Skin problems are frequently the reason why southeast Texas pets visit the Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Nederland team, and skin problems often are caused by allergies. Up to 30% of dogs develop an allergy in their lifetime, and cats are also susceptible. Itchiness, redness, ear infections, skin infections, and hair loss can plague pets with allergies. Our team offers diagnostic and treatment options to bring these miserable pets relief. 

Allergy treatment usually requires a multimodal approach using oral medications, topical medications, supplements, and nutrition to control the immune system overreaction and subsequent inflammation. Some pets struggle with chronic issues, despite treatment, but allergy testing and specialized immunotherapy may bring relief. 

Which pets benefit most from allergy testing?

Pets can be allergic to flea bites, environmental triggers, or food and, unfortunately, many pets with one allergy often develop others. To diagnose pet allergies, we will first rule out other skin problems, such as infections or parasites, and then determine the allergy triggers. We may recommend skin cytology, skin biopsy, or skin cultures to aid in diagnosis. Your pet’s seasonal itch and flare-up patterns and their response to flea treatments and special hypoallergenic food can provide more information about the main contributor to their clinical signs.

Once fleas and food causes have been ruled out or appropriately addressed, your pet’s residual symptoms are assumed to be environmental allergies, making them a candidate for allergy immunotherapy, a treatment akin to allergy “shots” in humans. Immunotherapy is custom-made for each pet, using their specific allergens and exposing them to increasing doses so that they gradually become desensitized. Allergy testing determines the immunotherapy formula and helps pet owners develop avoidance strategies at home whenever possible (e.g., encasing mattresses and bedding for a dust mite allergy). 

How is allergy testing performed in pets?

Allergy testing is performed in two ways—blood and skin testing. Veterinary dermatologists disagree about the superior method, but agree that both tests provide accurate results. However, the tests can accurately identify only environmental and insect allergies—despite test panels available on the market, allergy testing cannot accurately diagnose a food allergy. Some pets with severe allergies may benefit from both tests performed together.

Because many allergy treatments can impact testing results, pets must discontinue many medications for a few weeks before the test. You can usually safely continue non-steroid medicated shampoos and other topicals until the test day, but you should check with our team about your pet’s specific medications. Allergy blood testing uses a single blood sample, while skin testing requires sedation, shaving a large skin patch, injecting tiny allergen amounts in a grid on the skin, and watching for reactions.

How does allergy immunotherapy work?

Allergy testing is typically used to formulate immunotherapy for pets. Immunotherapy is made into an injectable or oral formulation that exposes pets to precise and increasing doses and teaches their immune system to stop reacting to allergens. Immunotherapy works well in about two-thirds of pets, but may take several months to a year for full effect. 

Initial testing and immunotherapy prescriptions cost several hundred dollars, but maintenance dosing is usually affordable after a few months. When immunotherapy works well, your pet will feel better, and medications and repeat veterinary visits will cost less as your pet’s skin disease becomes better controlled.

Does my pet need to see a dermatologist?

Our general practice veterinarians are well-versed in dermatology, and we can treat most allergy patients confidently. We can prescribe medications, perform allergy testing, order immunotherapy, and provide long-term skin and ear health management. However, some pets with severe allergies, chronic ear disease, and recurrent or antibiotic-resistant skin infections may benefit from a specialist’s care. 

A veterinary dermatology specialist has completed three to four years of intensive training after veterinary school and passed a board examination to become an expert in their field. This additional training and experience ensure pets with complex skin conditions receive the most accurate diagnosis and effective treatments in the fewest possible visits. Some dermatologists also have advanced equipment to perform specialized procedures like video ear examinations. 

Our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Nederland team can provide expert allergy diagnosis and treatment for your pet. Contact us to schedule a visit if your pet is showing skin problems or other allergy signs, or if you have questions about allergy testing and treatments for your pet.