Can Immunotherapy Help My Allergic Dog?

Aka how to stop allergies for good 🛑

Dog getting allergy shots

If your dog has allergies, it can feel like you’re always buying her allergy medicine.

And sometimes, even pricey prescription medications can seem like they’re not helping much.

That’s why some pet parents choose to get allergy shots for their dogs (aka allergen-specific immunotherapy). It’s literally the only drug-free method that reduces (or gets rid of) pet allergies for good — which means no more expensive prescriptions.

So, how does it work?

The Dodo reached out to Dr. Lydia Harbour, a veterinary dermatology resident at Dermatology for Animals in Arizona, to find out everything a pet parent of a dog with allergies should know about immunotherapy.

How do allergy shots for dogs work?

With allergy shots, your vet will test your dog first to find out what she’s allergic to, then create a serum based on her allergies that’s injected periodically so your dog is desensitized — and ideally no longer allergic — to the allergen.

“Allergen-specific immunotherapy (ASIT) works by giving the patient small doses of what he/she is allergic to,” Dr. Harbour said. “Over time, the immune system starts to change how it responds to the allergen and develops ‘tolerance.’”

Immunotherapy is a great option for many dog (and cat) parents, because it’s the only thing that can actually change your pet’s immune response permanently. Any other method of treatment for pet allergies will only cover up symptoms, but won’t fix your dog’s underlying allergies.

“Once the [other] medications are stopped, signs will return,” Dr. Harbour said.

Dog allergy testing

The first step in immunotherapy is identifying what your dog is allergic to so the injectable serum can be created.

Allergy testing can be done in two ways: skin testing (aka intradermal allergy tests — IDAT) or blood testing (serology).

“Skin testing is preferred, as this gives us a live clinical reaction and tends to be more accurate,

but blood allergy testing is also a suitable method,” Dr. Harbour said.

When to start allergy shots

If you’re thinking about getting your dog allergy shots, keep in mind that the earlier you seek treatment, the better.

“Allergies are a life-long disease, so the earlier that immunotherapy with ASIT is started, the less symptoms that patient will hopefully experience over time,” Dr. Harbour said.

Cytopoint allergy shot vs. immunotherapy for dogs

Immunotherapy should not be confused with cytopoint allergy shots, which are intended for short-term relief rather than as a permanent solution.

“This is an anti-itch injection given at the veterinary practice that lasts four to eight weeks,” Dr. Harbour said. “This is a monoclonal antibody that targets the itch mediator (IL-31) and prevents the signal of itch from going to the brain.”

So instead of training the immune system to reduce reactions for good — like with immunotherapy — cytopoint basically just tricks your dog’s brain by making her think she’s not itchy.

Allergy shots for dogs side effects

Luckily, there are very few side effects of immunotherapy in dogs.

One side effect is an increase in itchiness in the first couple of days after an injection.

“This can occur up to 48 hours after the injection and can last for hours to days,” Dr. Harbour said.

A more severe side effect of allergy shots for dogs is mild to moderate anaphylaxis, which can include the following symptoms:

  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Facial swelling
  • Hives

“Signs of anaphylaxis are extremely rare in dogs and cats, but because this is possible, we start with low doses and increase the volume of injections to a maintenance dose that the patient can tolerate,” Dr. Harbour said.

How effective are allergy shots for dogs?

Allergy shots are considered to be pretty effective — and even in cases when they don’t completely fix a dog’s allergies, they can still help improve your dog’s allergy symptoms.

“It's about 70 to 80 percent effective, but that's along a spectrum,” Dr. Harbour said. “Some patients will completely improve, others will have less severe flares and we can potentially reduce their medications over time, and [in] others it may be hard to notice actual improvement, but it may be simply preventing progression/worsening of disease over time.”

So even if the allergy shots don’t help your dog with his immediate allergies, it’s possible that immunotherapy can actually prevent his symptoms from getting worse in the long run.

How long does it take for the allergy shots to start working?

It can take anywhere from three months to over a year for allergy shots to start working.

“This is not a quick fix,” Dr. Harbour said. “Typically we tell clients that this is something we commit to for the long-haul.”

In the meantime, your vet might recommend a prescription medication, like Apoquel or Atopica, to manage your dog’s symptoms.

Or they might recommend a dog-safe over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamine — which is usually best paired with an omega-3 supplement.

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Allergy shot schedule for dogs

Immunotherapy might require your pet to receive injections for the rest of her lifetime, but the time between each injection can vary depending on the dog.

“If it's working, this is typically continued long-term for maintenance,” Dr. Harbour said. “Sometimes we can decrease the frequency of injections. Typical frequency is every two to three weeks once at a maintenance dose.”

Your vet might recommend sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) instead, which is an oral tablet given to your dog once daily under the tongue.

How much are allergy shots for dogs?

You might have to pay a bit extra up front for your dog’s immunotherapy — but for many pet parents, it’s totally worth it in the end.

You can expect initial allergy testing costs to be around $1,000 or more (which may be lower if you have insurance), and each allergy shot can cost anywhere from $5 to $25.

Keep in mind that once you reach a maintenance schedule for the allergy shots, you might actually save money by not needing to buy prescription allergy medicine, OTC antihistamines or medicated dog shampoo anymore.

Plus, if your dog has serious allergies that cause a lot of discomfort, the benefit from allergy shots can be life-changing (for both you and her).

Immunotherapy can be a great solution to a dog’s allergies problems. But there is no one best method of allergy treatment for every dog, so have a conversation with your vet, who can help you develop the perfect treatment plan for your pup ASAP!

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