The vet’s office: Retraining a pet’s immune system with allergy-specific therapy
By Dr. Elizabeth Knabe, DVM
Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic LLC
Many dogs and cats are identified as being allergic to something in their environment. The likely culprits are pollen, molds, and dust mites. These are present in varying quantities throughout the year, and pets will have differing levels of reaction to them.
Common treatments for allergies include bathing with medicated shampoos and giving oral medications such as antihistamines, fatty acids, and drugs to control inflammation. These help manage symptoms and reduce the itching. Another way to treat allergies is to retrain the pet’s own immune system so that it does not overreact to the allergens in the first place.
The process of allergy-specific therapy starts by identifying what your pet is allergic to either by a blood test or skin testing. A laboratory then makes up a solution containing small amounts of the allergens, which may be either injected beneath the skin or given as drops in the mouth just under the tongue. Either way, giving the very small amounts of allergens will eventually train the immune system to develop a tolerance to the substances. Some pets will see some improvements within one to three months, but others may take up to a year.
If injections are chosen, the client must become comfortable with giving them. Commonly, a veterinary technician will teach the client how to do it. The advantage of injections is that once the initial series of doses is done, the average frequency drops to once or twice a month. Oral allergy drops are less intimidating, but for effectiveness they need to be continued twice a day indefinitely.
Allergy-specific therapy does not work the same way for every pet. It gives good-to-excellent results in about 60 percent of cases on average. If a pet receiving treatments is not improving, sometimes it is due to the presence of secondary infections — bacteria or yeast for example — that need to be treated. Other cases need adjustments of the solution contents and/or frequency and amounts that are given. Some pets get better responses from injections, and others may improve when the oral drops are given. Often pets will still require some therapies besides the allergy solutions, but the goal is to reduce reliance on drugs, such as steroids, that suppress the immune system.
Reactions with allergy-specific therapies are rare but can include itching, which tends to be mild and self-limiting. Overall, it is one of the most effective long-term treatments for allergy signs. Your veterinarian and staff can discuss this therapy with you the next time your pet experiences signs of allergies.
Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic LLC is located at 210 Airpark Road in Marshfield and online at wildwoodanimalhospital.net.