Don’t know what your dog is allergic to? Try allergy shots

by Audrey Harvey

You may have heard of “allergy shots” for dogs and people. That’s a generic name for immunotherapy treatment for allergies, and is the ideal way to manage atopy, or allergies to dusts and pollens, in our dogs.

Allergic reactions occur when a dog’s immune system over-reacts to an allergen, resulting in red itchy skin. The idea behind immunotherapy is to give your dog very small doses of that allergen, and gradually increase the dose over time. That way his immune system gets used to the allergen, and is less likely to react to it.

A vital part of immunotherapy is actually figuring out what your dog is allergic to. This involves visiting a veterinary dermatologist for skin testing. Your dog’s side will be shaved and small amounts of various allergens such as various pollen extracts, dust mite extract, and flea extract are injected into his skin. If he is allergic to something that has been injected, a round raised welt will appear on his skin where the injection was given.  You can then work out what your dog is reacting to.

Your dog’s dermatologist will then formulate an injection based on the results of these tests. This injection will contain small amounts of the materials he is allergic to. It is then injected into your dog every few weeks, starting with an extremely low dose. The dose is then slowly increased over a 4-6 week period.

Immunotherapy can have a success rate of 60%- 80% in controlling the symptoms of atopy in dogs. This means that you don’t have to use corticosteroids to ease your dog’s itch, which will reduce the chance of unpleasant and potentially dangerous side effects. Just imagine – no more itching and scratching, and no need to give your dog tablets or injections on a regular basis just to keep him comfortable.

Immunotherapy isn’t for everyone, and the reason for that relates to a dog’s owner rather than to the dog itself.  This treatment for atopy is expensive: the average cost is $500 – $1000 per year in veterinary services and vaccine formulation, as maintenance booster injections are usually required for the rest of the dog’s life.

Many people don’t like the idea of having to give their dog an injection on a regular basis. Their veterinarian can do this for them, but this can be inconvenient and will add to the expense.

There can be some adverse reactions to immunotherapy injection – because you are injecting something that your dog is actually allergic to, it can make his symptoms worse!

The other main disadvantage of immunotherapy is it isn’t a quick fix. It can take from one month to one year to see a positive result. This on its own won’t be quick enough for many dog owners who are concerned about their dog’s discomfort. They want their dog to feel better much quicker than that, and prefer to rely on medication such as corticosteroids.

If you do want to try immunotherapy with your dog, you can’t use any medication at the same time. There’s no point in trying to allow his immune system to adapt to allergens while you suppress it with drugs.  So, you’ll need to use other methods to ease his itch while the vaccines are taking effect. This is where Comfy Dog colloidal oatmeal shampoo is so useful. Its colloidal oatmeal is approved by the FDA to ease itching, and its all natural herbal extracts will soothe his skin without interfering with the work of his vaccine. After a shampoo, use Fur Butter for extra conditioning, and your dog’s skin will be much more comfortable as his treatment takes effect. Finally you can try Itchin’ For Relief– an all natural anti-itch spray that provides some immediate relief.  If you are still desparate you can try Sleepytime Tonic. This is perfect for those nights when your dog wakes you up licking and scratching obsessively. All natural Sleepytime Tonic will help to calm your dog so that you can both get some much-needed sleep!

Audrey Harvey is a veterinarian who has worked in small animal practice for 20 years, and has been involved in teaching and competing in dog obedience and agility. She is passionate about preventative health care in dogs, particularly obesity management and the prevention of boredom related behavioral problems. Audrey lives in Brisbane Australia, and shares her couch with an Australian Cattle Dog, an Australian Working Kelpie and two Whippets.

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