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Itchy Scratchy Dogs
Atopy in dogs - Canine Atopic Dermatitis Simply Explained



What is Canine Atopic Dermatitis (Atopy)?
Atopic dermatitis is a common cause of chronic itching in dogs. Second only to Flea allergy dermatitis
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. This article discusses Canine Atopic Dermatitis, an inhaled allergy.  
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 or absorbed by the skin. 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.
* Mold Spores
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, belly, 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 their feet.  Owners may notice their dog scratching, 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 years. 
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 Atopy?
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) injections 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.
For more information on steroid treatment, this article is very thorough:
Cortisone Treatment for Atopy
Topical Treatments
I personally have had great success with Cortavance. It is the only product that has worked effectively to relieve the itching for my Poodle's atopy.
Cortavance For Itchy Skin Dogs CORTAVANCE Topical Spray Treatment.

For inflamed and itchy skin conditions in dogs.

Contains hydrocortisone aceponate, a type of steroid that works by direct application to the skin via a spray. It reduces inflammation - leading to skin that is less itchy, red and sore.

Ask your vet how Cortavance can help your dog.

Antihistamines usually work great for humans but are not so effective for dogs. The most common antihistamines that veterinarians recommend for dogs are:


Trade Name
Diphenhydramine Benadryl
Dexchlorpheniramine Polaramine
Hydroxyzine Atarax
Chlorpheniramine Chlor-Trimeton
Clemastine fumarate Tavist
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.
Fish or Krill Oil for Itchy Skin in Dogs (Omega Fatty Acids)
Research has shown that Omega-3 dietary supplements in the form of fish or krill oil may be beneficial to dogs suffering from atopy. Many dogs have shown improvement after being given fish or krill 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 or krill oil treatments. 

Atopica is a drug used to treat itchy skin caused by atopic dermatitis in dogs. Usually suggested as a treatment by your vet when all other treatments fail. It can be very effective for dogs suffering from severe, constant itchiness caused by auto immune disease such as Atopy.
Atopica is an immunosuppressant drug. It works by suppressing the immune system. The generic name for the drug is Cyclosporine.
Although there have been some success for the treatment of atopy in dogs there are side effects to consider. I recommend that you discuss the pros and cons with your vet about using this drug.
Side effects can include the following: (Please note this is not a full list of side effects)
Ear Infections
Bladder Infections
Loss of appetite
Dogs and humans receiving cyclosporine have a reduced ability to fight infections of all kinds including bacterial and fungal skin infections and urinary tract infections.
Treatment with Atopica is controversial. I recommend you do your own research before going ahead with this treatment.
Also, you should be aware that Atopica can be an expensive treatment.
An 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 mites.
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 mites.
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 performed.


This article article is provided for informative purposes only. Always seek veterinary advice for any medical problem


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