white dog with black spots scratches behind ear while lying down, why do dogs scratch behind ear Dog Health 26.10.2020

Atopy in dogs - causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment

Atopy in dogs should be treated quickly and detected early to avoid secondary damage.

Atopy in dogs

Allergies do not only manifest themselves in humans. Four-legged friends are also affected and suffer from the annoying inflammatory reactions of the skin. The following article includes causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment options and everything you need to know about dermatitis in dogs.

What is Atopic Dermatitis?

This common skin condition is often referred to as environmental allergy, atopic eczema or atopic dermatitis. The affected quadruped suffers from allergic reactions of the skin, which cause severe itching. The designation serves medical experts at the same time as a kind of total package for pollen allergy, grass allergy, mite and house dust allergy as well as mould allergy. The term "atopic" refers to a genetic predisposition that can occur at any age, but preferably between the first and third year of life.

Atopy in dogs causes

Possible causes of atopy

Allergic eczema is caused by an overreaction of the immune system. In this case, the dog's immune system falsely fights against harmless substances (allergens). These allergens usually occur seasonally in the form of pollen in spring and grasses in summer, which your pet ingests through his respiratory tract.

Triggering allergens in the air

  • Various plant pollens (hazel, birch, ragweed, ribwort, mugwort)
  • Dander from humans or other pets
  • Feathers
  • Insects (house fly, fleas, fungus gnat)
  • Mites (storage mite or house dust mite)
  • Mold spores

Another reason for the increased occurrence of these eczemas is also due to the changing environmental conditions and the living area of the little furry noses. Decades ago, dogs came into contact with numerous allergens from nature when they spent time outdoors, so that their immune systems were able to form sufficient antibodies. Currently, however, the majority of our four-legged friends live as loyal family members in a "human household". Mistress and master take care of their darling around the clock. They are groomed, dewormed, vaccinated and often given industrial food and treats. But even in some foodstuffs allergens can be hidden that end up being less pleasant for Bello & Co.

Triggering allergens in feed

  • Dairy products
  • Animal proteins (lamb, beef, chicken, egg)
  • Additives (corn and soybean oil)
  • Flea saliva


The main symptom of atopy in dogs is always intense itching. Particularly affected are the head, abdominal area, inner sides of the ears, limbs, flexor sides of the hocks, paws and between toes, groin area and elbows. Nevertheless, the locations of eczema vary from dog to dog. Some dog breeds generally have typical locations. The susceptibility in Boxers and Staffordshiresusually relates to the lower neck area, with the back hardly ever affected. Dermatitis also often announces itself with recurrent earaches and inflammation in the paw area.

Typical behavioral manifestations include biting, scratching, or nibbling at the paws, as well as persistent rubbing of the ears or head against objects. These intensive impacts inevitably lead to reddening of the skin. The skin of the little rogue is scaly, irritated and weeping. Even viruses and bacteria now have easy access. They can penetrate into the skin layers through minimal injuries and quickly cause bacterial infections. A vicious circle develops!

Ataxia triggers in dogs

Likewise, a dense and thick undercoat provides an ideal breeding climate for germs. These conditions are mainly found in shepherd dogs, retrievers, Newfoundlands or mountain dogs. Spring bloomers and various types of pollen can also irritate the mucous membranes of the eyes, resulting in conjunctivitis.

Determination of atopy & diagnosis

As a result of the anamnesis interview and a process of exclusion, it is possible for the veterinary surgeon to establish the appropriate diagnosis for the four-legged friend. In this context, the specialist inquires about genetic predispositions, hereditary diseases, nutrition, behavioral abnormalities, previous rivalry fights with injuries as well as currently existing symptoms.

Afterwards the exclusion of illnesses, which likewise release itching, takes place. These include staphylococcal pyoderma (bacterial skin inflammation, infestation of mite species or feed intolerance. If the suspicion proves negative, it is most likely atopic dermatitis. A blood test and a skin test (intradermal test) now filter out the allergens causing the allergy.

The test procedure is similar to that used in humans. First, the veterinarian must expose the affected area. The fur-covered chest side of the quadruped is shorn in order to inject small amounts of allergens under the skin using an intradermal test. Don't worry, the skin is only lightly scratched! Within 30 minutes, the results are visible, with redness or swelling indicating an allergic reaction. The drawn blood is tested in a special laboratory for antibodies and their mode of action against allergens.

Treatment and prevention

Atopy in dogs often requires lifelong treatment, which differentiates between causative and symptomatic therapy.

Causative therapy involves limiting allergens to significantly reduce hypersensitivity reactions. This includes, in addition to a living area low in house dust, hyposensitization, in which the small four-legged friend is injected with appropriate allergens. This is done over a longer period of time and leads to the formation of antibodies.

Symptomatic therapy treats inflammatory eczema and itching using antipruritic drugs such as antihistamines, cyclosporine, special shampoos and essential fatty acids. Cortisone-containing agents are only used in rare cases.

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