Atopy (ˈa-tə-pē) is an allergic skin disorder of dogs. It is one of the most frustrating medical problems a pet can have and will require considerable time and effort by the pet’s family and veterinarian to manage. It can also be a costly disease over the life of the pet.
The cause of atopy is an overreaction by the immune system to allergens (e.g. pollen, dust mites, molds) from the environment. Itching and redness are the most common symptoms. Atopic pets may be noted to chew their feet, scratch their ears or rub their faces on the ground. Regions commonly affected are:
- Flap of the ear
- Ear canal
It can occur any time of the year, but summer and fall seem to be the worst. Factors that complicate the management of an atopic pet are fleas and poor quality food. Animals are usually young adults when symptoms begin.
The diagnosis of atopy is based on the history, symptoms and by ruling out many other diseases. Diagnostics include skin scrapings, hormonal testing, drug trials, diet trials, blood allergy testing or intradermal testing. Treatment includes diet changes, fatty acid supplements, aggressive flea control, antibiotics, medicated shampoos, antiparasite drugs, antihistamines and/or corticosteroids. Two new medications, Apoquel and CAD immunotherapy are now available and have made a huge difference in the lives of atopic pets. If allergy testing is performed, then injections of allergy serum specifically made for that animal can be made.
Affected animals should not be used for breeding as this can be a hereditary disease. Atopy rarely leads to premature death. If a pet is severely affected and cannot be made comfortable, euthanasia may be indicated. The vast majority of the time, appropriate diagnostics, judicious use of medications/desensitization programs and consistent home care should allow you and your pet to enjoy life.