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Atopy: Inhalant Allergies in Dogs

Dogs with atopy develop itchy skin.

When your dog is constantly licking, chewing, and biting at his skin, it's a frustrating situation for both of you.

There are many things that can cause a dog's skin to be itchy. One of them is atopy, or an inhaled allergy.

What Is Atopy in Dogs?

Dogs that are allergic to something that they breathe in, such as pollen, often develop itchy skin instead of the itchy, swollen eyes and runny nose that is more common in humans with airborne allergies. This condition is called atopy or atopic dermatitis.

Atopy causes itchy skin, and dogs often lick, chew, or bite at themselves, resulting in skin trauma. Secondary infection of the traumatized areas is common.

Signs of Canine Atopy

Dogs suffering from atopy may show some or all of the following signs:

  • Licking, chewing, or biting at skin
  • Redness, hair loss, and bumps on skin
  • Moist, raised areas of the skin that may ooze (hot spots)
  • Chronic recurrent ear infections may occur
  • Bad odor from the skin
  • Signs may get better and worse as the seasons change

Causes of Atopy in Dogs

Any airborne environmental allergen can cause canine atopy. Common causes include:

  • Seasonal substances like pollen and ragweed
  • Dust mites
  • Mold

Diagnosis of Canine Atopic Dermatitis

Veterinarians can often diagnosis atopy by discussing the history of the signs with the owner and examining the dog. However, in order to determine the exact allergen(s) bothering the dog, allergy testing must be performed. Techniques for this include skin and serum (blood) testing. A referral to a veterinary dermatologist may be required for this.

There are many things other than atopy that can cause similar signs. Your veterinarian can help rule out other causes, such as fleas, ringworm, food allergy, and mange.

Treatment of Atopic Dermatitis in Dogs

Treatment of atopy varies depending on the severity of the clinical signs, how long it's been going on, and whether or not allergy testing has been performed. Some of the common treatments are discussed below.

  • Some dogs may be prescribed an antihistamine to control their itchiness. Others may need oral or injectable steroids.
  • Antibiotics and/or antifungals in topical or oral forms may be required to resolve secondary infections.
  • Fatty acid supplements can help some dogs with their atopy.
  • Medicated shampoos help some dogs manage the signs of their allergic dermatitis.
  • Allergy injections can be used in dogs if allergy testing has confirmed the substances to which the dog is allergic. The dog's owner will be taught to give the injections at home, and the course will last several months or longer.
  • Cyclosporine is sometimes used to help dogs with atopy. It is a drug that modifies the dog's over-response to allergens.

There are possible side effects to all medications, so be sure to talk with your veterinarian to determine what's best for your dog.

You can learn more about scratching dogs here: "Dealing with Canine Scratching and Licking."

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