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4 Easy Steps on How to Give Your Pet an Antigen Injection

Written by Craig Griffin, DVM, DACVD

Your veterinarian has determined that your dog has allergies to certain substances such as house dust mites and various grasses and insects and may benefit from allergen injection to slowly lessen your pet's reaction to the substances. You can easily administer these injections at home. You will receive vials from your veterinarian that contain different concentrations of the allergen solution as well as syringes to administer the injections. Store the allergen solutions in the refrigerator. Your veterinarian will provide you a schedule of how you will need to administer the injections (such as every other day) and what amount to administer each time. Over time, you will slowly increase the amount you inject. You can train your dog to readily accept the injections (refer to boxed text 'Make Injection Administration a Treat'); your veterinarian will teach you to give the injections, which involves these four steps.

Step 1: Prepare the injection
Take the appropriate vial and draw the amount of allergen solution specified in your schedule into a syringe. Use a new syringe for every injection and properly dispose of each syringe and needle after use. Record the date of administration on your injection schedule. To make the injection more comfortable for your pet, allow the solution in the syringe to reach room temperature before you administer it.

Step 2: Find the right site
The injections are usually given in the nape of the neck. It is helpful to move the injection location each time, so the same site is not repeatedly injected. You may wish to locate the center of the neck and vary the injection sites by visualizing a clock and giving subsequent injections at the various hours rotating clockwise.

Step 3: Administer the injection
Grasp the skin where you will inject the solution with your thumb and middle finger (Figure 1), and slightly lift the skin up. Next place your index finger between your thumb and middle finger (Figure 2) to indent the fold of skin being held up so that it forms a Y or V shape (Figures 3A & 3B). Hold the syringe like a dart (Figure 4) and do not put any pressure on the plunger as you insert the needle. Make sure to point the syringe directly to the center of the skin fold and insert the needle parallel to or at a slight angle from the back or neck (Figure 5). Touch the plunger only after you have inserted the needle through the skin.

If you angle the needle toward one side, the needle may penetrate through the skin fold, and you'll inject the solution outside the skin. Be sure to avoid puncturing your own skin as you give the injection-be especially cautious if you have any allergies.

Step 4: Monitor for reactions
You should be able to observe your pet for the first 30-minutes and preferably one-hour after the injection. Note any reactions and report them to your veterinarian.

Reactions that require contacting your veterinarian immediately include vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, collapse, hives, or facial swelling. These reactiions can occur with any injection, so it's important to monitor your pet even if it has been receiving the injections for months. 

Milder allergic reactions that should be reported to your veterinarian before you give any more injections are increased itching, listlessness, sleepiness, and anxiousness. Tenderness or swelling at the injection site occurs infrequently and is usually minimal if you administer the injections correctly and have trained your dog to accept them. Other reactions that may occur are panting, hyperactivity, increased bowel sounds, changes in urinary habits, and frequent swallowing.

Reactions may occur relatively rapidly after the injections, but changes in activity and pruritus (itch) may occure one or two days later. Monitor the pruritus in relation to when injections are given, as your veterinarian often uses this as a basis for making adjustments in the treatment protocol. Grade the pruritus and note the locations of pruritus. Use a scale of 0 (no pruritus) to 10 (the most severe pruritus), for your pet before beginning the injections. Record this information in a column next to the administration date on your injection schedule or consider keeping a diary to notes this information.

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