Environmental allergies affect 10-20% of dogs and cats. Similar to humans, dogs and cats can be allergic to pollen, mold, dander, and dust in their environment. The most common allergic sign in dogs and cats is skin inflammation and itch. Unlike humans, sneezing, runny nose, and stuffy nose are less common in pets with allergies. Environmental allergies tend to start between the ages of 1-3 years and progress over time. Some animals will exhibit obvious seasonal flares, while others experience clinical signs year-round. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all treatment or cure for environmental allergies. While there are many drug options available to alleviate the clinical signs associated with allergies, allergy testing and allergy desensitization are commonly overlooked options.
Allergy testing determines specific environmental allergens that trigger your pet’s symptoms.
Your vet will perform one of two tests:
- Intradermal test (IDAT). An intradermal test (IDAT) (aka skin testing) is the gold standard, and is similar to the prick testing done in humans.
- Blood test or serology testing. A blood test or a serology, while fairly accurate, may have a higher rate of false negatives when compared to skin testing.
The allergens included on an allergy test are generally based on regional plants, trees, grass, mold, and indoor allergens (dust mites, dander, etc). While there are pros and cons of each testing option, the ultimate goal of allergy testing is to be able to create an allergen serum (allergen specific immunotherapy or ASIT) to help desensitize your pet to certain allergens and decrease their clinical signs.
Immunotherapy introduce allergens to your pet’s immune system in small, controlled doses, in hope of switching the body’s response to tolerance instead of inflammation. It can be injected (via shots) or taken sublingually (drops under the tongue or inside the cheek). The frequency and dosing is based on each individual pet’s response.
This procedure is unique when compared to drugs, since each animal will have a unique serum recipe and dosing schedule, based on their own individual response. Immunotherapy has very minimal side effects and is well tolerated by most pets. Compared to humans, dogs and cats have a much lower risk of anaphylaxis associated with desensitization.
Like all treatment options, there are drawbacks to immunotherapy, including the cost of the testing and the delay of onset. Since immunotherapy is not a drug, it takes time to start working. On average, it will take 4-6 months to improve your pet’s tolerance to allergens, in some cases even taking up to a year to kick in. Depending on the source, immunotherapy works in 75-85% of dogs and cats. Response to immunotherapy may allow for reduction or discontinuation of other medications or treatments previously used to manage the symptoms.
Your veterinarian will determine if your pet is a candidate for allergy testing or immunotherapy. In some cases, they may refer you to a veterinary dermatologist that specializes in allergy testing and formulating immunotherapy.