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

Updated on: July 2, 2021
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Dog allergy testing

Is your furry friend itching, scratching, or gnawing at his coat a lot more than usual? Does he or she seem irritated, lethargic, and unhappy? It could be an allergy. But, how do you tell, since even healthy dogs will scratch or lick themselves from time to time?

We'll answer that question in this post and discuss possible solutions for your pet's predicament.

But first…

What are allergies?

Allergies are conditions (persistent itches, rashes, breathing difficulties, and so on) 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 robust immune response to a harmless foreign substance.


The Ultimate Guide to Dog DNA Tests: What They Can Tell You.


Signs and symptoms of dog allergies

The most common signs your dog is allergic are red, itchy skin, sneezing, swellings especially around the muzzle, watery eyes, constant licking, diarrhea and vomiting, persistent ear infections.

Not all symptoms of allergies are uncomfortable but left unattended, 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, so they might require emergency medical care. If you notice symptoms of anaphylactic shock, i.e., sudden intense swelling and breathing difficulty, find a veterinary hospital immediately.

Dog allergy test types

A dog allergy test will answer two questions:

  • whether your pet has allergies
  • the allergies responsible for the symptoms he or she is presenting.

Your vet will propose one of five allergy test 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 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 you can do it at home, and 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 he or she only has environmental or skin allergies. The results may also prove challenging to interpret if your dog has food and environmental allergies.

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.

You'll need to take your dog to the vet for the procedure, as he or she will need to be sedated.

The doctor will shave the area to be tested (usually the stomach).

They'll then inject small quantities of about 60 common allergens into your dog's skin, then monitor the area for changes.

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

The benefits of this approach are that it is fast, it provides conclusive results in 20 minutes, and that it is more accurate than a blood test.

But, there are drawbacks too. The test must be performed 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 he or she is allergic, a blood test will look for specific antibodies to confirm the pet is allergic.

The benefits of this test are that it is convenient and doesn't require sedation or general anesthesia.

However, the test's accuracy depends on the lab's quality, and it is more likely to give a false positive.

At-home tests

At-home tests comprise DIY kits that enable pet owners to collect hair and saliva samples, then deliver them to a testing company for analysis.  

The best at-home dog allergy test kits

5 strands Pet Intolerance test


The Five Strands 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 Allergy: An In-Depth Guide 1

Easy DNA


The easy DNA allergy kit tests for over 100 common food and environmental allergens 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 Allergy: An In-Depth Guide 8

Allergy test my pet


The allergy test my pet kit covers 1110 environmental and food-related allergens. Like all the tests reviewed so far, this kit checks for antibodies in your dog's saliva and reports if there are positive or adverse reactions to each antigen.

How To Test For A Dog Allergy: An In-Depth Guide 9

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 reaction in your pet.

How To Test For A Dog Allergy: An In-Depth Guide 10

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 Test For A Dog Allergy: An In-Depth Guide 11

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

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 appropriate 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 him or her 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.

Common questions

Are at-home dog allergy tests accurate?

No. While saliva tests provide accurate results (at times), they do not reliably distinguish between allergic and healthy dogs, so they are not reliable. 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. In fact, it often serves as the standard against which all other tests are evaluated.


Check out our review of the Top 5 Best Dog DNA tests.

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