Is Atopic Dermatitis Making Your Dog Miserable?

Protect Your Pets From FleasIs your dog’s constant scratching driving you nuts? Then just imagine what it’s doing to your dog? Itchy skin is one of the most common reasons dog owners visit their veterinarian. And one of the most common causes of itchy skin in dogs is atopic dermatitis. Atopic dermatitis, or atopy, is a chronic, inflammatory skin condition that affects nearly 10% of dogs in the U.S. Diagnosing and treating atopy can be a frustrating task, but new treatments bring the promise of relief for your itchy friend.

More About Atopic Dermatitis

Atopy is caused by an allergic reaction to substances in the environment and defects in the outer layer of skin. These substances, called allergens, include airborne pollens such as trees, grasses, weeds, and fungal spores. Allergens can also include natural fibers such as wool and household dust mites. Genetics may also play a role in atopy development.

It causes scratching and biting of the affected skin, often leading to hair loss, thickening of the skin, open sores and secondary infections. Yes, it does occur in cats, but much less often. Animals often experience atopy in conjunction with other allergies such as food hypersensitivity and flea allergy dermatitis. It typically starts between 1 and 5 years of age, gets worse over time, and although it can be controlled, there is no cure.

Diagnosing Atopy

A dog with atopic dermatitis will experience intense itching, typically on the face, ears, legs, arm pits and groin area. As a result, affected dogs will show signs of redness, hair loss, and scabs from the constant scratching. They will often have recurring ear and skin infections. If your dog shows any of these symptoms, your veterinarian will ask about your dog’s history, and perform a physical exam. Before diagnosing atopy, he will perform lab tests including urinalysis, blood tests and skin scrapings to rule out other conditions such as flea allergies, food sensitivity, mange, and yeast infections of the skin. Your veterinarian or veterinary dermatologist may perform intradermal skin testing to determine specific allergens.


As stated earlier, atopy is not curable—it is a life-long condition. But it can be managed, to minimize symptoms. The most effective treatment is to avoid contact with suspected allergens. But that’s often impractical because they are so prevalent in the environment. Because food allergies may exacerbate atopic dermatitis, your vet may recommend a grain-free or hypo-allergenic dog food or an elimination diet to determine the specific food that is causing the allergy.

Essential fatty acid supplements, antihistamines and corticosteroids are common treatments for atopic dermatitis. Medicated shampoos can bring relief, and because atopic dogs are often hypersensitive to fleas, flea control is important. The best news is that two new treatments are showing good results for dogs suffering from atopy. Apoquel is a non-steroidal medication that blocks a specific inflammatory agent that has been associated with itching in dogs. And Cytopoint is an injectable immunosuppressant medication that works similarly to Apoquel to reduce itching.

Every dog is unique and no one treatment will work the same for every dog. With trial and error, patience, and a combination of various treatments, your dog’s atopy can be managed and the related scratching and inflammation can be reduced. If your furry friend has a scratching problem, give Powell Veterinary Service a call and together we can work out a treatment plan to relieve his or her discomfort.