What is Immunotherapy?

The immune system exists to protect the body from potentially harmful substances. It is not uncommon for it to improperly respond to certain materials. This is known as an allergic reaction. In dogs, this often manifests as a severe irritation of the skin. While the symptoms caused by an allergic reaction can be managed medically, the only form of treatment that addresses the improper response itself is immunotherapy. 

Immunotherapy is the administration of small portions of the allergen to the dog on a regular basis until, over time, the animal overcomes the reaction. For this treatment to work, the allergens causing the reaction must first be correctly identified through testing. Doses will be prepared, increasing after several months. A veterinarian will prescribe this therapy, although it can be administered at home through injections or by a tablet placed under the tongue.

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Immunotherapy Procedure in Dogs

Before immunotherapy can begin, the allergens causing the reaction must be identified. These allergens are often found by the use of an IDT or PPT test, in which common allergens are administered into the skin or onto its surface. If a reaction occurs after the materials have been administered, the allergen has been found. Blood testing may also be performed to determine allergens, although this is less accurate. 

The culprit allergens are then either diluted and put into vials or compiled into tablet form. Subcutaneous application is the most common, using a syringe injection. The veterinarian often performs the first injection, teaching the owner how further injections should be done. A 27 gauge needle is most commonly used for allergen application. 

The skin on the nape of the neck should be gently raised and folded. The needle can then be inserted at an angle parallel to the plane of the dog's neck. Once inserted, the plunger on the syringe may be pressed, emptying the contents into the skin. A new needle should be used for each application, and the exact location of the injection should be varied. If tablets are being used, one can be placed under the dog's tongue at multiple times throughout the day.

Efficacy of Immunotherapy in Dogs

Immunotherapy has been found to be a successful way to treat allergies in dogs without any adverse side effects or damage to organs. As many as 75% of dogs that receive immunotherapy are reported to have an improvement in symptoms, with some being completely cured by the treatment. When this therapy works, it tends to be permanent, with good results still seen one year after treatment. Immunotherapy is more effective than topical therapies or supplements, and is much easier on the body than glucosteroids. 

Immunotherapy Recovery in Dogs

The shots themselves are not overly painful and do not require much in the way of recovery. As they do take several months to take effect, bathing the dog in a medicated shampoo every week or two is recommended to sooth the skin inflammation. A specific protocol will be given for the composition of allergens being administered. A low concentration is at first applied, with amounts increasing until a maintenance dose is achieved. The frequency that the shots need to be given will decrease over time. 

The dog should be monitored for approximately one hour after a shot or tablet has been given to watch for any negative effects. Symptoms such as facial swelling, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, hives or collapse need to be reported to a veterinarian immediately. If any reaction occurs, the dose likely needs to be adjusted. It can help to give the dog a reward after each injection has been given. This will lead the dog to eagerly participate instead of avoiding the process. 

Cost of Immunotherapy in Dogs

Immunotherapy is an affordable treatment, even though it requires ongoing administration. The amount needed per injection will vary based on the size of the dog. The amount ranges from 1-3 ml a month with 1 ml costing anywhere from $5-$10. If the immunotherapy is being performed subcutaneously, syringes will also need to be purchased. The maintenance dose can be anywhere from 0.03. - 0.1 ml per day. Limiting the dog's exposure to the allergen may also be attempted, however, this is generally unsuccessful, especially if the allergen is airborne. 

Dog Immunotherapy Considerations

Patience may be needed when applying immunotherapy in dogs. It can take up to nine months for the dog's symptoms to start disappearing, and a small percentage of dogs do not improve at all. If glucosteroids are administered during this waiting period, it can make it difficult to assess if the treatment is working or not. While it does not happen often, it is possible for the injection site to become swollen or painful. Care must be given to never inject allergens into one's own hand, as a severe allergic reaction can develop. Any signs of anaphylaxis including frequent panting or swallowing should be addressed as soon as possible. 

Immunotherapy Prevention in Dogs

Most allergies are difficult to prevent. Genetic makeup can play a part in allergy development, so it is always a good idea to enquire about your dog's family health history when obtaining the animal. Environment also can bring on allergies, with more flare ups occurring in the springtime. Allergies most often become noticeable when a dog is between the ages of one and five years.