Many pets suffer recurrent skin problems relating to allergies. Allergic reactions are caused by overzealous response of the body’s immune system to a stimulant. When the immune system is exposed to an inhaled substance, it may produce antibodies directed against that substance. On repeated exposure, these antibodies cause the release of chemicals that cause the allergic symptoms. In people, of inhalant allergies involve the upper respiratory system and include, watery eyes, runny nose, sneezing etc. In dogs and cats, the response to these same allergens tends to cause generalized itchiness more so than upper respiratory symptoms (although both are possible). In your pet, the results or inhalant allergy may be any of the following:
- Chronic ear infections
- Chronic itchiness
- Thickening of the skin
- Skin pigmentation (blackening)
- Greasiness of the coat
- Flakiness of the skin
- Bad skin odor
- Sores on the skin
Most often, the symptoms of inhalant allergies worsen in the spring and summer months as the amount of allergens in the air increases from all of the flowering plants, grasses and trees. In the Alta Loma, Rancho Cucamonga, Upland, Ontario, Claremont, Fontana and the Inland Empire area, the growing season is virtually year round so many pets seem to suffer all year round with certain times being worse than others.
How do we diagnose inhalant allergies?
There are two methods to test for inhalant allergies; intra-dermal skin testing and blood testing. Intra-dermal skin testing is an involved process that requires shaving the hair off the side of your pet and injecting 60 or more potential allergens into the skin to see what kind of response the pet makes to it. While this technology is the “gold standard” by which to diagnose this condition, it is cumbersome and expensive. Recently, advances in blood test technology have made this type of test much more attractive in helping us diagnose inhalant allergy. A small sample of blood collected on an empty stomach will give us results within a week as to whether or not your pet is allergic and to what allergens he/she is allergic.
How do we treat inhalant allergies?
Inhalant allergies can be successfully treated by use of a technique called desensitization. In this process, a “vaccine” is created specifically for your pet that includes minute amounts of each of the offending allergens detected during the test. These vaccines can be made to be injected or to be placed in the mouth under the tongue (sub-linqual). We inject small amounts of this vaccine under the pet’s skin (or place drops under the tongue) at prescribed intervals so that the body is continually being exposed to the allergens. After a time (generally 1-year to 18 months) the body begins to get used to the allergens and stops making such a big response to them when they come in through the respiratory tract. Desensitization is an on going process. In order to be successful, it generally has to continue throughout the pet’s life. Usually, injections are given just once a month after the initial induction process.
What can we expect from desensitization therapy?
Desensitization is a slow and gradual process. Before beginning it, we like owners to make a commitment to stick with the program for at least 18 months before making a judgement on its efficacy. In most cases, owners report a 75 85% reduction in symptoms in their pets usually beginning around 10 to 12 months into the therapy. This translates into a much more comfortable pet, fewer flare-ups of allergy based problems and less potentially harmful drug therapy needed.
Are there risks involved with desensitization?
The allergy serum created for your pet is a biologic product. When injected into the pet, there is a very small (less than 1 in 10,000) chance that your pet could have an anaphylactic (severe allergic) reaction to the injections. For this reason, the first 5 injections are generally administered here at our facility under the supervision of a veterinarian. Each serum is tested for sterility prior to being shipped to us. Because there are no preservatives in the serum, it must be refrigerated and there is a very small chance of infection associated with the injections. You will be taught proper technique in handling the serum, which should minimize this risk.
What do we do to take care of my pet’s skin problem while desensitization is proceeding?
Once we have made the diagnosis of inhalant allergy, we will be free to use drugs to give your pet relief. These drugs typically may include immune system modifying drugs such as cyclosporine, apoquel or prednisone (a form of cortisone), antihistamines, medicated shampoos and conditioners, essential fatty acid supplementation and hypoallergenic diets. Once we get the current problem under control, maintaining your pet’s comfort should be much easier.
What are the costs involved in this Diagnosis and Therapy?
Allergy testing and treatment has never been more affordable. Frequently the costs incurred in this treatment are offset by reduced costs involved with treating the chronic skin problem that has plagued your pet. Our veterinarians will be happy to give you an estimate of the cost of testing and treating your pet.