Canine Atopic Dermatitis Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Can Dogs Even Have Allergies?

Dogs can have allergies just like we humans do. Dog allergies are often environmental I source of the trigger. Allergic reactions called an allergic response are most commonly caused by the allergens found in pollen, the dander of fellow animals, plants, and insect bites, but dogs can also be allergic to food and medications as well.  These allergies can cause symptoms such as excessive itching, scratching, and grooming; rashes; sneezing; watery eyes; paw chewing; and skin inflammation.  Canine allergies are much like human allergies in how they present themselves.

In some cases, dogs can have conditions, such as atopic dermatitis, that is associated with and may be caused by allergies. Humans also get atopic dermatitis.


Atopic Dermatitis in Dogs

Atopic dermatitis is an inflammatory, chronic skin disease associated with allergies. In fact, this is the second most common allergic skin condition in dogs. Usually, harmless substances like grass, mold spores, house dust mites, and other environmental allergens that only trigger the skin eruption in sensitive or allergic animals can bring on these severe and irritating skin reactions.

Dogs typically show signs of the having atopic dermatitis between 3 months and six years of age, though sometimes atopic dermatitis can be so mild in the first year that it does not become clinically apparent before the third year of life. It all depends on a dog’s autoimmune response to an allergen. Allergies can worsen quickly or come on subtly. While canines are much more likely to have atopic dermatitis, it also occurs in cats, especially in response to insect bites.


Symptoms and Types

Since the symptoms associated with atopic dermatitis progressively become more severe over time, they also become more apparent and active during certain seasons. The most commonly affected areas in dogs include the: ears, wrists, ankles, muzzle, under the front limbs, the groin, around the eyes and even in between the toes of the dog.

The behaviors associated with atopic dermatitis consist of itching, scratching, rubbing, and licking, especially around the face, paws, and underarms as the dog desperately tries to stop the itching and use it’s own saliva to try to heal the irritated, inflamed areas.


Causes of Atopic Dermatitis

The early onset is most often associated with a canine that has been bred from animals with known skin allergies. This may lead the dog being genetics more sensitive and reactive to allergens such as Animal dander, Airborne pollens (grasses, weeds, trees, etc.), Mold spores (indoor and outdoor), and House dust mites. Dogs can share the same allergies as humans, and a dog can even be allergic to the cat.


Diagnosis of Atopic Dermatitis

A veterinarian will take a complete medical history of your dog including onset of the skin eruption, diet, and diet changes, and the dog’s habits and behavior to narrow down the possible underlying cause of the skin allergies, including a full physical examination of the dog.

Serologic allergy testing may be performed, but it does not always have reliable results. Serological testing is done by taking a blood sample from your dog to be analyzed. The quality of this kind of testing often depends on the laboratory that analyzes the results.  Serological often gives false positive or negative results and is not as reliable as a physical method of eliciting an allergic reaction to prove allergies. Intradermal testing, commonly called a “scratch test” in humans, is a testing method that uses small amounts of various allergens and several are tested to prove an allergy by injecting a small amount of the substance just into the skin and then monitoring the skin where the allergen substance was placed. If there is a response indicating an actual allergy, a wheal (a red bump and often itchy) will appear. The wheal response is measured and noted in severity as well, and this can more conclusively identify the cause of your pet’s allergic reaction.



Treatments will depend on what is causing your pet’s allergic reaction. If the reaction is due to atopy, for example, hyposensitization therapy can be performed. These are identical to human allergy shots.  The veterinarian will give your pet injections of the allergens to which it is sensitive. This method works by actually desensitizing the immune system response to an allergen and increases the allergens tolerance and weakens the allergic response. This decreases the itchiness in 60-80 percent of dogs, but it can take as long as six months to a year to see an improvement and can be expensive.

Medications such as corticosteroids and antihistamines can also be given to moderate or reduce itching. Cyclosporine is effective in controlling itching associated with long-term skin allergies by suppressing the auto-immune response involved in allergies. While sprays can be used over large body surfaces to control itching with minimal side effects and can even deliver soothing topical medication that can protect the skin with emollients to prevent the skin becoming irritated from being dry which makes the irritation worse and even more itchy.


Living and Management

Atopic dermatitis very rarely goes into remission or spontaneously resolves. However, regularly bathing your dog in cool water with a special anti-itch shampoo can help your alleviate symptoms.

Once a treatment plan commences, the dog will need to return to the vet every 2 to 8 weeks to see if the treatment is effective and to check for drug interactions. Once your pet’s itching and skin becomes better controlled and heals, your pet will need to return to the veterinarian every 3 to 12 months for checkups. Home care also includes helping your pet avoid their allergic trigger if they find the cause of your dog’s problem.



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