Atopic dermatitis, also called Atopy, is an immune hypersensitivity to certain allergens in the environment, both inhaled and those that have contact with the skin. This allergic skin disease does have a hereditary trait, so you shouldn’t breed animals that are known to have atopic dermatitis. However, the immune system is complex, and dogs or cats can develop atopy without any family history of the disease.

    • Allergens can include pollens, molds, grasses, dust mites, feathers, etc.
    • Typically starts in dogs and cats between the ages of 2-6 years, but again it can start at any age over 1 year.

Signs that your dog or cat has atopic dermatitis:

    • The #1 sign is itching: generalized scratching, licking the feet, rubbing the face, or scooting. Pets may have seasonal itching, though some pets are sensitive to allergens present all year round.
    • Secondary skin infections are VERY common. There is often an overgrowth of bacteria and/or yeast on the skin.
    • Included with these secondary infections are ear infections. Ear infections are a very common manifestation of atopy, and sometimes the ONLY manifestation of atopy.
    • Skin lesions can include redness, pustules, papules (little red bumps), hair loss, increased pigmentation, scabbing/crusting, and flaking.

There are only a few ways to definitively diagnose Atopic Dermatitis:

    • Intradermal skin testing: Allergens are injected into the skin, and compare the reaction to allergens to the control (saline). This is the “gold standard” for determining what your pet is allergic to.
    • Blood testing to look for certain types of antibodies to common allergens: Currently, these tests are getting closer to matching results from intradermal testing. However, there can still be false negatives/positives from the blood test.

Treating Atopic Dermatitis:

Treatment of Atopic Dermatitis is aimed at the immune system.  Your veterinarian will assess your pet’s individual condition and recommend the best course of treatment for your pet’s unique needs.

    • Treat Secondary Infections: These can also cause itching, and perpetuate the skin disease, so it’s important to treat these
    • Hyposensitization: A specific allergy serum is developed from the intradermal testing or the blood serum testing. The goal of the serum is to lessen the overactive immune response to allergens. This process can take months-years to work, but is the only “cure” to treating the actual cause of this disease rather than controlling the symptoms.
    • Corticosteroids: both oral and topical medications. This is an immunosuppressive medication. It is very effective to reduce itching, but many side effects if used long term.
    • Atopica (cyclosporine): This is an immunosuppressive medication, but has much fewer side effects than steroids. It is better to use Atopica for long-term control of atopy.
    • Antihistamines: These are helpful in 15-30% of atopic dogs and cats. Often they are not enough to control allergies alone but can be used as supplemental therapy.
    • Fatty Acid Supplements: These help to reduce inflammation secondary to atopy. Much like antihistamines, fatty acids are not strong enough to control allergies alone, but are used as supplemental therapy.
    • Apoquel: A brand new class of drug that has just been released this year, just for dogs. Your veterinarian will discuss Apoquel with you if she thinks it’s right for your dog.

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