Atopic dermatitis, also known as canine atopy, is a hypersensitivity, or over-reaction, to commonplace substances in the environment. These allergens may include plant pollens, house dust mites, mold spores, etc.
Signs that you may have an atopic dog include excessive scratching, chewing, licking, or rubbing areas of the body such as their paws, face, and rear end. They may also have recurrent skin, ear, and anal gland infections and inflammation. The extreme itching and scratching may cause hair loss and reddening/thickening of the skin. In some cases, secondary factors such as parasites, fleas, bacterial or yeast infections can worsen the level of itching. It is important to treat all factors that may be contributing to the problem.
Your veterinarian should easily be able to diagnose atopic dermatitis, although it may be necessary to eliminate other health concerns first. Once diagnosed, though, allergy tests will necessary to identify what the dog is allergic to. One form of testing is called serologic allergy testing. With this form, a blood sample is drawn and sent to a laboratory where the protein levels (antibodies) to the allergens are measured. Many factors, however, can affect the results, making blood allergy testing the lesser preferred method. At this point, your veterinarian may refer you to a veterinary dermatologist. A dermatologist would most likely recommend an intradermal allergy test. During this testing method, the fur is clipped on one side of the chest and small amounts of common allergens are injected into the skin. Then the skin is observed for a reaction to the allergens. This method is more accurate, but it typically requires a mild sedative to relax the dog during the test.
Once the allergies have been determined, a plan for treatment may be formed. Of course, it is best to avoid all allergens, but this may be nearly impossible because they are most likely in the dog’s daily environment. Regular bathing can help remove the allergens from the skin, along with a hypoallergenic cream rinse or spray after the bath. Another form of treatment is allergen-specific immunotherapy. This involves giving a series of diluted allergens based on what the animal is allergic to. Dogs may become less sensitive to their allergens, but it takes time and is necessary to try for several months so it can take effect. When effective, immunotherapy is usually continued life-long and can be given less frequently over time. Medications, such as antihistamines and steroids may help tremendously, although some side-effects may be seen. Just like humans, every animal is different, so not all medications will work for all dogs. Different types may need to be tried to find what works for you pet. Make sure to consult your veterinarian before administering any type of medication.
With the necessary testing and treatment, atopic dermatitis can be managed and your dog will return to his or her content, happy self!