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


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

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 sensitivity reactions in dogs, to raise awareness in the veterinary community. The primary focus of her research is on delayed allergic reactions that affect the skin.

Drug Allergies in Pets Often Show Up as Allergic Dermatitis

“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 months. This, of course, means veterinarians are 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.”

This is the principal reason traditionally trained DVMs 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.) 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.

She believes once vets are made aware of adverse drug events, they will realize it happens more often than they think.

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 and can help vets with diagnoses, even in cases where a suspected adverse drug 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 an 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 adverse drug reactions, but the knowledge gained through her research will help future allergic pets 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 at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine at (217) 265-0315, or by email at slavergn@illinois.edu.