What is immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy or ‘allergen therapy’ is a medical treatment where allergens (pollens, dust, molds, mites, etc.) are administered to your pet in slowly increasing amounts and concentrations in order to retrain the immune system to be tolerant to allergens has been overreacting to. Successful immunotherapy changes the immune system to be less sensitive to these allergens through repetitive low dose exposure. Using the results of allergy testing and a detailed veterinary history that you provide, the immunotherapy formulation for your pet will contain the specific problematic allergens causing the allergy symptoms in your pet. The goal of immunotherapy is to reduce the severity of clinical signs and reduce the reliance on oral medications, including steroids.

How Is Immunotherapy Administered?

Immunotherapy comes in two forms – an oral form that is given by mouth and absorbs through the gums, or an injectable form that is delivered with injections just beneath the skin (subcutaneous injections). The oral form is given daily, while the injectable form starts off with as injections every 3 days, with the goal of lengthening the interval between injections to every 7 days. The oral-mucosal form is great for clients who are uncomfortable with giving injections, but the injectable form uses small volumes of allergen and a very tiny needle, and the majority of pets do not object to these injections. Ultimately, the form used, dose administered, and frequency of administration are tailored according to your pet’s response. For this reason, regular reevaluations or recheck appointments with one of our doctors (especially during the first year) are essential for achieving the best results.

Is Immunotherapy Safe?

As with any injectable medication, there is a possible chance of serious allergic reaction to the allergen serum. Such reactions are VERY rare, but to be safe we advise that you be with your pet for 30 minutes after administering immunotherapy. If you notice any unusual signs following an immunotherapy injection, such as weakness, labored or difficulty breathing, pale gums, vomiting, diarrhea, or hives, IMMEDIATELY contact our hospital or your regular veterinarian. Your pet should always be observed for at least 30 minutes following an immunotherapy injection, in case of a reaction to the injection.

Are There Other Reactions to Watch Out for?
With the injectable form of immunotherapy, you may see a small amount of redness at the injection site, but this should resolve within 24 hours. The most common adverse effect of immunotherapy is an increase in signs of itchiness, which may include scratching, licking, chewing, or scooting. Call us immediately if your pet experiences an overall decrease in their over-all level of comfort, as immunotherapy should NEVER cause your pet to be in discomfort. It is also best to contact our hospital or your primary veterinarian if you pet begins to experience any symptoms that are unusual for them.
How Soon Can I Expect to See Some Improvement in My Pet?
Every pet will respond differently to a given medication or treatment. In general, it takes six to eight months after therapy begins before significant improvement can be seen. It is recommended that immunotherapy be continued for at least twelve months before deciding whether or not it is the best way to manage your pet’s allergies. Please remember, there are ways our doctors may be able to change your pet’s immunotherapy in order to gain the most control. This is why communication between you and our staff is so important.
Can My Pet Receive Other Medications While On Immunotherapy?

Regular skin and coat care, particularly bathing, is an important part of managing your pet’s allergies. Dr. Randall or Dr. Hasbach may also prescribe medications such as antihistamines, fatty acids, shampoos, rinses, or sprays to help keep your pet comfortable during the early stages of immunotherapy or during allergy season. These other medications and supplements work in conjunction with the immunotherapy your pet is on and are safe to use together.

How Long Will My Pet Have to Receive Immunotherapy?
Once your pet’s allergies are controlled, he or she will receive injections usually once weekly for the rest of his or her life. Unlike with humans, if immunotherapy is discontinued after control has been gained, the symptoms usually do return after months to a year, and it is often necessary to retest the pet in order to regain control a second time.

If your pet is receiving oral immunotherapy, it is still unclear if discontinuing allergen serum is possible after there is control for several years. Until further research is conducted in this important area we maintain our current recommendation to continue use of oral immunotherapy.

What If My Pet Is Not Improving On Immunotherapy?
Some pets may not improve following immunotherapy injections or oral serum. It is critical that you work closely with our staff to ensure the best possible results. Poor response may be secondary to treatable complications of allergies such as bacterial or yeast infection, or flea infestation. In other cases, it may be necessary to change the contents, dosage, or concentration of the immunotherapy. In selected cases, it may be beneficial to retest your pet if it is suspected that your pet has developed new or additional hypersensitivities or allergies.

A Note from the Animal Allergy and Ear Clinic
Client Participation and Compliance

The key to success with immunotherapy lies in consistency. This form of treatment will not be successful without the full participation and cooperation of the owner or caretaker. Therefore, the decision to proceed with immunotherapy should be based on client preferences and their commitment to the treatment. At the Animal Allergy and Ear Clinic it is our goal to first educate you on all of your options and then work with your family to decide the best form of treatment. Clients who are well informed are more likely to adhere to the immunotherapy schedule, commit to their other concurrent therapies, and make the necessary modifications in the home environment per the prescribing veterinarian’s instructions. It is our mission to be as upfront in terms of program, schedule, cost, and needed compliance. For the treatment to be successful, we will provide constant guidance and encouragement.

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