A friend told me about a home allergy swab test for pets. She says I can swab my pet's mouth, send the swab to a company, and find out what he's allergic to, instead of going to an animal allergist. It sounds too good to be true. Are these tests any good?

Swab tests and blood tests have been shown to be inaccurate in diagnosing pets' allergies. If you think your pet might be suffering from allergies, the first step is to visit your veterinarian for a full evaluation to rule out other problems such as bacterial and fungal infections, skin mites, ringworm, fleas, or more serious diseases. Skin scrapings, skin cytology, skin cultures or skin biopsies may be necessary to identify your pet's particular problem. Baseline blood work including thyroid testing should also be part of this evaluation. Once other diseases are ruled out and secondary infection is managed, your pet may be a candidate for allergy testing with a board-certified veterinary dermatologist.

Intradermal allergy testing has been considered the gold standard for diagnosing and treating canine atopy for many years and remains the primary testing method used by most veterinary dermatologists. Intradermal allergy testing allows us to test the skin where the allergic response is occurring. Most animals tolerate the procedure well and results are available immediately.  After allergy testing, your pet will be started on a series of injections tailored to your pet's specific allergies that act to desensitize your pet to certain allergens.  

If you are concerned that your pet has allergies, schedule an exam with your veterinarian to discuss all of your options. 

This week's expert is Dr. Meridith Brand with Eastern Animal Hospital, Baltimore. Send your questions to sun.unleashed@gmail.com.