Treatment For Dog Atopic Dermatitis

Is your dog licking their paws, scratching at their ears and shaking their head?  Canine Atopic Dermatitis (allergies) is an extremely common problem affecting virtually all dog breeds.  It is also a manageable disease and one that can severely impact your dog’s quality of life. In the following article, I will discuss canine allergies as well as treatment options available to help reduce your Dog’s Scratching.

Did you know that 83% of dogs who lick at both front feet have some form of an allergy?  In veterinary medicine, allergies are divided into 3 general types: Seasonal, environmental, and food.  Seasonal allergies are the kind we most commonly think about. There are literally hundreds of different things dogs can be allergic to.  From grass, pollen, molds, trees, and even dust mites. Seasonal allergies tend to start in the spring and improve over the winter months. Environmental allergies include things in your house which may be causing your dog to be itchy.  These allergies do not improve over the winter and tend to be constant throughout the year. The third form of allergy can be to foods. In today’s veterinary medicine this is thought to be an allergy to the protein source of your dog’s food, not the brand.  Most commonly chicken and beef are thought to be the inciting factor. Finally, a subcategory of allergies called Flea Allergic Dermatitis will be discussed in a different article.

Diagnosis of canine atopic dermatitis centers around intradermal skin testing, the same form of testing done on people who are thought to be allergic.  Skin testing is a short procedure where different allergens are placed under the skin. Reactions at the site of where the specific allergen was placed are then graded.  Dogs can be allergic to multiple things at the same time.

Allergies in dogs tend to follow certain fur patterns which can aid your veterinarian in suspecting that this is the cause for your pet’s itch.  Allergies tend to start under the age of 3 and respond to steroid treatments. Concurrent Ear Infections can also be present and no evidence of fleas present.  Secondary fungal or bacterial infections may be present creating a smell similar to “bread rising” and redness and swelling may be present.

Fortunately, there are numerous treatment options available.  Seeking a dermatologist consult, injections can be attempted to get your dog over the allergy.  This is the only known “cure’ for canine atopic dermatitis but it is not always successful. There are also numerous oral medications which are both safe and highly effective.  Steroids, Apoquel, and antihistamines are all commonly used to help pets relieve their itch. In addition, a fairly new treatment called Cytopoint injections has been approved for canine allergies.  A single Cytopoint injection can last from 4 to 8 weeks and there are very few side effects or complications known.

With all of these treatment options, your veterinarian has numerous tools at their disposal to help your dog stop itching.  If you suspect your dog has an allergy I recommend making an appointment with your veterinarian. After a brief history, your vet may obtain an ear sample and skin sample so it can be analyzed for secondary yeast or bacteria.  Your Veterinarian will then be equipped with the information needed to discuss the most appropriate treatment options for your dog. Allergies are a manageable disease in dogs and with a little bit of help, your dog can get back to running, jumping, and playing instead of scratching, rolling, and shaking.

Jeffrey Stupine VMD
Medical Director
World of Animals Veterinary Hospitals