Environmental allergies (atopic dermatitis) in dogs and cats
Allergies aren’t just a human thing – our pets get food and environmental allergies too, and they can be some of the most frustrating conditions to diagnose and treat. Today we’re going to dive more into allergies – read on to learn about environmental allergies (atopic dermatitis), and check back tonight for our article on food allergies!
Our featured patient is 13 year old miniature pinscher Sunny, who has been getting monthly injections of Cytopoint since last fall, to help control his atopic dermatitis. His stylish leisure suit also helps prevent him from scratching! 🙂 (Cytopoint is a once monthly injection that mimics dogs’ natural immune system and targets cytokines to help break the cycle of itch and inflammation. It is well tolerated and safe to use).
What is atopic dermatitis?
- Atopic dermatitis, also called environmental allergies, is an inflammatory and itchy skin condition
- It is usually associated with a hypersensitivity reaction to antigens (pollens, microorganisms) and a defect in the skin barrier
- Both dogs and cats get atopic dermatitis, but the symptoms are clearer and better known in dogs
- Genetics may play a role, with certain breeds being predisposed
What are the clinical signs?
- Itchiness (chewing, licking, scratching)
- Redness, hair loss, pimples/papules, stained fur, crusts & scabs
- Common locations: front feet/forearms, ear pinnae (edges unaffected), along the back, groin & armpits
- May be seasonal or non-seasonal, but seasonal is more common
- Atopic dermatitis usually starts in dogs less than 3 years old
- Signs often improve with steroid treatment
How is atopic dermatitis diagnosed?
- Often diagnosed by ruling out other causes of the pet’s symptoms, based on their history, physical exam & response to trial treatments
- Other causes that can cause similar symptoms include infections, parasitic infestations, food allergies and underlying systemic disease
- Testing such as skin and ear cytology, hair plucks, skin biopsies, food trials, blood work and urine analysis may be recommended to assess the pet’s overall health and assist with diagnosis
- Skin testing can be offered by a dermatologist, but it cannot definitively diagnose environmental allergies
- Blood allergy testing is not reliable
How is it treated?
- Treatment is multimodal and is aimed at identifying triggers and decreasing the immune response. Treatments may include:
- Avoiding certain environments
- The use of one or more shampoos, antihistamines, steroids, anti-itch medications (Apoquel, Cytopoint), or immune modulators (Atopica)
- Essential fatty acid supplements
- Desensitisation therapy may be recommended for some pets
It is important to note that many allergies have multiple causes and can be a combination of environmental allergies, food allergies and concurrent infections. If you suspect your pet may be suffering from allergies, give us a call – we can help you work through the diagnosis and treatment process, and get your pet feeling great again!