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Allergy shots may at first seem counterintuitive, exposing your dog to the antigen that makes them react allergically. However, this form of therapy, referred to as immunotherapy, can be effective and provide a long-term solution to your dog's allergy problems.
Immunotherapy works by providing hyposensitization to the allergen causing your pet's reaction. By introducing small amounts of the allergen, below the threshold required to evoke a response, allergy shots, “train” your dog’s immune system not to react to the environmental factor which normally triggers a reaction. The amount of allergen the immune system is exposed to can be gradually increased until the immune system stops reacting negatively. Getting this process right, providing enough allergen to expose the immune system without triggering a reaction, is a delicate balancing act. Supervision and administration by a veterinarian is recommended to achieve the best results, as a full blown allergic reaction is both counterproductive to the process, inconvenient for pet owners, and uncomfortable for your dog.
Treating Allergic Reactions
Allergic reactions are often treated by addressing symptoms of the allergy (inflammation, itching and redness) with antihistamines or corticosteroids. While these treatments can be effective at providing relief, they do not address the underlying cause, an inappropriate immune system reaction. Also, these treatments may be ineffective or accompanied by undesirable and serious side effects.
Some dogs seem to be more susceptible to environmental allergies than others, indicating a hereditary factor. Dogs more commonly affected by allergies include terriers, retrievers, bulldogs, dalmatians and setters, although all breeds and mixed breeds can be affected. If your dog is experiencing allergy problems they can be tested to identify the specific allergen, the environmental factor causing the immune system reaction, and allergy shots developed specifically to address your dog’s particular allergies.
Testing is performed by a veterinary practitioner with training and materials available for intradermal exposure to various allergens commonly associated with allergic reaction in dogs. Prior to this testing your dog will need to be free from antiallergy medications that could interfere with test results. Your veterinary allergy therapist can then check blood for antigen induced antibodies, although this method is not as accurate as intradermal testing. Intradermal testing is performed by your veterinarian, who will sedate your dog and shave the hair in the area to be tested so that your dog is comfortable and skin reactions will be easy to observe. They will then inject small amounts of the allergen under the skin and then observe the skin for signs of an allergic reaction. If the skin exhibits small red bumps almost immediately or shortly after exposure then your dog is allergic to that allergen. The allergens tested for may vary depending on common allergens present in your area.
Once your dog’s allergens have been identified, custom allergy shots or your dog, containing these allergens, can be developed, like a vaccine for the allergen. The shots will be supplied to the pet owner for regular administration. By injecting small amounts of these allergens, sometimes daily at first and then weekly, your dog will become desensitized to them and the dog's immune system will cease reacting to the substance. Ths may result by the dog's body producing its own substances naturally to suppress immune system reaction to the substance.
The process should be monitored by a veterinarian to ensure that negative side effects are addressed and dosage is adjusted as required. The process can take a long time, up to 1 year, before immunity to the allergen is achieved, and although most dogs respond to allergy shots, a significant number of dogs do not achieve immunity to the allergens presented. Allergy shots will usually need to be continued throughout the dog's life and there is significant resource investment of time and expense on the part of pet owners. Allergies to food and fleas are not generally treated successfully with allergy shots. Traditional allergy therapies such as steroid and antihistamine treatments are also expensive and their cost and effectiveness needs to be weighed against the cost and effectiveness of allergy shots to determine what is appropriate for your dog. Consulting with a veterinarian will help you decide on the best course of allergy treatment for your dog.
Choosing the Best Option
When your dog develops allergies, several treatment options are available, and which one is appropriate for you and your dog will need to be determined with assistance from your veterinarian. If you have a young dog experiencing allergies, allergy shots may be a more viable solution as allergies tend to get worse throughout the dog's lifetime and providing an effective, permanent solution will be desirable. Allergy shots are resource consuming; they are expensive, require a time commitment from pet owners to administer regularly throughout the dog's life, and may not be effective for all dogs. In addition ,their effectiveness takes time to achieve and results may not be seen for several months. The advice of your veterinarian will be important in making a decision as to appropriate allergy treatment for your dog.