How To Know If Dog Allergy Tests Are Worth It
Step 11 of 19 in the Dogly Allergies Channel
with Alex Eaton of HealingBayPet, Nutrition Advocate

Pet parents with dogs showing allergy symptoms often ask me if dog allergy testing makes sense, if it's accurate, and if it's worth it.

A dog allergy test can give you a sense of the degree of sensitivity to a given potential allergen for your dog. But different types of types of tests offer differing degrees of accuracy in pinpointing sensitivities and bring with them different risks and reasons to use them or not.

It is important to note that even if an allergen shows up in a test, it does not mean your pet has an allergy. The test results should be used as one piece of the puzzle to determine what could be causing the symptoms. If you have concerns about your dog’s health and allergies, talk with your veterinarian about the options that are best for your pet.


What type of dog allergy test is available and different accuracy/risks

Most common in dog allergy tests are blood, hair, and saliva tests to try to get to the cause of your dog's allergic reactions.

Blood allergy testing

The majority of vets use blood allergy tests which are not very accurate to decode dog allergies, both seasonal and dog food allergies. When vets test blood for allergies, the blood tests will flag things that are not the cause of the allergic reaction. Sometimes with blood testing, pet parents will get a list that's a hundred miles long for what might be causing their dog's allergies that leaves them with a blood test result that's overwhelming in the number of questionable possibilities.

Hair & saliva testing

Hair analysis can be great, while saliva testing is good.

With hair testing, you can learn more, especially when dog allergies are genetically based. I rarely recommend getting hair tests done though since they're expensive and we can usually work it out without the test.

A saliva test is a newer type of dog allergy test that has become available in the last few years. Saliva tests are growing in popularity because they provide more accurate results as compared to other types of tests, have fewer risks associated with them and do not require any needles or drawing blood like traditional blood tests. The challenge is that these tests are expensive and not all vets use them, so you may need to do some research to find a vet who can perform this type of test.

Remember with all of these tests to think of an allergy test as a scale of sensitivity, giving you a sense of what degree of sensitivity your dog has to a given allergen.

Skin allergy tests

Skin tests are considered most accurate in humans, while there is no agreement by professionals on accuracy in dogs. But a skin test for dogs is riskier because it requires sedation, usually general anesthesia. Skin tests are also expensive.

Intradermal skin testing is used to determine which environmental allergies (weeds, trees, molds, fleas, etc.) your pet may have. (Please note it is not a reliable way to test for food allergies.) To perform skin allergy testing, the dog is shaved down and 60 different allergens are injected beneath the skin's subcutaneous layer. A welt/hive will form if there is an allergic response. The reaction is then rated from 1 to 4, with 4 being the highest level of sensitivity. You can see why anesthesia is required with dogs for the involved, invasive nature of skin testing.

I always recommend avoiding anesthesia unless truly needed, so skin testing is hard to justify in my own dogs for an allergy analysis and I wouldn't tend to recommend it in yours.


What's really going on with allergies in dogs

Looking at dog allergy symptoms carefully can often be our best go-to for getting answers and addressing our dogs' allergies. For example, food allergies (or sensitivities) usually start in the GI system before they show up on the skin, with itchiness, paw-licking, etc. External allergens - from dust mites to pollen to flea bites - will present with external symptoms on skin, in the eyes and ears, etc.

The bottom line is that the best way to identify the source of a dog allergy is typically through careful observation and elimination. For more info on elimination diets, check out this guide here. That process can take time and may involve trial-and-error, but it's often your pet's best chance for finding long term relief from allergies. Dog allergy testing can be useful in some cases, but it is far from necessary in all cases and it might not give you the answers you need.

A thorough discussion of your dog's symptoms with a certified canine nutritionist/allergy expert or your vet is the best place to start to figure out what's really going on and create a plan for which dog allergy treatment methods will be most helpful for your individual dog.

Dog allergy testing for food allergies

Food allergies are a bit different from environmental allergies and you may be wondering if dog food allergy testing makes sense. The answer is that food allergy tests for dogs do exist, but they have limited accuracy and should never replace an elimination diet trial as the way to pin down any potential food sensitivities (or allergies) in your dog.

Food allergy tests for dogs are usually blood tests, which measure the antibodies that your dog has produced in response to a certain food item (antibodies are proteins in the body that are made as part of an immune system response).

Food allergy tests do NOT test for sensitivities, only allergies. A sensitivity is much more common than an actual allergy and should be managed differently than an allergy would be managed.


Tell me more...

An adverse food reaction creates systemic inflammation - initially it can be hard to know exactly where it initiated or what's causing it. It can be as simple as a food your dog can't break down properly in the digestive system and you end up with chunks in the gut causing inflammation that can trigger GI issues and lead to a true allergy.

There are many examples of even healthful ingredients like leafy greens that can provide wonderful nutrients for your dog but can be hard to break down. And that's just to name one, which is why working closely with your nutritionist or vet can help you isolate root causes and log-term solutions.

The question you want to ask

The good question to ask in these cases is not what can we do to mask or eliminate the symptoms but how can we make these ingredients usable for our dogs' digestion?

Clean, balanced, whole food nutrition with nutrients in a form your dog can access is the strongest foundation for your dog's immune system.

Next up in the Allergies Channel on Dogly

For more on allergy symptoms, causes, and solutions, continue on in Dogly's Allergy Channel where you'll find multiple resources. (Including the video recording of my live learning group/Q&A series on dogs & allergies.)

Hop over to the Allergies Channel if you have any nutrition related questions for the Community discussion or start any of the step-by-step guides in Food Allergies, Itchy Allergies, and Seasonal Allergies.

And if you ever need more personalized nutrition guidance, please reach out!

Alex Eaton of HealingBayPet

Nutrition Advocate
Dogly loves Alex because she uses real food and science to heal and keep our dogs truly well - with a special heart for rescues and seniors like her 16-year-old Patch.

Alex guides you

Basic Nutrition - Herbs - Allergies - Diseases - Joint Support - Dental Health

Alex is certified

Clinical Pet Nutritionist from ANHS - Fear Free Shelters