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Many people don’t realise that allergies are just as common in pets as they are in humans, and can cause animals quite a bit of suffering. This is known as Atopic Dermatitis. The basic definition of this common skin condition is a predisposition to develop allergic symptoms following exposure to substances that are usually harmless, but have triggered an allergic response. Pet owners may also be surprised that atopic dermatitis is often caused by airborne allergens even though the symptoms usually show up on the skin.
Two of the most common causes of atopic dermatitis are dust mites and pollens, which are extremely difficult for pets to avoid since they are almost everywhere. Some animals may be allergic to multiple allergens such as grass, flower and tree pollens, moulds, grains and a variety of dust mites which makes avoidance impossible. Atopy usually begins in dogs 1-3 years of age. Some breeds are more susceptible than others and include Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Lhasa Apsos, West Highland White Terriers, Dalmations, English Setters and Boxers although any dog may be affected. Some allergies are seasonal (certain flower or tree pollens) and others may affect your pet all year around.
In early atopic dermatitis, the itching is often seasonal and the skin looks normal. Dogs tend to scratch all over but often concentrate on the ears, armpits and abdomen, they also chew and rub themselves especially at the feet, groin and face. In some dogs the disease does not progress past this point. When it does progress, an ‘itch-scratch’ cycle develops leading to moderate or severe trauma to the skin, hair loss, scabbing and secondary bacterial and fungal infections. This can leave your poor pet demented and miserable and in time the chronic inflammation leaves the skin thick and black with pigmentation. Sometimes the signs of atopic dermatitis can be located to one area, usually the ears or feet.
Severe, chronic case of atopic dermatitis
This can look very similar to atopy. Flea allergy dermatitis is the most common allergy in dogs and is caused by flea bites, specifically the saliva of the flea. It is a very itchy disease and predisposes to secondary skin infections. This condition is easily treated by removing the underlying problem – The FLEAS! It is important to treat your pet every month with a suitable spot-on and also to treat the house if fleas have been confirmed. FAD often occurs in dogs with atopic dermatitis and this can make the clinical signs much more severe.
A diagnosis can be made after ruling out all other possible causes for the skin condition. Allergy testing can be carried out to find out what the animal is allergic to. This is useful when trying to avoid the allergens and also when formulating a vaccine to reduce the sensitivity to the allergy. Two different types of allergy testing are available: one involves intra-dermal skin testing and the other involves a blood test.
Often, a combination of the above treatments will be required to help manage your pet’s atopic dermatitis and unfortunately it may be something that you have to deal with all year around.