Atopy in dogs

The vet says my dog is Atopic….what does this mean?


Atopy (or Atopic dermatitis) is the second most common skin problem in dogs. It is a type of allergic skin disease, which is triggered by one or more substances found in your pets environment. These substances, or allergens, cause the dog’s immune system to react against them. This leads to your pet showing signs of itchy and sore skin, as well as sore ears and eyes. Sometimes it may also affect the dog’s respiratory or gastrointestinal system too.

Your pet may experience seasonal flare ups of their skin condition, or they may have problems all year round.
Have you noticed your pet showing any of the following signs?
• Itchiness- Your pet may lick, chew and/or scratch themselves .
• Sore skin- Your pet’s skin may look red, sore and irritated. It may even become infected.
• Ear infections.
• Saliva staining- If your pet licks themselves a lot, their coat may be stained a brownish red colour due to the saliva. This is often more obvious on white coated dogs.

It is important to remember that not all itchy dogs are atopic, although ALL ATOPIC dogs are ITCHY.

Why is my pet atopic?

It is thought that there are multiple reasons that Atopy occurs in dogs. These include
1. Genetics- The following list contains some of the breeds that are more likely than others to suffer from Atopy.
• Boxers
• Bulldogs
• Dalmatians
• Setters
• Retrievers
• Lhasa Apsos
• Poodles
• Shar Pei
• Westies

This doesn’t mean that a dog that is one of these breeds will definitely have skin issues. Breeds that don’t appear on this list can also become atopic.

2. With ‘normal’ dogs the skin acts as a barrier to environmental allergens. In atopic dogs, this barrier function is compromised. This allows allergens to cross into the blood more easily, causing the hyper sensitivity reaction to occur. This makes your pet itchy, and they start to scratch themselves. This in turn causes more damage to the skin, which lessens the barrier effect even more.

What sort of things could my dog be allergic to?

The things that can trigger an allergic response can include
1. Fleas
2. Airborne allergens
3. Contact allergens
4. Food
5. Bacteria
It is possible to test and find out which allergens may trigger your pets skin condition. This may be useful to help with avoidance, making your pet more comfortable. It can also allow us to develop specific treatments (immunomodulatory therapy) for your dog.

How can the vet be sure that my dog has Atopy?

Vets have developed a standard set of criteria to help diagnose Atopy. If you can answer yes to 5 or more of these then it is likely that your dog has Atopy.
1. The skin problems started when your pet was under 3 years of age.
2. Your pet lives mostly indoors.
3. The itchiness settles down when steroids are given
4. When you first noticed the problem your pet was itchy but didn’t have any skin lesions.
5. Your pet’s front feet are affected.
6. The inside of your pet’s ear is affected.
7. There are no lesions on the edges of your pet’s ear
8. There are no lesions on your pet’s lower back.

The first step in the diagnostic process…

We will still need to have a one to one consultation with you and your pet. Firstly we will take a detailed history about your pets skin issues . Some of the questions might sound silly, but please bear with us! We will also do a full clinical examination of your pet, paying close attention to which areas are most affected. We will also take skin and hair samples to check for parasites, bacteria and yeast . We may discuss using a blood test to find out which things your pet may be allergic to in their environment. We might also ask you to start a dietary trial with your dog, to help rule out any food allergies.

Treatment plans

Atopy is not something that we can cure, but it is something we can work together to manage. Following the initial consultation, your dog may be prescribed some medication. These may include
• Antibiotics
• Steroids – Tablet, injectable or topical form.
• Topical Antimicrobial washes/wipes
• Flea and mite prevention.
• Immunomodulatory medications – Apoquel,Atopica
• Antihistamines
• Skin supplements- these contain Essential Fatty Acids which will help heal barrier defects in your pets skin
• Medicated shampoo

Take home messages for owners with Atopic dogs.

1. Atopy is not cureable but it is manageable.
2. Your pet may have flare ups throughout its life
3. Reducing your dog’s exposure to flare factors will help to manage their skin condition.
4. Atopy can be difficult to keep on top of, but by working together with your vet we will hopefully reach a treatment plan that suits both you and your pet.


We hope you have found this useful - please get in touch if there is a topic that you would like us to cover.

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