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Allergies – Atopic Dermatitis

April 20, 2016


Spring is in the air and this can be such a pleasant time for Minnesotans.  We come out of our winter hibernation and are revived by the warmer weather, the sunshine, and the bloom of various plants and trees.  However, for some, this time of year can bring something else- allergies!  As pollen counts rise, people can suffer from ailments such as itchy eyes, sneezing, runny nose, congestion and headaches.  Allergies can afflict our pets as well and they can also have similar respiratory or ocular symptoms.  However, for the scope of this blog, we will focus on the skin manifestations of pet allergies, termed atopic dermatitis or atopy.

Typical clinical signs of dogs and cats with atopy:

  • Itchiness
  • Excessive scratching
  • Excessive rubbing of face and body on carpet or furniture
  • Hair loss
  • Excessive chewing of legs or paws
  • Development of a rash
  • Chronic ear infections


A lot of the same allergens that affect people can also affect animals.  They can either be seasonal or all-year round. Common environmental allergens in dogs and cats include:

  • Pollens of various trees, grasses and weeds
  • Molds and yeast
  • Dust and dust mites
  • Insects, like fleas
  • Human and animal dander (yes, our pets can be allergic to us or their animal housemates!)


If you suspect your dog or cat has allergies, your first plan of action should be to schedule an appointment with your primary veterinarian.  Based on your pet’s history, physical examination, and likely some diagnostics it can determined if your pet has environmental allergies.  Now what?  Well, allergies tend to be something managed but not necessarily cured.

Here is a list of the most common management strategies for atopic dermatitis:

  • Bathing: Frequent bathing with medicated shampoos, conditioners, and leave-on products – this removes the allergens trapped against the skin, can treat secondary skin infections, and also soothes and conditions the skin
  • Wiping: Wiping or cleaning the feet on a daily basis can remove the allergens they have been walking on all day long
  • Topicals: Found in a variety of forms (ointments, sprays, lotions) these are typically combination products containing ingredients to combat inflammation and secondary infections of bacteria and yeast
  • Antihistamines: This medication reduces histamine, an inflammatory mediator sparked by the allergic response
  • Apoquel: This is a dog-exclusive medication that targets specific inflammatory mediators involved in canine allergic skin disease
  • Steroids: Steroids are a potent anti-inflammatory, widely used for dog and cat allergies
  • Cyclosporine: This medication modulates the body’s immune response to allergens
  • Antibiotics: Patients with allergic skin disease are often prone to secondary bacterial skin infections. Topical or oral antibiotics are commonly prescribed when these secondary infections occur.
  • Anti-fungals: Patients with allergic skin disease are also prone to secondary yeast skin infections. Topical or oral antifungals are prescribed when these secondary infections occur.
  • Hyposensitization: Based on what an individual is specifically allergic to (determined by allergy testing), the patient is given micro-doses of these allergens either by injection or by mouth periodically to reduce the sensitivity to the allergens


A special note for cats – The way we manage cats tends to be a touch different.  In many cases we do less “topical” treatments in cats.  They tend to not tolerate bathing.  Also they groom themselves extensively so depending on the location of the affected skin we avoid topical medications or products to reduce any residue they might ingest.  Finally, cats and dogs are not equal and often respond differently to medications.  Cats typically tolerate steroid therapy very well (compared to dogs and humans) so this tends to be a first-line treatment in cats compared to antihistamines and other remedies. 


Here are common cases when working with a veterinary dermatologist (a specialist in the field of animal skin diseases) is recommended:

  • To confirm the correct diagnosis for the skin disease in cases that are not straight-forward
  • To perform allergy testing and to create a hyposensitization protocol
  • To aid in the management of difficult or refractory cases


So the hope with these therapies is to minimize discomfort and to make your pets comfortable in their own skin.

Contributed by:

Jen Seidl, DVM

Grand Avenue Veterinary Center

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