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How To Test For A Dog Allergies: An In-Depth Guide

Updated on September 15, 2021
Medically Reviewed by
Dr. Alam
Written by
Joel
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If your furry friend is constantly itching, scratching, or gnawing at his coat more than usual, these could be signs of allergies. If the signs are accompanied by irritation and lethargy, something is definitely wrong. 

Since dogs can’t exactly tell you how they are feeling, learning how to interpret their actions can help a lot.

What are Allergies?

Allergies are conditions that arise whenever your dog's immune system overreacts to a specific substance known as an allergen. Most of these substances are protein molecules from insects, plants, foods, or animals. Prolonged allergen exposure sensitizes the immune system, causing an increasingly aggressive response.

Typically, reactions of this nature protect the dog from disease and infection, but with allergies, the immune response can be harmful to the body. Think of them as an unnecessarily strong immune response to a harmless foreign substance.

Several things may cause allergies. Food and environmental factors are the most common causes. Dog allergies are caused by:

  • Food allergies, especially beef, chicken and chicken eggs, dairy products, lamb, and soy (or gluten). 
  • Skin allergies such as flea allergy dermatitis
  • Environmental allergies to dust, mold, and pollen which might cause atopic dermatitis

Signs and Symptoms of Dog Allergies

The most common signs your dog is allergic are the following:

  • Red, itchy skin
  • Sneezing
  • Swelling, especially around the muzzle
  • Watery eyes
  • Constant licking
  • Persistent ear infections

Not all symptoms of allergies are uncomfortable. If left unattended, however, they can increase your pet's susceptibility to skin infections. For instance, the excessive licking and scratching resulting from an allergy will create patches of broken skin that will easily be infected.

It is also important to note that dog allergies can be life-threatening. They might require emergency medical care. If you notice symptoms of anaphylactic shock, find a veterinary hospital immediately.

Look out for signs of anaphylactic shock, which includes:

  • Drooling or excessive salivation
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Cyanosis (your dog’s tongue and gums are turning blue)

Dog Allergy Test Types

If you suspect that your dog has allergies, allergy testing will tell you:

  • Whether your pet has allergies
  • The kind of allergy responsible for the symptoms your dog is presenting.

Your vet will propose one of five dog allergy testing types.

Elimination diet

If your vet believes your pet's condition is caused by something the dog is eating, they will propose an elimination diet. This will help identify food allergies by briefly eliminating specific foods or food groups from your pet's diet. 

For instance, if you believe lamb or a specific dog food may be causing its symptoms, you'll eliminate it to see if they go away.

Your dog may also be placed on a hypoallergenic diet, which typically comprises a limited-ingredient formula made from proteins least likely to trigger allergic reactions. If your pet's symptoms improve during this process, your doctor might diagnose specific food allergies.

The benefit of this kind of test is that you can do it at home. There's no need for a specialist. You can determine the results all on your own.

However, an elimination diet will not help your dog if they only have environmental or skin allergies. The results may also prove challenging to interpret if your dog has both food allergy and environmental allergy.

Skin allergy tests

Skin allergy tests, or intradermal skin tests as they are more commonly known, involve exposing your dog to several allergens in small amounts.

For intradermal allergy testing, you'll need to take your dog to the vet for the procedure. The process will be as follows: 

  1. Your dog will be sedated before the procedure.
  2. The veterinarian will shave the area to be tested, which is usually the stomach.
  3. They'll then inject small quantities of about 60 common allergens into your dog's skin.
  4. The injected area will be monitored for changes.

Welts or hives will mean the test is positive, i.e., your dog has allergies.

The benefits of intradermal skin testing are: 

  • It is fast, as it provides conclusive results in 20 minutes.
  • It is more accurate than a blood test.

But, there are drawbacks too. The test must be performed to diagnose your dog’s allergies while your pet is under general anesthesia. Also, it will be very uncomfortable for your dog if the results are positive.

Blood tests

While intradermal skin tests expose your dog to multiple substances to prove they are allergic, a blood test will look for specific antibodies to confirm the pet is allergic.

The benefits of blood allergy testing are: 

  • It is convenient.
  • It does not require sedation or general anesthesia.

However, the test's accuracy depends on the lab's quality. Sadly, blood allergy tests are more likely to give a false-positive result.

At-home tests

At-home tests are DIY kits that help pet owners know if their pet dog has allergies. Simply collect hair and saliva samples, and mail them to a testing company for analysis.

The Best At-Home Dog Allergy Test Kits 

How To Test For A Dog Allergies: An In-Depth Guide 12

5 Strands Pet Intolerance Test

The 5Strands kit tests for an impressive 300 potential allergens (100 environmental items and 200 food ingredients). The company uses bio-resonance technology to scan pet samples and provides comprehensive, easy-to-understand reports. The results are color-coded; red indicates foods and other substances to avoid, while yellow indicates those you can use with caution.

How To Test For A Dog Allergies: An In-Depth Guide 19

Easy DNA

The Easy DNA allergy kit tests for over 100 common food and environmental allergens. This is done by determining whether there are antibodies against them in the dog's saliva. High antibody levels show sensitivity and intolerance to the item. The company provides results via email within two weeks after the samples are submitted.

Besides ranking your dog's sensitivity to each allergen, the report provides comprehensive lifestyle and dietary guidelines for topical treatments, elimination diets, and supplements like probiotics.

How To Test For A Dog Allergies: An In-Depth Guide 20

Allergy test my pet

The Allergy Test My Pet kit covers around 100 environmental and food-related allergens. Like all the tests reviewed so far, this test measures antibodies in your dog's saliva and reports if there are positive or adverse reactions to each antigen.

How To Test For A Dog Allergies: An In-Depth Guide 21

Nutriscan

Nutriscan is a food-only dog allergy test kit developed by a world-renowned expert on pet nutrition. The test works for both dogs and cats, and its results will tell you which foods are likely to cause high, moderate, minor, or no allergic reactions in your pet.

How To Test For A Dog Allergies: An In-Depth Guide 22

Pet Wellness Life Stress

If you're into holistic medicine, this one's for you. Unlike conventional testing companies, the Pet Wellness Life Stress Test uses biofeedback technology to examine pet samples for food and environmental allergens. Although it is not meant to replace lab tests, it is a useful non-invasive analysis capable of determining the root causes of your pet's allergies.

How to Collect A Sample At Home

Your at-home allergy test kit will come with the following:

  • A plastic pouch to hold the samples
  • Organic cotton swabs
  • A syringe to collect a saliva sample
  • A return envelope
  • A small comb to collect hair samples
  • A legal disclaimer

Each test provider provides special instructions with their kits; you will need to follow them as you go about gathering your sample.

Allergy treatments

Here are the most common form of allergy treatments for dogs:

Corticosteroids

Corticosteroids like prednisone can relieve severe allergy symptoms. However, they can also cause serious side effects, so they are only used for short periods.

Allergy medications

Although medicines like loratadine, oclacitinib, and cetirizine were developed for humans, they can be used on dogs with no major side effects.

You'll want to check with your doctor for the most appropriate dosage.

Immunotherapy

Your doctor may also use your pet's test results to synthesize a custom serum for its needs. Your pet will receive a series of scheduled injections that will slowly desensitize them to the substances they're allergic to.

Outlook

Most dog allergies cannot be cured. However, with your vet's advice and some patience, you will find a treatment and management plan that can keep your pet comfortable. 

Your pet’s veterinarian may prescribe an allergy medicine or allergy shots for your dog. You’ll also benefit from dietary and lifestyle guidelines for your pet. Veterinary dermatologists can also help if your dog has skin irritation. 

Common questions

Are at-home dog allergy tests accurate?

No. Some at-home dog allergy tests use saliva as a sample. While saliva tests provide accurate results (at times), they do not reliably distinguish between allergic and healthy dogs, so they are unreliable. The findings of at-home tests should be verified with a visit to the hospital.

Can I do an allergy test at home?

Yes, but it depends. Some tests like the "elimination diet" may be performed at home with the supervision of a trained professional. Others, like skin and blood tests, require a visit to the hospital.

What is the most reliable allergy test?

Intradermal testing is the most accurate diagnostic procedure for pet allergies. It often serves as the standard against which all other tests are evaluated.

Dr. Alam
Dr. Alam Roky
Medical Reviewer
Dr. Shamsul Alam Roky is a registered veterinarian who graduated from the Faculty of Veterinary, Animal, and Biomedical Sciences. Currently, he is working as a graduate research assistant at his university, in addition to running a private veterinary clinic named ‘Sylhet Veterinary Services” in his city.
Joel
Content Contributor
Joel is a writer with a passion for the science of DNA and the power of its manipulation.
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