Atopic Dermatitis is the second most common type of allergy in dog, after allergy to fleas, which is more common in areas with warmer climate. There appears to be a strong genetic predisposition in dogs, with certain breeds and types of dog being more frequently affected,
such as: Golden Retrievers, West Highland Terriers (and terriers in general), Shar-Peis, Bull Terriers, the Bichon Frise, and others.
Most dogs will start showing signs between 1 and 7 years of age. The clinical signs may be seasonal or year round, and the predominant complaint is pruritus (itching), associated with hair loss, redness of skin, and hyperpigmentation. The clinical signs may start with short episodes, but they may increase in length and severity, as the dog becomes allergic to new allergens. The areas most affected are: ears, axilla, feet, face and sometimes the eyes (conjunctivitis), but if the allergies are severe, the whole body may become affected, and itching may persist year round. Atopic dogs are predisposed to skin infections, with bacteria and/or yeast, and these present with pretty typical changes in the skin.
The diagnosis of Atopy is based on clinical signs, and on the exclusion of other possible skin diseases. Your veterinarian will first try to rule out other problems, such as external parasites, food allergies, ringworm, mange, and others. This is done by performing certain tests, such as skin scrapings, cultures, a hypoallergenic diet trial of at least 6-8 weeks duration with a clinically proven prescription diet, and sometimes by skin biopsies. Ultimately, if all others have proven negative, or inconclusive, an allergy test needs to be performed. This is easily done with a blood sample sent to a specialized laboratory. After the allergens are identified, the most appropriate treatment consists of hyposensitization injections, done at home or by your veterinarian, for at least 12 months. The treatment is effective in 60-75% depending on the study.
Other medications may be needed, prior to hyposensitization becoming effective, or in addition to it, such as antibiotics, anti-histamines, nutritional supplements, shampoos, special diets, and sometimes Prednisone.
Allergies can be a very frustrating problem for the patient and for the owner, as allergic dogs can be extremely uncomfortable, and the road to diagnosis may be lengthy, and sometimes expensive, but with the appropriate therapy, most patients can find relief, and return to enjoying life fully!