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How to Tell When Your Pet Needs Dog Allergy Testing

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Does your dog seem to have a never-ending itch? Occasional itchiness can be normal — for example, not rinsing pet shampoo thoroughly can leave Fido’s skin itchy — but constant itchiness can be a sign of dog allergies.

Determining if your pet has allergies or merely a temporary itch is the first step in finding relief. There are several types of allergy tests available and each one has its pros and cons. This guide will help you determine which type of dog allergy testing your pup needs — and what you can do after you get the results.

Types of Dog Allergies

Just as with humans, dogs can have allergies — both seasonal allergies and year-round allergies. Researchers from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) report that the number of dogs with allergies continues to increase each year. Since 2010, the prevalence of allergies in dogs has risen by nearly 31%. That’s a whole lot of scratching!

Common allergy symptoms include:

  • Red, itchy skin
  • Swollen skin, including around the muzzle
  • Sneezing
  • Constant licking
  • Watery eyes
  • Chronic ear infections (unrelated to other conditions)
  • Vomiting and diarrhea

As with humans, dogs can develop life-threatening allergies to allergens such as bee stings. These are called anaphylactic allergic reactions, and they require emergency medical care. If you notice symptoms of anaphylactic shock — sudden intense swelling and difficulty breathing — head to the nearest animal hospital immediately.

Not only are the symptoms of allergies uncomfortable, but untreated allergies can also increase your pup’s risk of skin infections. For example, excessive licking and scratching can lead to a skin infection if bacteria gets into open wounds.

Skin Allergies

Allergic dermatitis — commonly called skin allergies — is the most common type of allergic reaction in dogs. Atopic dermatitis is characterized by an intense itchy sensation, especially on your pup’s paws and ears. You might also notice red, itchy skin on your dog’s groin, underarms, and wrists.

Food Allergies

Although most dogs eat the same food every day, it’s still possible for them to develop food allergies. About 32.5% of dogs with skin allergies have food sensitivities or allergies. Unlike humans, though, dog food allergies tend to revolve around protein. Chicken is one of the common dog allergies, as are beef and dairy products.

Food allergies can cause gastrointestinal symptoms (like vomiting), but food allergies also affect a dog’s coat and skin. According to the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine, food allergies in dogs can cause hot spots, bald patches, and lesions on the skin (pruritic dermatopathies).

Environmental Allergies

Believe it or not, dogs can have allergies to fleas. According to the AVMA study mentioned above, flea allergies in dogs have increased by more than 12% in the past decade. Dogs who are allergic to fleas may develop extremely itchy welts over the flea bites.

In addition to flea allergies, dogs can also have environmental allergies. Many of these allergens linger inside homes. Common environmental allergies include:

  • Dust mites
  • Dander
  • Mold
  • Certain fabrics (e.g., wool or feathers)
  • Household cleaning products
  • Perfumes

Because there are so many potential allergens, it’s critical to pinpoint the specific triggers that are causing problems for your pet. An allergy test will not only confirm if your pet’s itchy skin is the result of an allergy, but it will also tell you which allergens are the culprit.

If you’re not sure what’s causing itchy paws and ears, talk to your veterinarian. Itchy ears can be a sign of another medical condition (like ear mites), but you won’t know for sure until you consult your vet. Once other conditions are ruled out, the doctor may suggest an allergy test.

4 Types of Dog Allergy Testing

Dog allery testing: Cute little brown dog in a flower field

A dog allergy test determines two things: Whether your pet has allergies, and what allergens are responsible for the symptoms. Depending on your dog and his symptoms, your veterinarian will suggest one of four tests.

Elimination Diet

If your vet suspects that a food allergy is the culprit, he or she may suggest an elimination diet. An elimination diet helps your vet pinpoint food allergies by temporarily eliminating specific foods or food groups from your dog’s diet. For example, if you suspect chicken is causing itchy skin, you’d remove it to see if your dog’s symptoms improve.

During an elimination diet, sometimes called a food trial, your pup is placed on a hypoallergenic diet. Hypoallergenic kibble is often a limited-ingredient formula made with proteins least likely to trigger an allergic reaction. If your dog’s symptoms improve on a food trial, your vet may diagnose your dog with specific food allergies.

Pros:

  • Easy to conduct at home
  • No need for a specialist
  • Pet owners can determine the results on their own

Cons:

  • An elimination diet won’t benefit your dog if he only has skin or environmental allergies
  • Can be confusing to interpret results if your dog also has food and environmental allergies

Skin Allergy Test

Skin testing — officially called intradermal skin testing — involves giving your dog small doses of several types of allergens directly into the skin, much like tuberculosis tests for humans.

Skin tests are performed at a vet clinic since your dog will need to be sedated for this process. The steps of a skin allergy test include shaving the area to be tested, usually the stomach. The doctor will then inject small amounts of 60 common allergens under your dog’s skin and monitor for “positive” results.

Like a human skin allergy test, hives or welts mean the test is positive (i.e., there is an allergy). By monitoring your dog’s reactions, a veterinarian dermatologist can determine if your dog has allergies and what they are.

Pros:

  • Fast results — you can see positive results within 20 minutes
  • Easy for providers to identify specific allergens
  • More accurate results than a blood test

Cons:

  • Must be performed under sedation or general anesthesia
  • Getting a positive result provides helpful information, but your dog will be itchy
  • Can’t test pregnant dogs or females who are in heat
  • Must avoid baths for five days before the test
  • Must stop taking antihistamines prior to the test
  • Results can be affected by medications including steroids

Blood Allergy Test

Also known as serum allergy tests, blood tests take a sample of your dog’s blood, which is then reviewed in a laboratory. While skin tests require allergens to come into contact with your dog’s skin to confirm allergens, a blood test identifies the presence of a specific antibody (IgE) to indicate allergies.

Pros:

  • Your pet doesn’t need to be sedated or put under general anesthesia
  • Convenient
  • No need to shave
  • No need to stop taking allergy medication prior to the test
  • No itchy patches of skin caused by the test if your dog has a positive result

Cons:

  • The accuracy of the results depends on the lab and the specific test used
  • More likely to give a false positive (when compared to a skin test)

At-Home Tests

For pet parents who prefer non-invasive allergy tests, at-home tests only need you to send in a sample of your dog’s saliva and fur. While these don’t require any needles, injections, or anesthesia, they aren’t as reliable as blood or skin tests. According to the experts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Veterinary Care, skin testing is the gold standard with the most accurate test results.

Which Dog Allergy Test Is Best?

While there are pros and cons to each type of dog allergy testing, your best bet is to consult your veterinarian to determine which one to use for your pet. You can ask for their professional recommendation based on the severity of your dog’s symptoms and the suspected allergens.

You may also want to consider adding an allergy supplement to your dog’s diet. PetHonesty’s allergy relief chews support your dog’s gut health while boosting his immune system with both bovine colostrum and potent probiotics. These chews are easy to administer — just 1-3 treats daily depending on your dog’s weight — and they can soothe a variety of conditions from skin allergies to seasonal allergies to GI troubles.

Say Goodbye to Itchy Paws

Once you know what environmental factors and food affect your dog, you can make a strategy to avoid triggers, switch foods if needed, and discuss allergy medication with your vet. Regardless of the path you take, the ultimate goal is to identify your pooch’s allergies and begin a treatment so he can get the relief he deserves.