Dog Allergy Testing: Everything You Need to Know
Remember that horrible rash you broke out in after visiting Grandma’s sunflower farm? And the reddish blotches that marked your skin months after the event? Yes, that was pretty bad. Allergies can be a real pain when they occur and dogs aren’t exempt. Your poochie’s persistent itching of its ear until it is ragged and bloodied is not unconnected to an allergy. Same goes for the bald spots popping up every which way on his formerly silky coat. Not sure what kind of allergy has your beloved pooch in its grip? If yes, you are not alone. Dog allergy testing can get to be a little tricky especially seeing as your canine buddy can’t exactly explain how it feels. With this article, you are well on your way to finding out all you need to know about dog allergy testing.
What is a Dog Allergy?
A step in the right direction is to understand what causes an allergy in dogs in the first place. An allergy occurs when a dog’s system reacts to substances known as allergens which are made up of proteins. Proteins sound like a good thing, right? In dogs, not so much. Poochie’s immune system actually identifies allergens as a threat. Once a threat is identified, the dog’s immune system goes into protection mode seeking to remove this ‘foreign’ substance. When in the dog’s body, it leads to a release of pro-inflammatory substances which in turn causes inflammation. The immune system’s objective is to create a hostile environment for the allergen, hopefully eradicating it.
Sadly, this natural response of Poochie’s immune system to protect it ends up creating some of the allergic reactions you might have observed. Talk about defenses gone awry! Itching is just one of the possible allergic reactions a dog might have. Redness, swelling of body parts, a runny nose and stomach, ear infections and hives are just some warning signs to be on the lookout for when you suspect an allergy.
Possible Dog Allergies
The type of allergic reactions your dog is experiencing and might determine the kind of allergy it will undergo. Several allergies are common in dogs – the atopic, contact and flea types are the most likely to happen. Food allergies, while not particularly common, can be quite deadly when they do occur.
- Atopic allergies
These come about through inhalation. Little wonder why 15% of dogs will come down with this allergy at some point. Your poor canine can hardly move around not breathing. This allergen can make its way into Poochie’s system simply by it inhaling some dust or pollen. Once a dog breathes in and the allergen hits its lungs, the immune system will kick in with a skin reaction evidenced by skin irritation, persistent ear infections and lots of itching.
Seeing as all these symptoms are not only very painful and uncomfortable for your dog to have to live with, they can potentially get worse with secondary infections jumping on the allergy bandwagon if left unchecked, especially as soon as they are observed. Your dog can literally go crazy with itching until it rips out its own fur in patches all in a bid to get some relief. As it turns out, some dog breeds are more likely than others to come down with an atopic allergy. Boxers, beagles, and golden retrievers are among the more likely to be afflicted breeds.
- Flea allergies
You might imagine dogs and fleas go hand in hand, incidentally, it is possible for a dog to be allergic to fleas with some coming down with allergic reactions following a bite. With at least two in five dogs likely to come down with a flea allergy, the likelihood of your canine having one is not so strange after all. Flea saliva is loaded with just the right kind of protein to trigger a reaction in dogs with an immune system sensitive to flea bites. As with most allergic reactions in dogs, flea bite allergy is characterized by lots of itching, followed by lots of scratching and of course the lapping of that pink, doggy tongue across affected parts futilely trying to cool the inflammation.
- Food allergies
Finicky eaters amongst the human race are not exactly unheard of. In the doggy world, it is much more of a rarity. Canines, unlike humans, do not have the luxury of knowing what food triggers their allergies and avoid them. Dogs with food allergies could react badly to the protein-loaded corn or soy. Even fish, meat, or dairy could induce allergic reactions in susceptible canines. So before you start feeling generous and give Poochie some of that frozen yogurt you can’t get enough of, think twice.
With one in every ten dogs falling victim of food allergies, the odds are in Poochie’s favor. Food allergies in dogs are a lot less common though cannot be entirely ruled out. Is your dog acting out of sorts since chewing on some of that venison you brought back from your hunting trip? If that is a yes, take a closer look at your dog. Do you observe any head shaking, itching with sneezes and wheezes in the mix? Or is your dog suddenly obsessed with its face, rubbing on it over and over? If that too is a yes, don’t be too quick to dismiss it as a case of canine narcissism with your pet just feeling himself. Poochie just might have a food allergy.
- Acute allergic
These conditions, on the other hand, is the most deadly of all the allergies our canine pals can come down with. Thankfully, it is infrequent but when it does happen, a dog can go into anaphylactic shock. A dog in anaphylactic shock is a dog almost succumbing to death. With all the noisy, difficult breathing brought on by a fast heart rate, seizures, drool everywhere, vomiting and diarrhea, a dog is in pretty bad shape and needs to be taken to the emergency room immediately. A quick response to these signs can save a canine’s life. This deadly allergic reaction is brought only mostly by a bee sting although some cases have been attributed to reactions to vaccines.
Dog Allergy Testing Methods
Depending on the kind of allergy a dog has come down with, the testing options vary. The main dog allergy testing methods are blood/skin/serum allergy testing and food elimination.
- Blood Allergy Testing
Blood testing for allergies in canines is one of the most common ways to determine if a dog is allergic to specific triggers. This test needs to be carried out by a vet. You cannot DIY your way around this one. The blood testing method is a pretty simple one with some blood drawn from the affected dog then tested. Depending on the climate and environment in which the dog resides, other possible allergens such as stone dust or smoke could also be tested for. The more likely allergens a dog could have though are usually dust, mold, and pollen.
Even fabrics such as cotton have been known to trigger allergic reactions in dogs. If there is even a chance that a particular canine could be exposed to such material, the blood test will cover that potential allergen. Blood allergy testing is a much less painful method for dogs. It is best to carry out a dog allergy test at a time when the suspected triggers are rife. If a dog appears allergic to pollen, for instance, carrying out a test for that in the dead of winter likely would not give very accurate results, same goes for dust. The blood allergy test is very effective for determining which of the allergens trigger severe, mild or no reaction at all. Before carrying out any dog allergy test, it is best to hold off on giving your dog any allergy medication it might have been previously using. Such allergy medication could interfere with your getting an accurate reading.
- Skin Allergy Testing
Skin allergy testing is another popular method used in determining a dog’s allergies. To use this method, a dog must go under owing to the long period used in carrying out the test. Following sedation of the dog to ensure it remains still during the procedure, a portion of its fur is shaved to reveal the skin below and laid on its side. Using a syringe, controlled amounts of the allergen to be tested is introduced into the dog’s skin in a pattern which makes it easier to identify if the dog is reacting to it quickly. The dog’s reaction to each of the introduced allergen will determine what treatment method will be applied.
Your dog will be under close observation during this test to monitor its reactions to any of the allergens over a period of several hours. The possibility is very real that your pet could have a very strong reaction to one or several of the allergens, hence the need for this test to be done in a controlled environment where emergencies can be quickly handled.
It’s normal to question if this allergy testing method, which is a lot more tedious for canines than a simple blood allergy test, is really worth putting your dog through all that. However, considering that skin allergy tests have a reputed accuracy of 75%, it sure is worth the temporary ‘stress’ to know for sure what kind of allergen you are dealing with and handling it right away. With the exception of a pooch who is under some medication such as antihistamines which could interfere with getting an accurate reading, skin allergy tests are your best bet in getting to the root of your dog’s allergy.
- Food Elimination Allergy Testing
It could be that you observed your dog isn’t allergic to pollen or dust but still exhibits symptoms that come across as allergic reactions, especially after meals. Unable to figure out exactly which food(s) could be the culprit? Worry no more. With a food elimination allergy test, this can very quickly be addressed. Simply take your dog to a vet to get it done. It is a time-consuming test that takes place over a period during which the dog’s reactions to certain foods will be observed. Typically, the dog’s regular diet is replaced with a new one which will include at least one protein the dog is unfamiliar with. The pooch will be on this new diet for several weeks or until an improvement in its symptoms is observed.
Following the observation of improvement, one protein from the original diet is added back on and the dog is observed for possible reactions. If within two weeks, the dog begins to develop an allergic reaction again, it can be rightly assumed that the dog is allergic to that particular food. If all goes well and the dog shows no allergic reaction, yet another suspected food allergen is added on and observation continues until all allergens have been discovered. Food allergies in dogs can be a little difficult to track especially owing to the food elimination method used. A lot of patience is needed to pull this off. Food allergy tests have been known to take as long as a 12 week period over which the dog is exposed to possible food triggers.
Dog allergy testing can get to be quite pricey with some tests going for over $100. Cost concerns could lead you to consider other ‘alternative’ dog allergy testing methods such as testing saliva or hair samples. Dog allergy testing is a job best left to the pros. As it stands, such methods are not recommended by professional veterinary bodies such as the American College of Veterinary Dermatology and the European College of Veterinary Dermatology as they are unproven to give accurate readings of the presence of allergen(s) in dogs.
- Dog Allergies – WebMD