Among the many sneezy, sniffling, stuffy-headed trips to the drugstore this season, there's a good chance Americans will overlook many of the "knee-level" allergy symptoms - namely those plaguing their canine housemates.
More than 7 million U.S. dogs suffer from allergies to ordinary environmental and seasonal irritants like dust mites, mold or pollen - a condition known as canine atopic dermatitis, or atopy. Unlike their owners who manifest allergies through a trail of used tissues, dogs resort to chewing paws, licking skin and rubbing against carpet and furniture in an effort to curtail atopy's primary symptom: inflamed, and often unbearably itchy skin.
While pet owners can be quick to attribute the problem to a dog's instinctual scratching and licking, atopic pets that continue to scratch can cause more severe complications, including hair loss, skin infections, open sores, and often, sleepless nights.
"Atopic dogs go from a cute, cuddly puppy
to a disaster of yucky smelling dog that's just not fun to be around," says Dr. Keith Hnilica, associate professor of dermatology in the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Tennessee. "The constant licking, scratching and chewing causes secondary infections, and in some cases, dogs spend so much time scratching that they actually lose weight."
While torture for the dog, the discomfort associated with the condition also transfers to owners. According to Dr. Helen Power of Dermatology for Animals, a private veterinary specialty clinic in Campbell, Calif., the difficulty in treating the condition often results in dog owners feeling helpless as their pets suffer.
"Most people expect their dogs to be peaceful, cuddly companions, so the last thing they want to be doing is vacuuming up chunks of hair, averting their eyes or plugging their nose whenever their pet walks in the room," Power says. "Owners typically try a number of treatments in hopes of helping their pet, but unfortunately, there are no quick fixes for allergic skin diseases. They often end up utterly frustrated."Piecing together treatments
While medical advancements have provided human allergy sufferers with an array of over-the-counter and prescription remedies, atopic dogs have fewer options. Veterinarians' short list of treatments includes topicals, antihistamines, immunotherapy and corticosteroids.
According to Hnilica, anti-inflammatory steroids, most often administered as a tablet, injection or spray, help reduce itching, but can lead to serious side effects if used long-term. Side effects can include muscle atrophy, intestinal ulcers and Cushing's disease, a potentially life-threatening disease of the adrenal gland. Antihistamines, although relatively safe, often prove to be ineffective in the lasting control of atopy. Immunotherapy, a series of injections to desensitize pets to an offending allergen, requires frequent visits to the veterinarian over a period of several months, and may not be effective.
According to a Novartis Animal Health US, Inc. 2004 survey of pet owners with atopic dogs, 86 percent say their pet's atopy has left them feeling frustrated and helpless. The study also showed that in the two and a half years since their pet's diagnosis, owners have visited their veterinarian an average of 14 times, tried more than six different treatments and spent more than $1,500 without finding relief for their dog's incessant scratching.Making atopy manageablea
While there is no cure for atopy, medical advancements have produced a safe, effective therapy for dogs in the FDA-approved prescription medication, Atopica (Cyclosporine capsules, USP) Modified. Atopica is not a steroid, but instead specifically targets the harmful reaction that causes itchiness and inflammation. The soft, gelatin capsules are administered daily for the first month, after which the dose may be tapered depending on your veterinarian's recommendation for long-term control of the condition.
"When it comes to managing atopy, cyclosporine is the new kid on the block," Hnilica says, "and pet owners are loving the benefits it provides. It's very specific in its function, so side effects are negligible and extremely rare. Owners like that they can simply give their dog a capsule daily and start seeing the benefits within 30 days."
Power agrees. "There's no question that the drug has changed the life of many dogs and their families. It's an extremely predictable therapy," she says, "and it's really rewarding as a veterinarian to have clients who have used it tell you how happy their dog is now."
Though advancements in therapies are providing crucial relief to atopic dogs, Power and Hnilica are both quick to point out that the most important step remains recognizing a dog's clinical signs and consulting a veterinarian.
"The initial clinical signs of atopy can be tricky to diagnose and any secondary infections need to be treated with care. Don't hesitate to discuss concerns with a veterinarian, who will conduct a clinical examination to rule out other diseases and determine the potential cause of the allergy," Power says. "The most important care pet owners can provide is being vigilant about understanding their pets' health issues and taking action."About Atopica
Atopica is available through veterinarians in soft gelatin capsules containing 10, 25, 50 or 100 mg cyclosporine. Capsules are packaged 15 per pack. Atopica is indicated for the control of atopic dermatitis in dogs weighing at least 4 pounds.
As with all drugs, side effects may occur. In a field study, the most common side effects were gastrointestinal signs. Gingival hyperplasia and papillomas also may occur during the initial dosing phase. Atopica is not for use in reproducing dogs or dogs with a history of malignant neoplasia. Pet owners should refer to the full product insert at www.us.atopica.com for more information.About Novartis
Novartis Animal Health US, Inc., headquartered in Greensboro, N.C., researches, develops and commercializes animal treatments that meet the needs of veterinarians, pet owners and farmers. For further information, please consult www.petwellness.com.
Novartis Animal Health US, Inc. is part of Novartis AG (NYSE: NVS), a world leader in pharmaceuticals and consumer health. In 2004, the Group's businesses achieved sales of USD 28.2 billion and a net income of USD 5.8 billion. The Group invested approximately USD 4.2 billion in research and development. Headquartered in Basel, Switzerland, Novartis Group companies employ approximately 81,400 people and operate in more than 140 countries around the world. For further information, please consult www.novartis.com.