Boston Terrier Shar Pei mix

June 17, 2016
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You want your pet to look good and feel good. But if he’s suffering from atopy — an allergic skin reaction – neither is the case. The itching can make your dog or cat miserable, and redness, rashes, bleeding, and skin infections are worse. They can be caused by environmental allergies, which typically can be treated with a range of things, from removing known allergens from the environment to antihistamines and supplements to immunotherapy or immunosuppression, depending on the allergic reaction and the pet.

Overview

Atopy (also referred to as “atopic dermatitis” and previously known as “allergic inhalant dermatitis”) is a common canine and feline condition in which allergens present in the environment effect an allergic reaction in the skin. It is one of several known causes of There are 5 common causes of allergic skin disease. Discover the signs and causes of allergic skin disease.allergic skin disease, a common umbrella term for a group of allergies that manifest in the skin.

Atopy is believed to happen when certain proteins present in the environment are taken into the body through inhalation or direct contact with the skin. When they precipitate an allergic response, these proteins are referred to as allergens. When the allergic response happens in the skin, the result is almost always an inflammation of the skin we refer to as “allergic dermatitis.”

Common allergens include pollen (from grasses, trees, and weeds), mold spores, house dust/house dust mite proteins, insect proteins, and other miscellaneous proteins that may also come from human skin or natural fibers, for example. Atopic animals will display highly individualized responses to one or more environmental allergens.

A genetic basis is well understood to underlie atopic dermatitis in dogs, but this has not been proven in cats. In both species, other factors including geography (regional pollens and plants), the presence of other allergens (like fleas) and endocrine diseases (like thyroid disease in dogs) — can worsen, mimic, and/or underlie atopic disease.

Animals with atopy become very itchy; the resultant scratching leads to skin injuries and secondary Get more information about the signs of skin infection.skin infections. Atopy is usually first noticed in dogs and cats younger than 3 years of age, although older pets can also be affected. Unfortunately, pets that develop atopy are usually plagued by skin problems throughout their lives.

Signs and Identification

Atopic dermatitis is characterized by the variable presence of itching, redness, pustules (infected pimples), wheals (like hives), and crusts. The face, legs, feet, ventrum (belly, underarms, and groin), and ears are most often affected, but no area of the body is off limits. In dogs, ear infections are very commonly associated with atopy.

Cats usually display signs of excessive licking in a symmetrical pattern (on the belly, back, and behind the legs is most common) and/or they can develop tiny scabs around the neck, tail base, or elsewhere on the body.

A more comprehensive list of signs in dogs and cats includes:

  • Generalized scratching and rubbing
  • Redness of the skin
  • Hair loss from repeated biting, licking, chewing, and/or scratching
  • Skin rash, infections, and irritation
  • Scabs and bleeding
  • Unusual odor
  • Skin thickening and color changes
  • Ear infections
  • Scales and crusts on the skin

A hallmark of atopic dermatitis is that signs tend to be seasonal and tend to wax and wane in severity. However, pets that are allergic to house dust mites or other indoor allergens can have year-round problems, because exposure to indoor allergens is not dependent on season of the year.

Most pets are diagnosed based on signs, history, and response to treatments, but getting to a definitive diagnosis can be a complicated affair. Given that every affected animal suffers a highly individualized version of the disease, determining what an animal is allergic to may require intradermal (skin) testing and/or serum testing (blood testing).

Intradermal skin testing can sometimes be performed at your veterinarian’s office. However, because the allergens used for this test are very specific (they vary depending on your region of the country), your veterinarian may refer you to a veterinary dermatologist.

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