Overview of Dogs with Allergies
Atopy is a pruritic (itchy) skin disease of dogs that is caused by an allergy to substances in the environment that are contacted through the air, either by absorption through the respiratory tract or contact through the skin. Atopy is thought to be an inherited disease. It is the second most common allergic skin condition in dogs; only flea allergy dermatitis is more common.
Symptoms of atopy usually begin relatively early in life, often by one year of age. Symptoms usually are seasonal at first, with most dogs showing clinical signs in the summer months when airborne allergens (such as plant pollens) are present in higher concentrations. As atopic dogs age, their symptoms tend to become less seasonal as they become allergic to more substances. Eventually, their itchiness can occur year-round.
Dogs with atopy are usually itchy, particularly the hands and feet. The skin may be red and irritated due to scratching, and the ears may also be inflamed. The symptoms of food allergy are difficult to distinguish from those of atopy.
What to Watch For
Diagnosis of Canine Atopy
Diagnostic tests are necessary to rule out other skin diseases, as well as to support the diagnosis of atopy. These tests may include:
Treatment of Canine Atopy
Initial treatments may alleviate symptoms, but do not treat the underlying cause of the allergy. Immunotherapy (allergy shots that work by modifying your dog’s immune response to allergens) is considered the best treatment for moderate to severe or long-standing cases of atopy.
Your veterinarian may recommend the following for your dogs:
Atopy cannot be cured and most dogs require some form of therapy throughout their lives. You will need to administer any medications prescribed by your veterinarian and avoid offending allergens as much as possible. Skin testing (also called allergy testing) can be performed to identify the specific substances to which your dog is allergic. As time goes by, however, most dogs with atopy become allergic to more and more allergens, making avoidance impractical in the long run.
You should practice strict flea control. Other itchy (pruritic) skin diseases such as flea allergy dermatitis may have an additive effect on your dog’s skin condition.
Observe your dog for rashes and worsening of any skin lesions. Secondary bacterial infection of the skin (pyoderma) is common in dogs with atopy and can contribute to their discomfort.
Atopy probably is an inherited disorder in dogs. Since enviromental exposure to allergens is important in the development of disease, it cannot be prevented. Airborne allergens, such as plant pollens, are difficult to avoid, and there is little that can be done to prevent the development of atopy in a predisposed individual. Dogs that grow up in low allergen environments (dry climate with high elevation) may be less likely to develop symptoms.
Managing atopy in your dog takes some patience. However, by combining different methods of therapy, paying attention to your dog’s environment as well as you can, and observing your pet so that you can begin treatment as early as possible, you can make your pet feel his best.
Information In-Depth on Atopy in Dogs
Many skin diseases of dogs feature pruritus (itching) as a symptom and may appear similar to atopy. Ruling out other causes of pruritus is an important part of establishing a diagnosis.
Diseases that can appear similar to atopy include: