What are some affordable ways on how to test for food allergies in dogs?
Original Question: I have a 3-year-old Yellow Lab/Golden mix who is my Service Dog. He has developed allergies and I was wondering what test would be best to figure out his sensitivities to food products, etc. I know there is a blood panel that can be done. There is also a saliva test I heard of that an online vet would do. My income is limited so taking him to an allergist would be difficult for me due to the extra cost but I'd do this if it would guarantee some help. An elimination diet is also very expensive. I would think a blood or saliva test would be informative. Please advise. Thank you! - Lisa
Thanks for your question.
Allergies are a complicated and frustrating problem to deal with in our pets.
To address your question specifically, here’s what I would say. Many specialists are conflicted and argue about the reliability of canine allergy testing. There is a blood test to look for dietary and environmental allergens that your dog may be allergic to. This is a simple but expensive test that can be done at any animal clinic where they draw blood and send it to the lab. There is also an intradermal allergy test. This test is usually performed by a dermatologist where they shave an area of skin and inject a tiny amount of many different allergens in different spots underneath the skin. They then record the reaction and determine which allergens your dog is sensitive to. The saliva allergy test that you see online would probably be considered the least valuable of the three tests. Its efficacy has not been tested and I’m always concerned about tests that you can do from home. Sometimes I worry about the different companies that offer this test and whether they have the necessary level of quality control to really make the test effective.
As a practitioner, I have used the blood allergy test for dogs many times. There are some cases where it has been highly successful and has clearly pinpointed something the dog was allergic to and then this allergen was subsequently eliminated from its diet, which had a clear positive impact on the dog’s condition. Other times that I’ve performed the test, where I’ve identified the allergens and eliminated them from the diet did not seem to have any positive benefit. It’s very clear to me that sometimes this very expensive test can be really effective or not beneficial at all. Having said that, I would have you discuss this with your veterinarian and see if it’s right for you.
What I find interesting about your question is your comment about an elimination diet trial. This does not have to be expensive at all. In fact, you can even do this yourself at home. This type of diet trial is a process where you eliminate every single treat or food that your dog is allowed to have except for one single diet. Usually, the food elimination diet for dogs that is selected is very simple and known to be hypoallergenic. It may have a single protein and a single carbohydrate source in it with very few extra ingredients. You then feed this diet exclusively, so absolutely nothing else goes in the dog’s mouth during a three-month period. You monitor their symptoms and see if the allergies improve. If they do, switch your dog back to the original food it was on before the hypoallergenic one. If the allergies return, then you have identified that the ingredients in the original food is what your dog is allergic to. You can see how there is some trial and error involved in this process and it could be time-consuming. But to your point about cost, it is not expensive. If you buy a hypoallergenic food from your veterinarian, that may be expensive. You could choose a commercial brand that is non-prescription and cheaper which achieves the same thing.
While doing this, it is important to employ some of the other strategies that can be used in combination to control allergies.
I know it’s a lot of work but it can be really rewarding if you find some success. I wish you the best of luck.
Dr. Clayton Greenway
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