So what is immunotherapy, a.k.a. allergy shots, all about?
First, what is dog allergy?
As in humans, allergy in dogs refers to the overreaction of their immune system to a foreign substance. This substance is called an allergen.
Allergies can be triggered by the presence of allergens in food, flea saliva, or the environment.
In the case of food allergy, the solution would be to avoid the particular ingredient that causes the flare-up. For flea allergy, there would be an obvious need to eliminate the fleas.
Environment allergy (or atopy), on the other hand, can come from a host of triggers. Your dog can be allergic to pollen, dust mites, mold, grass, spores, dust, or a combination of things.
For this type of allergy, avoiding the allergens may not be as simple as food avoidance or flea elimination. In the first place, you can’t just cut all the trees and plants that bear the offending pollen or spores. We also don’t recommend limiting your dog’s outdoor life. Besides, allergens can also come from within your homes. Think of cockroach droppings, dander, home-cleaning agents and the like.
Where does immunotherapy come in?
As mentioned earlier, getting rid of all triggers may not be possible at all in many cases. This is where immunotherapy comes in. It addresses the issue from your dog’s end.
Immunotherapy is given through allergy shots or sublingual drops that aim to modify the response of your dog’s immune system to the identified allergens. Calculated amounts of the allergens are introduced to your pet’s system. Over time, the immune system learns to recognize or becomes desensitized to the allergens. This low exposure builds your dog’s tolerance to these substances and lessens the symptoms.
How do I know whether my dog needs allergy shots or not?
Not all dogs need allergy shots. Carefully observe your dog’s allergy episodes. Is it seasonal or year-round? Is it triggered by an outdoor activity? Narrow down the possible allergens. Does your dog respond to the usual allergy medications?
The immunotherapy option must be considered only after exhausting other remedies. There’s a lot that you can do.
- Basically, you would like to help your dog avoid situations that expose it to the allergy triggers. Get rid of allergens. Wipe off your dog after each walk.
- Provide allergy relief for dogs suffering from intense itching and symptoms. Try home remedies. Use a mild shampoo for your dog’s weekly bath. Aloe and oatmeal are known to soothe rashes and raw wounds.
- Make their symptoms bearable. The symptoms can be controlled using medications. Take your dog to the vet. Usually, antihistamines and steroids are prescribed first. Antibiotics may also be needed for secondary infections.
Sad to say, allergies cannot be cured. Many cases even increase in severity with time. There will be a point when your dog would stop responding to medications. When all else fails, allergy shots for dogs become an option.
How often and how long should my dog be given shots?
Remember that this is not a quick fix. It takes at least a year to see if your dog responds to the therapy.
It starts with skin testing for allergens. This is done to determine which substances set off symptoms in your dog. An allergy formula will then be customized for your dog based on the test result.
In the first 3-6 months, you may need to bring your dog to the vet 1-2 times per week.
Increasing doses of the shots are given to build up your dog’s tolerance to the allergens.
During this stage, your dog’s vet will try to find the best dose that your dog responds to.
This dose will then be used for your dog’s maintenance shot, which usually means giving it to your dog for the rest of its life. Some factors may shorten the use of allergy shots, such as adverse effects, cost, and other health issues in your dog. At any rate, a vet must always be referred to for evaluation of your dog’s case.
Do allergy shots for dogs work? Are they worth it?
Does immunotherapy work? Is it worth all the money, time, and effort invested in it? These are the usual questions from pet owners like you.
About 70% of dogs with environmental allergies respond positively to this treatment.
That’s actually quite impressive.
The downside: The time you need to see results is at least 1 year! You’re right to ask if it’s worth it.
If you’re on the fence about which way to go, consider the following:
- On one hand, there are cheaper and quicker fixes like antihistamines and steroids. But what happens in the long term? Antihistamines lose efficacy in time. Steroids weaken the immune system and eventually cause other problems, too. They may work at first but not for very long. The problem with most allergies is that the symptoms worsen as dogs grow older. So your dog needs something that will continue to be useful even as the allergy progresses and your dog matures.
- On the other hand, allergy shots for dogs could do just that – control allergies permanently. This approach is expensive. It also needs your time and commitment. It needs a year of waiting just to see if it will work for your dog. But once it does, and it does 70% of the time, you and your dog will reap the benefits.
Your dog’s wellbeing is worth all the expense, time, and effort that this treatment entails.
That alone makes this option worth considering.