapy for your pet. Of pets treated with allergen immunotherapy, about 70% of pets respond positively to the treatment. It is also a cost-effective treatment option for long-term use compared to medications approved for allergy symptom control.
Allergy desensitization is a safe and effective treatment for allergic cats and dogs. It is the only treatment proven to help prevent progression of allergies as pets get older. Allergy immunotherapy also helps decrease need for long term medications, and decreases skin and ear infection development, leading to an improved long-term patient quality of life.
If you feel your pet may benefit from allergen-specific immunotherapy, a dermatology consultation is an excellent idea to ensure this is the right option for your pet.
Other Non-environmental Allergies and Their Treatment
Many allergic cats and dogs benefit immensely from allergen-specific immunotherapy. It can be the most beneficial treatment in many ways, including managing cost, potential adverse effects of medications, and complications of skin conditions.
It is important to note that non-environmental allergies such as food allergy or flea bite allergy do not benefit from desensitization therapy. Thus all allergies should not be considered to be the same. This makes diagnosis of the exact allergy in each pet very important.
Allergen immunotherapy is a strong and effective treatment for allergic pets. Regardless, this treatment option should be used after thorough evaluation of the pet to ensure a successful outcome. We encourage intra-dermal allergy testing and allergy shots or allergy drops only after a thorough exam and review of medical history of your pet has been performed.
When used responsibly, allergen immunotherapy helps bring a lot of happiness and long-term comfort for not only their pets, but also their families.
Creative Commons Attribution: Permission is granted to repost this article in its entirety with credit to VetDERM Clinic and a clickable link back to this page.
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.