Drug Allergy: A Hidden Cause of Itchy Skin That Many Vets Don't Know About

Pet Allergies

Story at-a-glance -

  • Drug sensitivities in pets often take the form of allergic dermatitis (itchy skin rashes). They can also show up as blood abnormalities and liver damage.
  • Frequently, a drug allergy doesn’t create obvious symptoms for months or longer. This is one reason vets don’t make the connection between a pet’s illness and an adverse reaction to a drug.
  • Another reason DVMs don’t recognize drug allergies is because the subject isn’t taught in veterinary schools. Dr. Sidonie Lavergne hopes to convince vet schools that drug hypersensitivities are a real problem so they will begin including the subject in pharmacology or toxicology courses.
  • Dr. Lavergne’s laboratory can test an animal’s blood for the presence of memory T cells and antibodies to determine what drug might be causing an adverse reaction. She is currently providing diagnostic services, sample supplies and shipping at no cost to DVMs who would like a patient’s blood tested. She also provides free phone consultations to vets.

By Dr. Becker

Dr. Sidonie Lavergne, assistant professor of pharmacology at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, believes drug hypersensitivities in animals are probably much more common than veterinarians realize.

Dr. Lavergne is heading up a research project with the goal of identifying markers of drug allergic reactions in dogs and raising awareness in the veterinary community. The primary focus of her research is on delayed allergic reactions to medications that affect the skin.  Additionally, she studies drug allergic reactions that target other organs, such as, liver and blood cells.

Drug Allergies in Pets Often Show Up in The Skin

"When drugs are given to pets, either orally or injected, the number one organ that's affected is the skin," says Lavergne. "My laboratory is trying to understand why."

This will come as no surprise to regular readers of Mercola Healthy Pets, since I often discuss the fact that sensitivities of all types in pets tend to express themselves through the skin as a condition called allergic dermatitis. In my opinion, drug allergies are certainly a contributor to the epidemic of itchy skin conditions we’re seeing in pets these days.

Dr. Lavergne’s experience is that not only do drug allergies manifest as skin conditions like rashes, they also show up as blood abnormalities and liver damage. And she explains that while major adverse reactions like anaphylactic shock typically occur within a few hours of administering a drug, most reactions are actually delayed and symptoms don’t become obvious until the animal has been exposed to the drug for days or even months. This, of course, means veterinarians might be even less likely to make the connection that the problem is an allergic reaction to a drug.

Adverse Drug Reactions Aren’t Part of Vet School Curricula

According to Dr. Lavergne, "Most veterinary curricula don't include adverse drug events in their courses. If students aren't trained to be aware of it, it probably won't be on their radar."  Dr. Lavergne says veterinary schools need to be convinced that drug hypersensitivities are a real problem so they will begin including the subject in pharmacology or toxicology courses.  Dr. Larvergne believes once vets are made more aware of such allergic reactions to drugs, they will realize it happens more often than they think.

I believe that this is the principal reason traditionally trained DVMs sometimes don’t connect the dots between an animal’s symptoms and an adverse drug reaction. (Holistic vets are much more apt to make the connection.)

While I’m excited and hopeful about Dr. Lavergne’s research, I’ll be interested to see how much headway she’s able to make in bringing vet schools around to her way of thinking. My suspicion is that veterinary drug manufacturers will work diligently against efforts to bring more awareness of drug allergies to vet students.

Imagine if graduating vet students became so knowledgeable of the potential for adverse side effects that they prescribed fewer veterinary meds, and perhaps even looked for safer, more natural therapies instead? And what if they began to view vaccines and chemical pest preventives with the same degree of caution?

Blood Test to Determine What Drug Is at Fault

As part of her research project, Dr. Lavergne’s laboratory has the ability to test animal blood for the presence of memory T cells and antibodies -- immune markers that can determine what drug might be causing an adverse reaction. Lavergne is currently providing diagnostic services, sample supplies and shipping at no cost to DVMs who would like a patient’s blood tested. She also provides free phone consultations to veterinarians and can help them with diagnoses, even in cases where a suspected drug allergic reaction happened in the past.

"Even if the event happened years ago, a dog will have memory immune cells in its blood that can help confirm whether there was a drug allergic reaction," Lavergne says. "And if the animal was on multiple drugs at the time, I can determine which one is likely to have caused the problem."

Dr. Lavergne believes that not only will her diagnostic service help vets treat animal patients currently experiencing a drug allergic reaction, but the knowledge gained through her research will help future pets with drug allergy as well.

If you suspect your pet might be allergic to a drug she is taking or was given in the past, consider letting your vet know about Dr. Lavergne’s research project. She can be reached by your veterinarian at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine by email at slavergn@illinois.edu.  Dr. Lavergne needs to communicate directly with a clinician, so it is best not to contact her yourself.

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