Atopy

This is the abbreviated term for Canine Atopic Dermatitis. Atopy is one of the most common itchy skin allergy problems in dogs caused by a disorder of the dog’s immune system. It is an allergy to substances called “allergens” that are inhaled by the dog. These allergens cause the immune system to over-react and release an abundance of histamines, which irritate the skin. Some of the more common allergens are: house-hold dust mite excrement, dander, mold spores, and pollens from trees, flowers and grasses. Atopy is the 2nd. most common disorder causing hypersensitive skin reactions, flea allergy is #1. Atopy is 3-4 times more prevalent than food allergies in dogs, yet most dogs with a proven food allergy, also have atopy. The most common symptom of atopy is “pruritis” (itching), usually around the face and paws in the beginning and then around the ears, armpits, elbows and groin as the dog gets a little older. Often the dog suffers from recurring ear infections, and also chew on their paws. Symptoms can begin as early as 5 months of age up to 3 years and may start out as seasonal, but as the dog gets older it may exist all year round. Secondary skin infection are very common and often the eyes become red and itchy too (conjunctivitis). The skin may become unsightly brown from saliva due to constant licking. Unfortunately, there is no cure for atrophy. There are treatments and desensitization by allergy shots, but no permanent cure. Avoidance of dust mites by keeping your dog off carpeting and beds, keeping the dog inside as much as possible during pollen season, washing and vacuuming the dogs bed often, and keeping the dog out of damp moldy places can be beneficial. The treatment of atopy is short term cortisone use, sometimes mixed with an antihistamine. Frequent bathing is also prescribed, but these are only temporary measures. Fatty acid supplementation also may help. One of the newest drugs is an immune system suppressing drug known as Atopica, initially used in human organ transplant patients. It is very effective but initially expensive as the dose is high. The best thing to do is try and identify the offending allergens. Allergy testing is best to do in the winter when there are no fleas, ticks or outside pollens to worry about. The testing is approximately 80% reliable, not 100%. Once the allergens are determined, a long series of desensitization injections are prescribed which gradually stimulates the immune system to build up antibodies and thus resistance to the offending allergens.