Pet Care Advice 》 Understanding Atopic Dermatitis

Dogs can suffer from allergies, just like humans. In this article, we provide information on how to identify atopic dermatitis and the treatment options available.

The most common type of allergic skin disease in dogs is atopic dermatitis or atopy. This is a genetically predisposed hypersensitivity to allergens found in animal dander, pollen, plants, and insects, but they can also be sensitive to drugs and food as well.

Atopic Dermatitis

What are the symptoms of atopic dermatitis?


In dogs, signs typically start before the age of three years old and may include:

  • Generalised redness and/or itchiness – e.g. rubbing the face, licking feet
  • Secondary problems from persistent itching – e.g. self-trauma, hair loss, thickened skin, bacterial skin infections
  • Concurrent signs of allergy – e.g. conjunctivitis, reverse sneezing, gastrointestinal signs

Triggers may include flea, food and/or environmental allergens (e.g. dust mites, pollens).


Diagnosing and treating atopic dermatitis

In order to diagnose atopy, your vet needs to rule out all other causes of itchiness, including parasites, fungal and bacterial infections, food allergies and contact allergies. It is important to do this thoroughly, as atopy may require long term medication, and anti-inflammatory treatment for atopy may make other types of skin disease (e.g. demodectic mange) worse. Ask your veterinarian for a comprehensive assessment and advice.


Long-term treatment can be undertaken with anti-inflammatory drugs, such as (‘Apoquel’), cyclosporine (‘Atopica’) or prednisolone (a steroid). Your veterinarian can advise you on the relative advantages and disadvantages of each drug, and will usually aim to prescribe the medication at the lowest effective dose.


Living with and managing atopy

Atopic dermatitis isn’t easy to treat. In the short term, anti-itch shampoos can help to alleviate your pet’s symptoms, but in the long term, the dog must visit a veterinarian on a regular basis in order to manage the condition actively. If your veterinarian has identified the allergies that provide the trigger, they will be able to provide guidance on how to avoid these in your home environment and surrounding area.