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  • Writer's pictureStittsville Kanata Veterinary Hospital

Atopic Dermatitis

Title: Battling Atopic Dermatitis in Dogs and Cats: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment


Atopic dermatitis, a common skin ailment in our furry friends, can be a real itch to deal with. This chronic condition is characterized by relentless itching, inflammation, and skin irritation, making life uncomfortable for both pets and their owners. In this comprehensive guide, we'll delve into the basics of atopic dermatitis, exploring its causes, types, clinical signs, diagnosis, treatment options, and more.

Understanding Atopic Dermatitis: The Basics

Atopic dermatitis is often a result of allergies, triggered by various environmental factors such as pollen, dust mites, and molds. These allergens can set off an overactive immune response in pets, leading to chronic skin issues.

Types of Atopic Dermatitis

There are different types of atopic dermatitis, including environmental allergies, food allergies, and flea allergies. Environmental allergies, caused by substances like pollen, are the most common culprits.

Causes and Contributing Factors

Atopic dermatitis is not just triggered by allergens; genetic predisposition can also play a role in its development. Additionally, pets suffering from atopic dermatitis may be prone to secondary skin infections due to constant scratching and, in some cases, ear infections.

Who's Most Affected?

While atopic dermatitis can affect pets of all ages and breeds, certain breeds are more susceptible, including Bulldogs, West Highland White Terriers, and Labrador Retrievers.

Clinical Signs: Early vs. Later Stages

The symptoms of atopic dermatitis can vary depending on the stage:

Early stages: Intermittent itching, redness, occasional hair loss, especially in specific areas.

Later stages: Persistent itching, thickened skin, darkening of affected areas, and potential secondary infections.

Feline Frustration: Cats and Atopic Dermatitis

Cats can also suffer from atopic dermatitis, and their symptoms can manifest in various ways. These can range from hair loss and scabs to raised, flat, reddened areas on the skin or sores on the upper lip.

Diagnosis: Unraveling the Mystery

Diagnosing atopic dermatitis can be challenging. It often requires a combination of history, skin testing, blood tests, and even elimination diets to rule out other potential causes of skin problems.

Intradermal Allergy Testing (IDT) for Dogs

For dogs, intradermal allergy testing (IDT) is a diagnostic procedure where a veterinarian injects small amounts of various allergens under the dog's skin to pinpoint specific triggers of allergic reactions. This helps in creating a tailored allergy treatment plan.

Serum or Blood Allergy Testing in Dogs

An alternative diagnostic method is serum or blood allergy testing, which measures IgE antibodies in the dog's blood. It's less invasive than IDT but may have a higher rate of false positives and false negatives.

Challenges in Diagnosis

Atopic dermatitis can mimic other skin conditions, making it challenging to diagnose accurately. Some pets may suffer from multiple allergies, complicating the diagnostic process.

Treatment: Easing the Itch

While atopic dermatitis may not be curable, its symptoms can be controlled. Treatment aims to:

Relieve itching and discomfort.

Prevent or manage secondary infections.

Reduce the frequency and severity of flare-ups.

Medications & Handling

Common medications include oral and injectable corticosteroids, monthly medications for itching, immunosuppressive medications, and antibiotics if secondary infections are present.

Immunotherapy: A Ray of Hope

Immunotherapy, based on intradermal or serum testing, can provide relief over time. However, it may take patience, as improvement may take 1-2 years.

Strict Flea Control: A Must

Fleas can worsen atopic dermatitis, especially in pets that are also flea allergic. Strict flea control is crucial.

Special Medicine Handling

Administer medications as directed by your veterinarian and complete the prescribed course of treatment.

Common Complications

Atopic dermatitis can lead to secondary infections, skin thickening, and a significant impact on your pet's quality of life.

Signs of Recovery and Monitoring

Signs of recovery include reduced itching, improved skin condition, and a happier pet. Regular check-ups and monitoring for flare-ups are essential.

Likelihood of Recurrence and Signs to Watch Out For

Atopic dermatitis often requires lifelong management, and flare-ups can occur. Watch for increased itching, skin changes, or signs of secondary infections.

Prevention and Zoonoses

Minimize exposure to known allergens, use flea control products, and follow your veterinarian's recommendations for managing allergies. Atopic dermatitis is not contagious to humans, but secondary infections may be transmitted.

Prognosis: Early Detection Matters

Early diagnosis and treatment offer better chances of managing the condition and improving your pet's quality of life.

Conclusion: A Guide to Battling Atopic Dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis may be a persistent challenge, but with the right treatment and care, you can help your pet lead a more comfortable life. Remember, this information serves as a general guide. Always consult your veterinarian for personalized advice and the most up-to-date information regarding your pet's specific condition.

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