Atopic dermatitis in dogs
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Atopic dermatitis in dogs

A significant number of dogs will develop allergies or problems with their skin and coat at some stage in their lives, and atopic dermatitis is one of the most common of these. Atopic dermatitis is an inflammation and irritation of the skin that is chronic rather than acute, and which is apt to flare up on occasion as well as sometimes going for long periods in remission.

Atopic dermatitis is an allergenic condition, and in order to tackle it successfully, either the root cause of the allergenic trigger must be found, or the dog may need to be medicated with antiallergenic medications such as antihistamines if this is not possible.

Because such a huge range of things can trigger allergies- everything from ingredients in dog foods to pollen and even grass- working out what is causing the allergy in your own dog can be fairly hard. If your dog is likely to be prone to allergies and flare-ups of atopic dermatitis, this will usually become apparent before your dog has reached the age of one, but in some cases the condition will worsen over time and may not become very severe until the dog is a few years old.

Because atopic dermatitis is reasonably common within dogs, it is a good idea for all dog owners to familiarise themselves with the symptoms of the condition, and garner a basic understanding or how atopic dermatitis works and what can be done about it.

What leads to atopic dermatitis developing?

As atopic dermatitis is allergenic, a specific allergy trigger (or in some cases, more than one) will cause the condition. The condition is often hereditary, and if a parent dog is prone to allergies and atopic dermatitis, this may become prevalent in their offspring too. Some of the main triggers of atopic dermatitis in dogs include:

  • Dust mites.
  • Pollen, which will often be seasonal.
  • Dander and shed hair from other pets.
  • Mould and bacteria.
  • Food allergies.

Signs and symptoms

The most common symptoms of atopic dermatitis in the dog include:

  • Really itchy skin, either all over the coat or in certain areas. This will lead to your dog scratching themselves to distraction.
  • Red, inflamed or sore patches on the skin.
  • Bald patches on the coat where the dog has scratched to the point of fur loss.

While atopic dermatitis can affect the entirety of the body, it often presents only in certain areas, or will be worse in some areas than others. Some of the main spots that can be affected by atopic dermatitis include:

  • In the armpits.
  • Around the paws and bottoms of the legs.
  • Around the ears.
  • Around the toes.
  • At the groin.
  • Around the face and ears.

How is atopic dermatitis diagnosed?

You will need to make an appointment with your vet to discuss your concerns, and work out what might be leading to the allergy and how this can be tackled. While it is not always possible to get to the root of the condition and what is triggering the allergy, a range of tests and procedures can help, such as exposure tests, intradermal tests, and removing the presence of all possible allergens before reintroducing them one by one to see if something becomes obvious.

Can atopic dermatitis be cured or treated?

Actually stopping your dog from breaking out with attacks of atopic dermatitis depends on being able to identify what your dog is allergic to in the first place, and as mentioned, this can be a challenge! Even if you can find out the cause, it is not always simple to remove it; for instance, if your dog is allergic to something in their food, changing their food will of course help, but if your dog is allergic to grass or pollen, there is not a lot that you can do about this.

If you cannot get to the root of the allergenic trigger, or if it proves to be something that you cannot wholly prevent exposing your dog to, your vet will make some other suggestions for how to help your dog tackle the problem.

This will usually involve the prescription of common anti-allergy medications such as antihistamines, which will lessen the symptoms of the condition. Some other medications may also be used, which mute the body’s immune reaction to the allergen and lessen their symptoms. Corticosteroids may be used to support the body’s ability to deal with the allergy, and support the way that the body responds to it.

You may also be advised to bathe your dog regularly or apply topical treatments, which can help to soothe sore areas and to remove allergens such as pollen and dander from the coat. If your dog has particularly long or thick fur, trimming or clipping them may also help to ease their allergy, as well as making it easier to deal with localised patches of atopic dermatitis.

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