Atopy in Dogs


Atopy is one of the most common skin complaints we see in practice. It can affect up to 15% of the canine population. Typically it is caused by environmental allergens. The majority of cases result from a hypersensitivity reaction to house dust mite, although pollens, grasses, weeds and mould commonly found throughout Queensland are also involved. Most dogs are clinically affected from one to three years of age. A variety of signs may become evident, such as chewing or licking the paws, inflamed ears or muzzle or scratching the trunk. Generally atopic animals have a defect in the skin barrier predisposing them to bacterial and yeast infections. Breeds commonly affected are Golden and Labrador Retrievers, Setters, Dalmatians, Staffies, West Highland White Terriers and other Terriers.


  • The diagnosis is based on - location of the skin problem
    • when the skin problem is occurring
    • the presentation of the skin changes
    • ruling out other possible causes. These are commonly other allergies (eg. flea bites, food, and insects) or infection with mites.
    • intradermal skin testing at the Veterinary Dermatologist


The main aim of treatment is to control the clinical signs as unfortunately there is no cure. In the majority of cases adequate control of symptoms can be achieved. Treatment may include:

  • Antibiotics – to treat secondary bacterial skin infections which are a major contributor to the scratching.
  • Medicated Shampoos and Conditioners – to aid treatment of the secondary bacterial infection and yeast infections.
  • Antipruritic (anti-itch):
    • corticosteroids – effective ant-inflammatory medication however long term usage can cause serious side effects eg Diabetes, Obesity and Cushing’s disease.
    • antihistamines – for some patients these are effective
    • Atopica – effective antiinflammatory agent with minimal side effects. In the majority of cases it is the antipruritic treatment of choice.
  • Immunotherapy – Allergy testing is initially performed by a Veterinary Dermatologist to identify the allergens. From this a desensitisation vaccine to decrease you pet’s response to the allergen can then be formulated.

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