Itch and Scratch! Bite and Lick! A Series on Allergies (Part 3 of 4)

The identification of some allergic conditions can be achieved with deductive detective work. For example, if you spray an air freshener and your pet breaks out with an itchy rash, you may notice the cause and effect connection. By allowing the pet to recover and then re-exposing your pet to the aerosol and seeing the allergic reaction again, and repeating this process a second time, you likely made a diagnosis on your own. Often, in this busy life, there are so many variables in our pets’ lives that making this kind of definitive connection can be a complex challenge.

Therefore, Veterinary Dermatologists have devised test procedures that, if followed sequentially and carefully, can diagnose allergies in our pets.

When the allergy is NON-SEASONAL (those that occur at all times of the year fairly equally) then the first consideration is to identify and test for substances (allergens) that the pet is exposed to continuously.

The first step is to eliminate food allergies, which is more difficult than it sounds. Just a change in regular commercial diets rarely is successful. In order to rule out food allergens, the pet must be fed a diet containing a novel protein and carbohydrate that he has NEVER been exposed to before in his lifetime. When you look at the variety of proteins and carbs used in the hundreds of store brand and premium foods today you can see what a challenge this is. One current prescription diet used by veterinarians as a hypoallergenic test diet contains kangaroo meat and oats, and a cat hypoallergenic diet may contain venison and green pea, for example. There can be no TRACES of any other food sources in these foods which, as anyone who is allergic to peanuts knows, can be difficult to achieve!

There is also a different way to approach this challenge today. There are some prescription test diets that contain animal and plant proteins that have been chemically treated to break the proteins into tiny pieces that are so small that it is theorized that they are too small to cause an allergic reaction in the pet. These “Hydrolyzed Diets” are being widely accepted by Veterinary Dermatologists as an approved way to test for food allergies because these hydrolyzed proteins are often the proteins your dog is used to eating and may be accepted better than food with “exotic” proteins.

Whichever food is chosen for the test, then the next challenge is to get the pet to eat it EXCLUSIVELY for 8 to 10 weeks, the length of time necessary to conclusively rule in or rule out food allergies. During this time, no commercial treats, no rawhides or pig ears, no meat flavored medicines, and no table scraps can be given. If your pet’s allergic symptoms completely resolve during the test food trial, a diagnosis of food allergies has been made and then a feeding plan can be devised.

When food trials fail or if your pets has SEASONAL allergies that only flare up at certain times of the year, then tests for specific allergies in the pet’s environment and in the outside world must be undertaken.

The two commonly performed tests are the INTRADERMAL SKIN TEST and the SERUM ALLERGY TEST. The intradermal skin test is usually performed at the veterinary dermatologist’s office and involves creating a grid of small squares with a marker on the shaved side of the pet and then tiny amounts of the allergens common to our regions of the country (pollens from grasses, weeds, trees, molds, mites, flea saliva, etc.) are injected into the skin and reactions are recorded over time. The serum allergy test can be performed in our office by collecting a blood sample and sending it to a testing lab that has sophisticated equipment to detect minute amounts of antibodies in the blood to the allergens the pet reacts to.

Once it is determined what your pet is allergic to, then a treatment plan can be formulated which will be the topic of next week’s newsletter.

To better assess the health of your pets’ teeth we now have DIGITAL DENTAL X-RAY EQUIPMENT. This allows us to see hidden periodontal disease surrounding the tooth roots so that action can be taken to judiciously suggest treatment or extraction since our pets can’t tell us where it hurts them.


Pittsburgh Spay & Vaccination Clinic is a state-of-the-art, full-service suburban veterinary facility serving the Pittsburgh Area since 1980.. We offer diagnostic, medical, surgical, and dental care to dogs, cats, ferrets, rabbits, and pocket pets in the Pittsburgh area.

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