Have you noticed your dog experiencing seasonal itchiness that gets worse during the warmer months but it’s better in the winter? If this has been a recurring problem, it’s likely your pup is suffering from environmental allergies. Similar to humans, dogs are allergic to things like trees, weeds, and grasses in the environment. Depending on what they’re allergic to, they may only be itchy during a short period (like fall) and in the winter, their allergy symptoms completely disappear.
If you’d like to know what your dog is allergic to so you can then begin treatment for their allergies, there are a couple of different ways to test for their allergies.
Intradermal allergy testing: The Gold Standard
If you have any experience with human allergies, you are familiar with skin allergy tests. This type of test can be performed on dogs, too! It is considered the most accurate way to test for allergies but is often the most cost prohibitive up front. Costs vary from doctor to doctor, but the average cost of a skin allergy test is between $800-1200.
Your general practice veterinarian won’t have this test in office, so you will have to consult with a veterinary dermatologist in order to have this test performed. This specialty vet will evaluate your dog’s history of itch and see if there is any seasonality to it. If they determine a skin allergy test is the best fit, they will schedule a separate appointment to perform the test.
The test itself consists of around 60 (give or take depending on the region you live in) allergens. The allergens are trees, weeds, grasses, molds, and indoor allergens (like dust and house mites) that are common to your region. Very small amounts are then injected in to the dermal layer of your dog’s skin on a small shaved patch on their ribs. The severity of their reaction is gauged on the redness and size of the swelling at the injection site. The results of the test are available within 20 minutes of giving the injections, meaning you’ll know immediately what your dog’s allergic to.
Because most dogs won’t sit through this test, they do need to be lightly sedated. Your veterinarian will have you drop your dog off in the morning without breakfast so they can safely sedate your dog. It’s often a very light sedative, and your pooch will leave the office wide awake and ready for his late breakfast.
Blood serology allergy testing for dogs
If skin testing is out of the budget, your veterinarian can have a blood allergy test performed. This is considered by most dermatologists to be almost as accurate as the skin test, but some dogs with definitive allergies may have a negative blood test, meaning a skin test would be necessary to follow up.
These blood tests are run by outside labs and should only be sent off by a dermatologist as general practitioners don’t know how to read the results, and they don’t have the supplies to formulate an allergy vaccine afterwards.
The cost for this test depends on the individual lab, but the average cost is usually between $400 and $500.
What does the vet do with these results?
Both of these tests are the most medically accurate way to test specifically for what your dog is allergic to, and many owners want their dog tested so they can prevent their dog from coming into contact with things they’re allergic to.
While this is great in theory, it’s impossible in practice. Some owners will go so far as to remove the grass from their yard and install rocks or faux grass, not realizing that pollens blow in from miles away.
If you’re going to invest in an allergy test, it only makes financial sense to proceed with allergy immunotherapy. This is formulated with the positives from the allergy test and mixed into a “vaccine”. The idea is to introduce very small, controlled amounts of allergens to your dog’s immune system.
Over the next 12 to 18 months, your dog’s immune system will stop overreacting to their allergens, and 75% of patients will experience increased or complete control of their allergies. Ideally, your dog would be completely controlled with this immunotherapy and not experience any flares during their “bad” times of year. However, some dogs do still need some supplemental help during their more allergic times of year.
The vaccine comes in two forms: injectable or oral. The injectable form is given every 2 weeks while the oral is given twice a day, every day. One is not more effective than the other; it’s simply up to your preference as the owner.
The chronic itching and resulting skin infections in allergy dogs sincerely impedes your dog’s quality of life. If you’re ready to truly get ahold of your dog’s allergies, allergy testing and immunotherapy is the best way to control their itchiness and get their tail wagging again!