Dogs, like their owners, can experience a variety of allergies. Allergens in their food or in their environment are responsible for more than 30 percent of the skin irritations that dogs experience. Allergy testing can be expensive and does require some dedication on the part of the dog’s owner. However, testing your dog for allergies can result in a significantly improved quality of life if an allergy is identified and treated.
Itching is the primary allergy symptom; it can be intense and prolonged. Dogs try to relieve their itching in a number of ways. Not only do they scratch, but they may also experience rashes, hair loss, eye redness and irritation, sneezing, diarrhea and discharge from the nose and eyes. In extreme cases, dogs can have serious skin issues, such as exposed skin that is moist and/or scabby, open sores or bacterial infections. Certain kinds of allergies may cause specific behavioral symptoms. For example, flea allergies are often characterized by hair loss at the base of the tail due to chewing or due to rubbing against various items to relieve itching.
Types of Allergy Testing
Several kinds of allergy testing are available for use in dogs. Dogs with food allergies are often put on elimination diets to determine what ingredient is causing their symptoms. If commercial hypoallergenic foods are used, this kind of diet can become very expensive very quickly. You can, however, use a homemade elimination diet for your dog, given the ability to restrict the ingredients at will. In either case, the dog must be on this strict diet, with no additional treats or foods, for 12 weeks. If food allergies aren't present in the dog, the allergy symptoms are likely to be caused by atopy (inhalant dermatitis) or by contact dermatitis. In such cases, either blood testing or intradermal skin testing may be used for further testing. Blood testing is used to determine if any antigen-related antibodies are present and circulating in the dog’s bloodstream. However, blood testing has some limitations and may cause false positive results; that is, it may indicate that a dog is allergic to something even when an allergy is not present. For this reason, many veterinarians prefer intradermal skin testing over blood testing. Intradermal skin testing consists of injecting a small amount of a particular kind of antigen into a dog’s skin and observing the area for a response to the injection.
Tips for Improving Allergy Testing Results
Provide your dog’s veterinarian with the most accurate health history possible. The veterinarian may want to do some preliminary blood work or a skin scratch test as part of this early information-gathering process. Have your dog thoroughly examined by a veterinarian prior to doing allergy testing. Your dog should be tested for parasites, sarcoptic mange and bacterial, yeast, or fungal infections. Minimize the presence of allergens in your dog’s environments before doing allergy testing. If possible, board your dog at a kennel or with a friend and give your house a deep cleaning, including any carpeting, upholstery and curtains. Add a HEPA filter to the environment to reduce the presence of allergens in the air. Removing allergens from the environment may also remove the need for allergy testing. If your dog experiences persistent allergy symptoms, you may need to start him on a hypoallergenic diet. Finally, if the suspected allergy is a response to seasonal triggers, such as particular grasses or pollen, have your dog tested during the time of year when those triggers are most prevalent in the environment.
Costs of Allergy Testing
Dog owners must be prepared to follow the allergy testing process through from the beginning to the end, once it has begun. As of the date of publication, an elimination diet alone can be quite costly, given that dry dog food can cost between $28 and $70 per bag. The amount of time each bag lasts is dependent on the size and the activity level of your dog; however, you should expect to buy enough food to last approximately three months to ensure that allergens are removed from your dog’s system. Depending on where you live, expect to pay between $200 and $300 for blood testing and up to $200 for skin testing. Allergy treatments vary in cost, but may also be expensive depending on the nature of the treatment required.
- veterinarian with dog image by Jaimie Duplass from Fotolia.com