Dogs develop allergies, just like humans do. Being human, we can take measures to treat our allergies before they get too severe. We can pick up the phone and make an appointment with a physician to treat our allergies. Dogs can’t talk; they can’t talk our language, that is. When a dog has an allergy, most of the time it affects him in his skin. His skin gets itchy, and he will attempt to relieve the itching by biting or licking. One of the worst complications from your dog trying to relieve the itch from an allergy is lick granuloma.
If you notice your dog licking between his toes, legs, genitals and other areas frequently, he could have an allergy that is causing his skin to itch. It is a good idea to look between your dog’s toes, and anywhere he licks frequently, for sores. The hot spots can first develop as thickened skin, but later the areas can be worn away down into the flesh of the dog, as the dog licks. If the dog has an allergy that is causing him to lick, it is important to relieve your dog’s discomfort as soon as possible to prevent any hot spots from forming. It is also important for your dog to be examined by his veterinarian. Your dog may suggest that your dog be tested for allergies. It is possible that your dog has atopy, which is a dermatitis that is caused by an inhalant allergy. Other than an allergy to fleas, inhalant allergies are the most common allergies in dogs.
Your dog’s itchy skin could be due to an allergy to dust mites, mold, or pollen. To check your dog for allergies, the veterinarian would do allergy skin testing, or draw blood to check for antibodies. Antibodies are made by your dog’s immune system to fight off the antigen, (allergen). The test is a similar test to that which is done in humans. The only difference is the antibodies in dogs are not the same kind of antibodies in humans. It is called the ELISA (enzyme-linked immunobsorbant assay) test. There is another blood allergy test called the RAST (radioallergosorbent) test. Normally, the veterinarian would do a skin test, but if the skin is too irritated, or the dog is too young or the dog is a show dog and can’t be clipped or shaved, then a blood test would be done.
If there is no reason a skin test can’t be done on your dog, the vet will most likely do an intradermal skin test. Your veterinarian may or may not be the one doing the allergy testing. It is quite possible that your vet would refer your dog to a veterinarian dermatologist. The vet will sedate your dog, and then shave him down to the skin; then your dog will have a series of injections with specific allergens. Your dog will be observed over a period of a few hours to watch for allergic responses at the injection sites. The skin testing is done in a specific order. Each injection site is identified for a specific allergen, so that the vet can read the results to identify what your dog is allergic to.
The blood tests are done when it isn’t feasible to do the skin testing. The RAST test is a blood test where allergens bound to a polymer are added to the blood. If your dog is allergic to the allergen that was induced with the polymer, the antibodies in the blood will attach to the allergen that was added to the blood. The technicians will then wash the blood, and the blood cells will be washed away, and the bound antigen and antibodies will be all that is left. The ELISA blood test is similar to the RAST test, and is used sometimes to detect food allergies. If you suspect your dog has allergies, take him to the veterinarian where he can be properly diagnosed and treated before serious skin complications, such as lick granuloma.