Don’t worry, your pet isn’t alone! Allergies are very common; anywhere from 20-25% of dogs and 10-20% of cats have ‘atopic dermatitis’, otherwise known as allergies. Allergies result from a hypersensitivity reaction where your pet’s immune system is set into overdrive as a result of an irritant in their presence.
Allergies have many clinical signs, but our main tip offs are licking of the paws, recurrent ear infections, skin redness, and incessant scratching, rubbing, or rolling to get that perfect spot of itch relief. In order to accurately diagnose or even initially suspect allergies, it is helpful that your pet is on routine flea/tick prevention in order to rule out any mites or fleas that could be contributing to allergic symptoms. Allergies, while extremely common, unfortunately are a condition that cannot be ‘cured’. This makes management essential for their continued comfort.
Allergies come in two categories: food and/or environmental. For our food allergies, we are able to feed them a strict novel or hydrolyzed protein diet with no other treats, scraps, supplements, or flavored preventatives for 2-3 months. Food allergic animals will resolve clinical signs during this period, and after challenging to confirm that their original food was the culprit – they stay on this special diet for continued resolution of lesions.
For our environmental allergic patients, the gold standard of care is allergy testing with subsequent use of allergen specific immunotherapy. Allergy testing consists of either directly injecting approximately 50 allergens into the skin (intradermally) or by a blood sample that tests for circulating antibodies for specific common allergens in our area. These allergens typically include varying weeds, trees, grasses, dust mites, and other environmental allergens chosen from our geographical area. Once we have the test results from either method, we will formulate a personalized ‘recipe’ that includes those allergens that are the underlying cause of your pet’s symptoms called ‘allergen specific immunotherapy’.
Once your pet has been diagnosed with environmental allergies and has been tested, they are now able to have a personalized allergen-specific immunotherapy (ASIT) made for them.
Immunotherapy (ASIT) works by administering extremely small quantities of the allergens your pet is allergic to and gradually increasing that amount to desensitize them to the tree pollens, grasses, weeds, molds, mites, or others. By desensitizing them in this small quantity over time, when they are placed into an environment which would normally result in all of their prior symptoms and kick their immune system into overdrive, their body will remember their exposure with the immunotherapy and be able to reduce their reaction response, therefore reducing or eliminating their symptoms that drive them crazy. This routine, consistent immunotherapy administration allows their body to become more tolerant of those allergens around them.
Administering your pet’s immunotherapy also comes in two types: sublingual (“SLIT”), or subcutaneous injections (“ASIT”). Sublingual immunotherapy is given on the gum tissue twice daily, and subcutaneous injections are given anywhere from once weekly to once every other week depending on clinical signs and tolerance. We teach you all how to give either of these methods, and they are able to be given at home. Both methods are equally effective at dispensing the proper allergen quantity to train your pet’s body to stop responding to the surrounding pollens.
Immunotherapy is the only current allergy treatment that has the potential to alter, or reverse our pet’s immune response. Therefore, this can improve their clinical signs and increase their overall comfort and quality of life in the long run. Immunotherapy also is not a pharmaceutical, as it is made of pure allergens and therefore has no documented long-term side effects. Studies report improvement in approximately anywhere from 70-90% of patients treated with immunotherapy, and the highest level of improvement seen with each pet can take up to a year of administration. During this year, however, we are able to utilize other allergy control to keep your pet comfortable.
Our end goal of administering immunotherapy is that it will be the sole use of allergy control for your pet for the rest of their lives. Many of our clients are able to do just that— and are regularly controlled. However, there are those that will need additional masking medications such as a short course of steroids, apoquel, Cytopoint injections, etc. during their tougher seasons through the year.
-Kotnik, T. Quality of Life of Allergic Dogs Treated with Allergen-Specific Immunotherapy —A Retrospective Study. Vet. Sci. 2023, 10, 72. https://doi.org/ 10.3390/vetsci10020072
-Bajwa J. Atopic dermatitis in cats. Can Vet J. 2018 Mar;59(3):311-313. PMID: 29599562; PMCID: PMC5819051.
-Hensel et al. Canine Atopic dermatitis: detailed guidelines for diagnosis and allergen identification, BMC Veterinary Research (2015) 11:196 DOI 10.1186/s12917-015-0515-5