Atopy in dogs - Canine Atopic Dermatitis
What is Canine Atopic Dermatitis (Atopy)?
There are many factors which can cause your dog to itch and scratch. Among the
common offenders are parasites such as fleas and mites, contact allergies, food
allergies and yeast infections.
discusses Canine Atopic Dermatitis, an inhaled allergy.
(You may also wish to read about
Mange in dogs
which can also
Canine Atopic Dermatitis, also known as atopy is a common itchy skin allergy in
dogs caused by a disorder of the dog's immune system. It is an allergy to
substances in the environment that are inhaled by the dog.
These substances are called allergens and cause the immune system to over re-act
and release histamines.
Some of the more common allergens are:
House Dust Mite is a very common cause.
Pollen from trees, flowers or grasses.
Food sensitivity is an uncommon
cause of allergic skin disease, which accounts for only a small percentage of
the cases seen by dermatologists.
What are the symptoms of Canine Atopic Dermatitis?
The main symptom is excessive itching. The itching is often seen in the
paws, face, groin, armpits and ears. Dogs will often chew their feet or rub
their faces on the carpet or on furniture or they may rub their muzzle with
Owners may notice their dog licking, chewing
and grooming for long periods of time.
Most cases of atopic dermatitis in dogs begin between the ages of 6 months and 3
The ears may be very red and hot to the touch.
The dog can mutilate his skin with excessive
scratching and chewing. Sores and hair loss can develop. Secondary infections
with bacteria and yeast are common. Yeast infections have a unique sour odor
that you may recognize from time to time.
It is common for a dog with atopy to wake in
the night and scratch for lengthy periods of time.
The symptoms may be seasonal at first, for example the dog may be allergic to a
pollen from a tree that only flowers for three weeks a year, however as the
atopic dog gets older the the itchiness may occur year round.
The owner may notice a reddish brown stain on the dog's groin area or feet. This
is caused by coming into contact with excessive saliva.
Which Breeds of Dog are more susceptible to Atopy?
Any breed can be affected by atopy even a mutt but certain breeds do have a
predisposition to it. These breeds include: German Shepherd, West Highland
Terrier, Golden Retriever, Dalmatian, Shi-tzu, Miniature Schnauzer, Poodle, Boxer,
Lhasa apso, English bulldogs, English setters, Wirehaired fox
terriers, Beagle, Boston Terrier and Shar Pei.
Is Atopy inherited?
Yes. Breeders should not breed with known atopic dogs.
What is the treatment for Atopy? Is there a cure for
At present there is no cure for atopy in dogs but a degree of control can be achieved in a
some cases. Often it is not one single treatment that is effective but a
combination of two, three or more different treatments. Below are some of the
treatments that your vet may recommend.
Steroid (Cortisone) shots or tablets
Cortisone can give your dog instant relief from the itching but cannot be used
long term. Long term use can cause serious health issues. Short term use is very
valuable for relieving the itch thus allowing damaged skin to repair itself.
Prednisone is often the drug chosen by vets to treat dogs.
When your dog's itching becomes unbearable to both you and the dog a week or so
on prednisone tablets may be an ideal way to get your dog over the immediate
crisis. Use it sparingly and enjoy the benefits. Your vet will advise you of the
dosage. It is very important to follow the vet's instructions carefully as you
cannot abruptly stop the medication. The dog has to be weaned off it gradually.
Sometimes your vet will give your dog a cortisone shot to get instant relief and
then you will follow up with tablets.
There are side effects associated with the use of steroids. Common symptoms
include increased thirst, increased urination, increased appetite (which can
cause weight gain), depression, hyperactivity, panting, and diarrhea.
Oatmeal shampoos which soothe the skin are often recommended.
Antihistamines usually work great for humans but are not so effective for
dogs. The most common antihistamines that veterinarians recommend for dogs are:
Often it is a matter of trial and error to find a antihistamine that works for
your dog but quite often no antihistamine is effective.
No veterinary products are
available. You will need to experiment with human antihistamines.
Desensitization - often called Allergy Shots
Your vet may recommend that you consider desensitization vaccines. This involves
testing of your dog to find out what it is allergic to. Your vet may perform a
blood test or refer you
to a veterinary dermatologist who will perform a skin test for the most common allergens.
When the allergens are identified he will order a low dose mixture of those
allergens and your vet will inject your dog with this mixture on a weekly or
monthly basis. Your dog's immune system 'learns' to deal with these allergens.
Over time your dog will require the shots less often, reducing to what is called
a maintenance dose.
According to some studies it has been reported that desensitizing shots can
prevent or reduce allergies in 60% to 80% of cases.
Fish Oil for Itchy Skin in Dogs (Omega Fatty Acids)
Research has shown that Omega-3 dietary supplements in the form of fish oil may be
beneficial to dogs suffering from atopy. Many dogs
have shown improvement after being given fish oil supplements. A dog needs to take the supplement for
three or four weeks before any improvement
is noticed. Many studies have been conducted testing the benefits of fish
oil treatments. For detailed reading of one of these studies please
click on this link.
effective long-term solution is to change the dog's living circumstances to
avoid the allergen.
Dust mite excrement is a common allergen. Dust mites thrive in carpets and beds.
Keeping your dog out of the
bedroom may help as a typical mattress can hold between 100,000 to 10 million
Keeping your dog outside may prove beneficial in avoiding dust mite excrement.
However this may not an acceptable alternative to people who wish to share their
home and lifestyle with their dog.
Putting your dog's bed out in the sunshine on a daily basis can reduce dust
If pollens are the allergen keeping your dog inside can be beneficial.
If your dog is allergic to molds then keeping him out of damp areas such as
basements can be beneficial.
You cannot be sure of what your dog is allergic to unless you have a skin test
Atopica is a drug used to treat itchy skin caused by atopic dermatitis in dogs. It can be very effective for dogs
suffering from severe, constant itchiness. Atopica works by suppressing the
immune system. The generic name for the drug is Cyclosporine and has been used
in human transplant patients. Although there has been some success for the treatment of atopy
there are side effects. I recommend that you discuss the pros and cons
with your vet about
using this drug. Also, you should be aware that Atopica can be an expensive treatment.
article is provided for informative purposes only. Always
seek veterinary advice for any medical problem