Atopic Dermatitis

Client Information Sheet: ATOPIC DERMATITIS

What is Atopic Dermatitis?

  • Atopic means ‘allergic’ and Dermatitis means ‘inflammation of the skin’.
  • It is a relatively common chronic itchy skin disease in dogs.
  • It occurs when the dog’s immune system reacts abnormally to things in the environment:
  • For example:
    • House dust mites/Storage mites
    • Pollen
    • Mould
    • Insects
    • Microbes (bacteria, yeast or fungi )
  • Symptoms:
    • Itching
    • Nibbling feet
    • Scratch marks
    • Redness
    • Discolouration of skin
    • Skin thickening
    • Hair loss
    • Sore ears
    • Gut upsets eg diarrhoea, vomiting
    • Behavioural problems
  • When the dog comes in to contact with something it is allergic to it becomes itchy. When the dog scratches it breaks the skin barrier and allows secondary infections to take hold.
  • These symptoms can be limited to a few areas of the body such as feet and ears or be widespread over the dog’s body.
  • Atopic Dermatitis is a recurrent disease that usually requires lifelong therapy.


  • There are thought to be a number of factors involved in Atopic Dermatitis.
  • In some breeds an inherited, genetic factor is suspected- predisposing them to developing Atopic Dermatitis.
  • These breeds include:
    • West Highland White Terrier, Cairn Terriers, Bull Terriers, Bulldogs, Setters, Shar Pei, German Shepards, Boxers, Dalmations, Retrievers but any dog can get Atopy.
  • Secondary skin infections are common in dogs with Atopic Dermatitis. These are believed to worsen symptoms and contribute to the level of itch.


  • Most dogs first develop signs of Atopic Dermatitis between the ages of 6mths and 3years.
  • It is common for the disease to begin as a seasonal condition and progress to a year-round problem, depending on what the dog is allergic to.
  • Diagnosing Atopic Dermatitis in dogs is based on exclusion of other disorders; symptoms such as itching, scratching and hair loss can have other causes too, including:
    • Ectoparasites such as fleas, mites and lice
    • Flea Allergic Dermatitis
    • Food Allergy
    • Bacterial or yeast skin infections
    • Contact allergies/irritants
  • Many dogs with Atopic Dermatitis are also allergic to fleas and mites. So whether they are the cause of the problem, or contributing to it, fleas need to be dealt with first and kept under control.


  • Atopic Dermatitis is a complex, incurable disease and often multiple treatments are used together to provide effective lifelong control of symptoms. Using multiple treatments together helps to minimise the side effects of each individual treatment.
  • There are three steps to the treatment and management of Atopic Dermatitis:
    1. Allergen avoidance and improving skin barrier
      • Food supplements ie omega oils
      • Food trials
    2. Suppression of immune reaction
      • Antihistamines
      • Immunotherapy (desensitizing vaccines)
      • Steroids
      • Apoquel
      • Atopica
      • Topical therapies
    3. Treatment of secondary infections
      • Shampoos
      • Antibiotics
      • Topical therapies

We will discuss which of these treatments would be best for your pet.

Long-term Management

  • There is no cure for Atopic Dermatitis. However, with commitment it is possible to successfully manage your pet’s condition.
  • It is important that advice from your veterinary surgeon is followed and that the medication is given correctly. It can be tempting to stop medication when the symptoms stop but they will return.
  • It is also important to regularly treat against fleas as they can contribute to the condition.
  • Most allergens are ubiquitous (everywhere) in the environment and thus can be difficult to avoid. However, the levels of these allergens can be reduced, for example:
    • Keep pet out of bedroom
    • Regular vacuuming of the house
    • Avoid stuffed toys- or place in freezer for 24hrs once a month to kill mites/ flea eggs
    • Washing bedding (pet and human) on a hot wash
    • Use environmental flea control ( ie Indorex)- these kill house dust mites as well
    • Storing dry food in smaller quantities outside to avoid storage mites
    • Rinse dog off after walking through vegetation
    • Avoid areas of long grass or high pollen counts
    • Ensure good ventilation to reduce mould spores
    • Possibly remove indoor plants

Posted on

April 11, 2016