What is Atopic Dermatitis in Dogs?
What is it?
How is it Treated?
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Once upon a sunny afternoon, in a quaint little town, a pet owner named Sarah was enjoying a walk with her beloved Golden Retriever, Max. As they strolled down the tree-lined streets, Sarah noticed Max frequently scratching and biting at his skin, leaving small red patches behind. Concerned for her furry friend’s wellbeing, she decided to pay a visit to Beyond Pets Animal Hospital, where she discovered that Max was suffering from a condition called Atopic Dermatitis. In this blog post, we’ll explore Atopic Dermatitis in dogs, its causes, symptoms, and treatments
Many pet owners are concerned about allergies in their dogs and cats. Allergies can cause itchy skin, runny eyes, sneezing, coughing, and asthma attacks. Some allergies can lead to chronic conditions like eczema, dermatitis, and food sensitivities. Fortunately, there are many ways to help treat allergic pets.
The most common allergy in dogs is known as atopic dermatitis. This type of skin disorder is a chronic disease that affects about 10% of dogs worldwide. This disease in dogs occurs when the immune system becomes hyperactive, causing the dog’s skin cells to produce too much IgE. As a result, IgE attaches itself to mast cells in the dog’s epidermis, causing the mast cell to release histamines into the surrounding tissue.
This type of allergy causes dry, scaly patches of skin along the shoulders, sides, belly, legs, paws, tail, and face. These areas tend to itch intensely and become red and inflamed. Dogs suffering from atopic dermatitis often scratch themselves excessively, worsening the problem. They usually don’t want to go outside because of the itching. In addition, some dogs develop secondary infections such as ear mites, yeast infections, and ringworm.
Histamine triggers itchy skin, inflammation, and swelling. However, it is the second most common skin problem in dogs, behind flea allergy dermatitis, according to the American Academy of Veterinary Dermatology. Commonly affected areas include the head, ears, neck, trunk, limbs, and perineum.
What are the Causes of Atopic Dermatitis in Dogs?
The cause of atopic dermatitis still needs to be fully understood. Some researchers believe that genetics play a role. For example, some breeds are more prone to developing the condition than others. Other factors include environmental triggers such as common allergens, stress, diet, parasites, and bacterial infections.
Allergies are triggered by proteins called antigens. These antigens may be present in foods such as milk, eggs, wheat, soybeans, corn, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, beef, pork, chicken, turkey, lamb, and dairy products.
Environmental allergens include dust mites, mold spores, pollen, grasses, weeds, and houseplants. In addition, flea bites are associated with flea allergy dermatitis and can trigger allergic reactions in dogs.
Dogs with atopic dermatitis tend to scratch themselves excessively. As a result, their skin becomes inflamed and irritated, causing redness, itching, and scabs. Some breeds of dogs are more prone to developing atopic dermatitis than others. Breeds like Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, German shepherds, and huskies suffer from the condition.
Is Canine AD Contagious?
While canine atopic dermatitis can spread via direct contact, it’s unlikely to be transmitted via air. Therefore, people living around animals with AD are not at increased risk of developing the disease. This is true even if you spend lots of time with the animal; just being near the animal does not mean you will create AD. Still, washing your hands after handling your dog is always a good idea, especially if he’s showing discomfort.
It’s also important to remember that while allergic dermatitis is a widespread problem among dogs, it’s not necessarily hereditary. If your pup seems to suffer from it, it’s probably part of his genetic makeup. But if you’d like to prevent it from occurring in future generations, consider spaying or neutering your pet.
Symptoms of Allergic Dermatitis in Dogs
The primary clinical signs are itching and inflammation around the face, neck, ears, legs, feet, belly, and tail. There are two types of atopic dermatitis: acute and chronic. Acute atopic dermatitis usually occurs within three months after exposure to environmental allergens, whereas chronic atopic dermatitis develops over several weeks to months. Both forms of atopic dermatitis require proactive treatment to relieve symptoms.
The symptoms of atopic dermatitis vary depending on the severity of the disease. Dogs may be affected by mild, moderate, or severe cases. Mild cases include dry, flaky skin, crusty areas, and occasional scratching.
Intermediate topics include thickened skin, oozing blisters, and frequent scratching, making dogs uncomfortable. This condition affects approximately 5% of dogs worldwide. Severe cases include weeping sores, bleeding lesions, and hair loss.
The condition usually occurs between two and four years, although some dogs develop it at any age. Dogs who suffer from AD often scratch themselves until their paws bleed. This makes them susceptible to infections and bacteria that cause painful sores.
How Do Vets Diagnose Atopic Dermatitis in dogs?
An initial diagnosis of AD is made by considering the patient’s age at which symptoms first appeared, the dog’s breed, and any clinical signs present. Veterinarians use a combination of physical examination and blood tests. They may also perform a biopsy to rule out other conditions.
They will ask you several questions regarding your dog’s health history, including how long they have been scratching and what medications your dog has taken recently. From the physical exam and history taking, your veterinarian may begin suspecting Atopy as the cause of your dog’s allergic skin condition based on the following characteristics:
- A history of allergies
- Ear infections that last for a long time
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- An allergy to flea control products
Other conditions commonly mistaken for AD include flea allergy dermatitis, sarcoptic mange, demodicosis, cutaneous lymphoma, fungal infections, food allergies, insect bites, internal parasites, and foreign body reactions. Some conditions can be confirmed with testing, whereas others cannot. For example, flea allergy dermatitis can be diagnosed definitively with a positive intradermal test.
Conversely, although the presence of a parasite can lead to a presumptive diagnosis of sarcoptic mange (which is treated differently), a definitive diagnosis requires a microscopic examination of scrapings taken from the lesions. Likewise, the presence of a foreign body does not necessarily indicate a specific cause since foreign bodies can occur naturally in some breeds, such as collies, and are sometimes intentionally placed into the skin by veterinarians.
Treatment of Canine Atopic Dermatitis
Allergic reactions in dogs vary widely, depending on their exposure to allergens. While some dogs react very mildly to everyday household items like dust mites, others develop severe symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, and hives.
Before any treatment, your veterinarian needs a complete medical history from you to determine the clinical signs of allergies in your dog and the pattern of environmental allergies. This includes information about your dog’s diet, environment, exercise routine, and whether he gets along well with other animals.
Because it helps decide on the most effective therapies, a complete physical examination is required. Your veterinarian may recommend a shampoo that includes antihistamines if you see your dog scratching himself excessively. Your veterinarian might prescribe antibiotics if your dog has a chronic cough.
Your vet will likely take a sample of your dog’s saliva or hair follicles to test for specific allergy-related proteins. These include IgE, eosinophil cationic protein, cytokines, and mast cell tryptase.
Many treatments for canine atopic dermatitis are available, including topical medications, dietary supplements, and holistic therapies. Some of these treatments may be used alone or in combination.
Antihistamines combined with EFAs will help treat 10-25 percent of animals with atopic eczema caused by airborne allergens. EFA supplements work best when combined with an antihistamine. EFA supplements don’t cause any side effects, but they may take up to 60 days to become effective. However, these treatments don’t treat bacterial skin infections, Malassezia infections, ear infections, cutaneous inflammation, adverse effects of drugs, or flea allergies.
These medications come in cream form and are applied directly to the affected areas of the dog’s body. In addition, they contain antihistamines, corticosteroids, and moisturizers.
Topical steroids are usually the most effective treatment for severe cases of AD. However, they should only be used when prescribed by a veterinarian because they can cause skin thinning and liver damage.
Some owners use dietary supplements to treat their pets’ allergies. These supplements are made from natural food ingredients such as fish oil, flaxseed, alfalfa, chamomile tea, and echinacea.
Many holistic veterinarians recommend acupuncture, massage therapy, chiropractic care, and herbal remedies. Acupuncture involves inserting fine needles into specific points on the animal’s body. Massage therapy stimulates blood flow, improves lymphatic drainage, and helps relieve muscle tension. Chiropractic care focuses on reducing pain through manipulation of the spine. Herbal remedies involve taking herbs orally or applying them topically.
Other Treatments Available for Atopic Dermatitis in Dogs
Other treatments for canine atopic dermatitis include laser surgery and phototherapy. Laser surgery uses light energy to destroy diseased tissue. Phototherapy uses ultraviolet light to kill bacteria and viruses. Both procedures require veterinary supervision.
Allergy testing is a valuable tool to determine if the cause of canine atopic dermatitis is allergies. Dogs have two main allergy tests: serum (blood) and intradermal (skin).
In serum testing, your dog’s blood samples are taken and tested against potentially problematic allergens. These results can be used as a guideline for avoiding items.
Intradermal skin testing involves injecting tiny amounts of potential allergens into specific points on your dog’s body and then watching for any reactions. If an allergic reaction does occur, it quickly changes the color or texture in that area – which lets you know that it may be an allergen sensitizing your pet.
These tests can be performed by intradermal allergy testing, a skin prick test (IDT), or Allergens Specific Immunotherapy (ASIT). IDT is considered the gold standard for diagnosing canine AD. IDT, for example, has a very low sensitivity (10–33 %) and a high variable specificity (50–95 %) .
At the same time, ASIT has several advantages compared to IDT, including no patient risk (sedation is not required), less traumatic (repeated injections are not necessary), more convenient (clipping is not required, and there is no need for anesthesia), and lower risks of drugs interfering with test outcomes (anti-inflammatory/ antipruritic medications).
How to Prevent Canine Atopic Dermatitis
Preventing canine atopic dermatitis (AD) is simple. The most crucial step is to keep your dog out of the elements. This includes avoiding hot weather, cold weather, windy conditions, rain, snow, sand, dust, pollen, and other outdoor features that may irritate. In addition, keep dogs out of direct sunlight and away from allergens. Use a flea/tick preventative every month. And keep them clean.
- Keep your dog groomed regularly. Trim his nails once a week and brush his coat daily.
- Bathe him weekly with a hypoallergenic shampoo. And use a gentle moisturizer on his dry spots.
- Keep your home clean and free of allergens. This includes cleaning carpets regularly, washing bedding frequently, vacuuming often, and removing clutter.
- Use a humidifier during dry seasons.
- Feed your pet a hypoallergenic diet.
- Provide plenty of fresh water.
- Avoid exposing your pet to extreme temperatures.
- Check your pet’s ears weekly for signs of infection or ear mite infestation.
Frequently Asked Questions
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