Canine Atopic Dermatitis

Canine Atopic Dermatitis, or atopy, is an allergic skin disorder that affects dogs. It’s the result of a reaction to environmental allergens such as pollen, grasses, mold spores, and dust mites. Symptoms of atopy include excessive itching, scratching, licking and skin biting, redness or inflammation, and hair loss. Atopic dermatitis can lead to secondary bacterial infections if not properly managed.

The cause of atopy is unknown, but it is thought to have a genetic component. Certain breeds, such as West Highland White Terriers and Miniature Poodles and Dalmatians, are more prone to the condition than others. It can also be triggered by exposure to environmental allergens or irritants.

Symptoms of Canine Atopic Dermatitis

Symptoms of atopy include:

  • Excessive itching
  • Scratchin
  • Licking and biting their skin
  • Redness or inflammation
  • Hair loss

Dogs can also have sneezing, runny eyes and nose, coughing, and face rubbing. Other signs can include:

  • Ear infections
  • Secondary bacterial skin infections due to self-created trauma
  • Thickening paw pads

In severe cases, dogs can develop a condition called alopecia areata, which is hair loss in patches.

Diagnosing Canine Atopic Dermatitis

Diagnosing atopy can be challenging since the symptoms are similar to other skin conditions. A veterinarian will typically begin by reviewing their medical history and performing a physical examination to look for signs of atopy. Skin scrapings and blood tests can be done to rule out other potential causes. Allergy testing might also be performed in order to determine which environmental allergens are causing the reaction.

Stages of Canine Atopic Dermatitis

Atopy can be broken down into three stages: the Prodromal stage, the Acute stage, and the Chronic stage.

Prodromal Stage:

In the Prodromal stage, dogs start to have mild signs of itching or scratching as their bodies mount an allergic response to environmental allergens. During this stage, medications such as antihistamines can be used to help reduce symptoms and prevent progression to the next stage.

Acute Stage:

In the Acute stage, dogs have more severe symptoms such as intense itching, redness, and hair loss. Dogs can also have secondary bacterial infections. This is when more aggressive treatments such as corticosteroids or immunosuppressants might be needed in order to reduce inflammation and control their itching.

Chronic Stage:

In the Chronic stage dogs will have long-term inflammation and itching. This stage is associated with recurrent flare-up symptoms that can be difficult to manage. Treatment for this stage typically involves more aggressive medications, as well as lifestyle changes such as reducing exposure to allergens and improving their nutrition.

Treating Canine Atopic Dermatitis

While treating atopy, the goal is to reduce inflammation and minimize the allergic response to environmental allergens. Treatments can include lifestyle changes, medications, and natural remedies.

Lifestyle Changes:

In order to reduce exposure to environmental allergens, dogs should be kept indoors as much as possible. Dust regularly and use air purifiers or HEPA filters to reduce the amount of allergens in the air. Avoiding walking in areas with high pollen counts is also recommended.


Corticosteroids can be used to reduce inflammation and relieve itching. Antihistamines can also help reduce symptoms, however they are not as effective as corticosteroids. Immunosuppressants can be prescribed for more severe cases in order to reduce inflammation and prevent damage to their skin.

Natural Remedies:

Natural remedies such as omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics, and topical herbal remedies can be used to help reduce inflammation and relieve itching. It’s important to talk to your veterinarian before trying any natural remedies.

Preventing Canine Atopic Dermatitis

The best way to prevent atopy is by avoiding exposure to environmental allergens. Keep your dog indoors as much as possible and use air purifiers or HEPA filters, as well as dust regularly. If you must take your dog for a walk or other outdoor activity, avoid areas with high pollen counts. It’s also important to feed your dog a balanced diet that includes omega-3 fatty acids to help reduce inflammation.