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Atopic dermatitis (inflammation of the skin) is a genetically inherited, recurring itchy skin disease resulting from an allergy to environmental allergens.
The average age of onset is 1-4 years of age and breeds particularly predisposed include the West Highland White Terrier, Boxer, Chihuahua, miniature schnauzer, and Labrador and Golden retrievers.
Allergens are substances in the environment that cause an allergic reaction and include house dust and house dust mites, mould spores and pollens. These stick to the skin which then reacts.
Mild to severe itching of the ears, face, armpits, feet and tummy occur, with secondary infections of the broken skin with yeasts and bacteria common.
Recurring ear infections are a common presentation, with the irritated skin of the ear canals producing excessive wax. This builds up and will often become infected.
Signs may be seasonal depending on when specific allergens are common.
Diagnosis is made by
- precise history taking, determining when your dog is most itchy
- clinical examination
- ruling out of other potential causes of skin itching such as infections, mites, fleas and food allergy
- Intradermal Skin Testing (IDST)
Blood testing (RAST) is sometimes used to determine atopic allergens but is generally considered to be less reliable than IDST.
Unfortunately this is not a curable condition and treatment is designed to keep your dog more comfortable.
- Antihistamines can be used long term to try and control the itch. Sadly these are often less effective in dogs than humans
- Omega Fatty acids may help reduce inflammation, are very safe long term, and often given together with other medications
- Steroids are often used in the short term to help control severe itching
- Topical therapy with medicated shampoos. Steroid sprays may also help.
- Treatment of secondary bacterial and yeast infections is important
- Cyclosporin ("Atopica") may control clinical signs in some dogs
- STRICT FLEA CONTROL is very important as flea bites will worsen the problem
- Immunotherapy can be formulated on an individual basis, based on the results of an IDST.
Initially a low dose of allergens are given and these are slowly raised to try and desensitize the dog to their allergens. It can take up to a year to see an effect.
Atopic dermatitis is a lifelong disease and can be very frustrating for both owner and vet, as well as for the poor dog!
Remember that dogs can become more allergic to more allergens as they age, and good communication between owner and vet is vital.