This page looks at allergy shots (immunotherapy) for our canine friends. Allergy shots may be necessary for those allergic dogs who do not respond positively to other conventional dog allergy medication. How do allergy shots function to alleviate allergy symptoms? Are there any side-effects? Read on and find out.
Immunotherapy (aka hyposensitization, commonly called "allergy shots") is a type of conventional dog allergy medication which is sometimes used as a "last resort". It is recommended to dogs who do not respond to any other conventional allergy therapies such as corticosteroids (e.g. Prednisone) or antihistamines (e.g. Benadryl).
Allergy shots for dogs involve weekly injections of antigens (foreign proteins to which a particular dog has shown allergic symptoms). The antigen(s) to be injected is determined after intradermal skin testing.
In order to get accurate and valid results from the intradermal skin testing, the dog patient has to be off all types of allergy medications (i.e. antihistamines and corticosteroids) for a period of time (your vet will let you know exactly how long).
During the skin testing, the dog will be tested for possible allergic reactions to a number of substances (altogether about 60 substances are being tested).
Immunotherapy works on the theory that, with weekly injections of the allergen(s), which are essentially foreign protein(s), to which the dog is allergic, the dog's body will gradually become sensitized to the injected foreign protein(s).
As a result, the dog will show fewer and less severe allergy symptoms when he does actually get into contact with the allergen(s).
Although the exact mechanism is not clear, we can find several theories.
According to one theory, immunotherapy can reduce IgE levels.
IgE is a special kind of antibodies that attach to mast cells and allergens (foreign proteins). They cause the mast cells to "explode" and release large amounts of chemicals including histamines which trigger the common allergic reactions in dogs.
According to another theory, with immunotherapy, the dog's body will gradually become more tolerant of the foreign proteins. And that is because the body may be induced to develop some type of cells that can suppress allergic reactions to the foreign proteins.
Many veterinarians propose to use allergy shots as a last resort to treat dog allergies. There are several reasons for this.
One of the main reasons is that the treatment process takes a long time. At least one year is needed to ascertain whether the dog patient is actually responding positively to the allergy shots.
Moreover, compared to other allergy treatments (such as steroids, antihistamines, etc.), immunotherapy is not as effective. Only about 60-70 percent of dog patients show positive responses to the shots.
In addition, allergy shots for dogs may potentially cause some adverse effects to the dog patient.
For example, the dog may actually develop allergic responses to the shots themselves! That is to say, the dog's patient may become allergic to the antigens that have been injected into the body.
Cost is another factor - allergy shots are not cheap! First, for the intradermal skin testing, it costs $100 or more (including sedation). For the required 12 allergy shots, the cost is approximately $150.
There are also natural remedies such as herbs, supplements, etc. that can be used to alleviate allergy symptoms in dogs and boost the dog's immune system.
Check out our page on Natural Alergy Relief for Dogs for more information.