Atopic dermatitis, or allergic skin disease, is one of the most common causes of itchy skin in dogs. In this factsheet, you’ll find a wide range of information about the condition, including which breeds are at risk of developing atopic dermatitis, causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options. But, first things first, what exactly is atopic dermatitis?
Which Breeds are at Risk of Canine Atopic Dermatitis?
Whilst canine atopic dermatitis can appear in any dog, at any age, some breeds are particularly susceptible to the condition, such as the West Highland White Terrier, the Bichon Frise, and the Shar Pei. Other breeds that have an increased risk of developing atopic dermatitis include:
What Causes Atopic Dermatitis in Dogs?
The exact cause of atopic dermatitis in dogs is not fully understood, however it is thought to be the result of a poor skin barrier and exaggerated immune system response to environmental allergens and other substances, such as:
- Household dust mites
- Grass, weeds, plants, and pollen
Most dogs that develop atopic dermatitis tend to be allergic to more than one thing.
What are the Symptoms of Canine Atopic Dermatitis?
Symptoms of atopic dermatitis in dogs will vary on a case-by-case basis. However, there are a number of common symptoms of the condition which you can look out for, including:
How is Canine Atopic Dermatitis Diagnosed?
Atopic Dermatitis is a diagnosis of exclusion as lots of other conditions can mimic it, we have to rule out other causes before we can make a diagnosis of Atopy. It can be difficult to determine the cause of atopic dermatitis, especially as it can often be the result of more than one thing. To get to the bottom of it, vets will often try to rule out certain allergies (diagnosis of exclusion), such as parasites and pollen, and may also choose to conduct an elimination diet trial if they suspect that food allergies are the cause.
AT Knutsford Vets, we also offer serological testing which checks for the presence of specific antibodies in the blood. These antibodies are proteins which the immune system creates to fight foreign substances, such as pathogens and allergens. The higher the level of antibodies, the more likely it is than your dog is allergic to that allergen.
Elimination Diet Trial
If your vet suspects that food allergies are the cause of your dog’s atopic dermatitis, they will usually conduct an elimination diet trial to determine the culprit. This is usually done over 6-12 weeks, where your vet will recommend specific food that you would need to exclusively feed your dog. They should not eat any other food during the trial. Monitoring their symptoms during this time will help your vet to determine allergies and irritants.
What is the Treatment for Atopic Dermatitis in Dogs?
Atopic dermatitis cannot be cured. Dogs with the condition have it for life, however there are treatments that can help to manage it long-term. Such treatments aim to improve the weakened skin barrier to help prevent further penetration of allergens into the skin, and to reduce the overactive immune system.
Once your vet has determined the cause of your dog’s atopic dermatitis, they will be able to recommend tailored treatments to help manage the condition. These may include:
- Avoiding your dog’s allergies and triggers, where possible
- Eating a specific, tailored diet
- Anti-itch medication and antihistamines
- Repairing the skin barrier and maintaining good bacteria on the skin with supplements and specialist shampoos
- Treatment for any secondary concerns, such as infection