For those problem dogs with severe allergies to things in the environment, it may be time to consider having some blood/skin tests done to determine which things are causing the allergies (skin allergy testing).
For immunotherapy to be successful, it is important that you, as the owner, understand what this process involves and what your role is in helping to manage your dog's allergic condition.
Allergy related skin disease can be a long and frustrating problem for both you and your dog. The success of treatment depends on several factors including the overall health of your dog, the severity of the allergies and, very importantly, a commitment to therapy requiring careful attention to detail and patient monitoring.
In recommending immunotherapy, you can be confident that your veterinarian is providing not only the best but also the safest and most effective long-term treatment for improving the quality of life of this important family member.
Before going further, it would be prudent to advise you that these allergy tests and desensitising programmes can run into several hundreds of dollars.
If you notice any reaction in your dog while on immunotherapy be sure to contact your veterinarian. Some increase in itchiness is normal during the initial 'loading" phase of treatment. Some dogs may also show increased itchiness immediately after beginning a new treatment vial.
Many of the different allergens are injected into a clipped section of skin to see what the pet is allergic to. A positive result ends up looking like a Mossie bite.
What is immunotherapy?
An immunotherapy treatment extract is specifically formulated based on the results of your dog's allergy test and history. Immunotherapy is a treatment that involves injecting your dog in increasing amounts and concentrations, with the allergens (pollens, fungi, moulds, dust, dust mites) identified as causing the allergic skin disease.
Injections begin with a very low concentration of the extract, gradually increasing over a period of time until a maximum concentration ("maintenance" dose) is achieved.
By injecting allergens in this way. 80-85% of dogs experience a lowering of sensitivity to the allergens and a decrease in symptoms. This is the safest way to control the clinical signs of allergy in your dog.
How are immunotherapy injections given?
Immunotherapy injections are small quantities of fluid administered underneath the skin (subcutaneously). The majority of dogs do not object to these injections, especially if they are rewarded after each injection. It is preferable not to exercise or feed your dog for one hour either before or after the injection.
Is immunotherapy safe for my dog?
Yes. In fact, Immunotherapy is the safest way to control your dog's allergic symptoms. As is the case with any medication administered by injection, there is a less than 0.5% chance of an allergic reaction to the injection.
Should your dog show any unusual signs, such as vomiting, diarrhoea, heavy breathing, collapse or hives over the body following an injection, contact your veterinarian immediately.
How soon can I expect to see some improvement in my dog’s condition?
Each dog's response to immunotherapy is unique and the length of time necessary for improvement varies accordingly. A decrease in symptoms may be achieved rapidly or it may take a considerable amount of time to achieve a result.
Generally, it takes three to four months after beginning therapy before seeing any improvement although some owners
feel they have noticed improvement after the initial injection. Remember, in most cases, the allergy has been present for a period of time ranging from months to years prior to diagnosis and commencement of immunotherapy. Thus, it does take time for your dog to build up the necessary antibodies. It is most important for you to be patient. Continue with immunotherapy for a minimum of six to nine months to give your dog time to improve. Some dogs may not show real improvement for up to a year.
What about other medications while on immunotherapy?
As your dog’s response may not be immediate, it will probably be necessary to help control the symptoms and keep your dog comfortable during the early stages of immunotherapy or during your dog's most severe allergy season, with other treatments such as antibiotics, topical creams and medicated shampoos.
Do not consider immunotherapy a failure because of this need to use other medications occasionally: as with many chronic diseases, allergies can only be controlled, not totally cured.
How often will my dog require immunotherapy injections?
Again, allergies are a lifelong problem able to be controlled but not cured. Once your dog's allergic skin disease is controlled, or during the colder months of the year, it may be possible to increase the time period between maintenance injections up to one month. Generally, dogs that do well on immunotherapy will slowly relapse if the injections are stopped.
What if my dog is not doing well on immunotherapy?
A small percentage of dogs will not respond to the immunotherapy treatment. It is critical that you work closely with your veterinarian regarding your dog’s response. The problem may be as simple as flea infestation (for which there is currently no effective vaccine), bacterial infection, seborrhoea or other complicating, but easily treatable factors. In other cases, it may be necessary to change the content, dosage or concentration of the Immunotherapy vaccine.
In selected cases, it may be beneficial to re-test your dog for the possibility of a change or increase in allergens to which your dog is reactive.
How successful is treatment?
Generally, the steps to successful allergy treatment involve the following:
- Try to avoid or reduce the offending allergens in the environment
- Give recommended medications to control clinical symptoms
- Identity the specific allergens (allergy testing) causing your dog's clinical symptoms
- Follow up the diagnosis with allergy Immunotherapy
- Careful attention to detail and patient monitoring
The combination of these therapies will result in successful allergy treatment in the majority of pets