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What is canine atopic dermatitis (atopy), and why does it make my dog itch?

Posted Thursday, September 24, 2015, at 2:57 PM

Does your dog ever keep you up at night licking their feet and scratching? Well your pet may have atopy. Read on and find out just what atopy may be. My column this week is on a topic that drives both dogs and owners crazy.

There are many different factors which can cause your dog to itch and scratch. Among the common offenders are parasites such as fleas and ticks, contact allergies, food allergies, and yeast infections. September is a great month for allergies. Many grasses, such as ragweed, are shedding pollen like crazy.

Canine atopic dermatitis, also known as atopy, is a common itchy skin allergy in dogs caused by a disorder of the dog's immune system. It is an allergy to substances in the environment that are inhaled by the dog. These substances are called allergens and cause the immune system to over re-act and release histamines.

Some of the more common allergens are:

*House Dust Mite is a very common cause.

*Pollen from the trees, flowers, or grasses.

*Mold Spores

Food sensitivity is an uncommon cause of allergic skin disease, which accounts for only a small percentage of the cases seen by dermatologists. Grain mites found in dry food can be a significant allergen.

What are the signs of Canine Atopic Dermatitis?

The main symptom is excessive itching. The itching is often seen in the paws, face, groin, armpits and ears. Dogs will often chew their feet or rub their faces on the carpet or on furniture or they may rub their muzzle with their feet. Owners may notice their dog licking, chewing and grooming for long periods of time.

Most cases of atopic dermatitis in dogs begin between the ages of 6 months and 3 years.

The ears may be very red and hot to the touch.

The dog can mutilate his skin with excessive scratching and chewing. Sores and hair loss can develop. Secondary infections with bacteria and yeast are common. Yeast infections have a unique sour odor that you may recognize from time to time.

It is common for a dog with atopy to wake in the night and scratch for lengthy periods of time.

The symptoms may be seasonal at first, for example the dog may be allergic to a pollen from a tree that only flowers for three weeks a year, however as the atopic dog gets older the itchiness may occur year round.

The owner may notice a reddish brown stain on the dog's groin area or feet. This is caused by the saliva coming into contact with the dogs fur while licking.

Which breeds of dog are more susceptible to atopy?

Any breed can be affected by atopy, even a mutt, but certain breeds do have a predisposition to it. These breeds include: German Shepherd, West Highland Terrier, Golden Retriever, Dalmatian, Shih-tzu, Miniature Schnauzer, Poodle, Boxer, Lhasa Apso, English bulldogs, English setters, Wirehaired fox terriers, Beagle, Boston Terrier, and Shar Pei.

Is atopy inherited?

Yes. Breeders should not breed with known atopic dogs.

What is the treatment for atopy? Is there a cure for atopy?

At present there is no cure for atopy in dogs, but a degree of control can be achieved in some cases. Often it is not one single treatment that is effective but a combination of two, three, or more different treatments. I recommend you see your veterinarian for a treatment that they may recommend for your pet.

If you have questions about atopy and your pet contact Dr. Norette Underwood of the Trumann Animal Clinic and Best Friends Vet Mobile at catdoc56@gmail.com.

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