A watercolor portrait of a man with a golden retriever experiencing skin problems.

What is Atopic Dermatitis in Dogs?

What is it?

Atopic dermatitis is a chronic allergic skin disease in dogs caused by an overreaction of the immune system to environmental allergens, such as pollen, mold, and dust mites. This leads to inflammation, itching, and skin damage. The condition is common in dogs and can be diagnosed through a combination of medical history, clinical examination, and allergy testing.

How is it Treated?

Treatment plans are tailored to each individual dog’s needs and may require ongoing management to control the condition. Medications such as antihistamines, corticosteroids, and immunosuppressive drugs can be used to manage the symptoms. Other treatment options may include topical therapies, such as medicated shampoos or creams, and allergen-specific immunotherapy (allergy shots) to desensitize the immune system.

Breed Predispositions

Boxer Bulldog Dalmatian English Setter Golden Retriever Labrador Retriever Lhasa Apso Shar-Pei West Highland White Terrier


Once upon a sunny afternoon, in a quaint little town, a pet owner named Sarah was enjoying a walk with her beloved Golden Retriever, Max. As they strolled down the tree-lined streets, Sarah noticed Max frequently scratching and biting at his skin, leaving small red patches behind. Concerned for her furry friend’s wellbeing, she decided to pay a visit to Beyond Pets Animal Hospital, where she discovered that Max was suffering from a condition called Atopic Dermatitis. In this blog post, we’ll explore Atopic Dermatitis in dogs, its causes, symptoms, and treatments

A large number of pet owners express worry about allergies in their dogs and cats. Allergies can lead to various symptoms, such as itchy skin, watery eyes, sneezing, coughing, and even asthma attacks. These allergies can sometimes become chronic conditions like eczema, dermatitis, and food sensitivities. Thankfully, many treatments are available to aid pets suffering from these issues.

Atopic dermatitis in dogs, or canine atopy, is a long-lasting skin inflammation prompted by an overactive immune response to environmental allergens. Such allergens might encompass pollen, mold spores, dust mites, and specific food components. This skin infection is among dogs’ most frequently encountered skin disorders, often causing considerable discomfort and distress. Some breeds, like the Bull Terrier, may have a genetic predisposition to the condition, which typically initiates in dogs between the ages of six months and three years.

Atopic dermatitis in dogs is a multifaceted condition with genetic and environmental factors contributing to its development and progression. This condition also impairs the skin barrier, a crucial part of a dog’s defense against these allergens.

What are the Causes of Atopic Dermatitis in Dogs?

Genetic and environmental factors influence atopic dermatitis in dogs. Here are some of the main causes:

  • Inherited susceptibility: Some dog breeds have a greater propensity to develop atopic dermatitis due to their genetic configuration. These breeds encompass Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, French Bulldogs, Boxers, and West Highland White Terriers.
  • Environmental triggers: An environmental allergy is a predominant cause of atopic dermatitis in dogs. Allergens such as pollen from trees, grasses, weeds, mold spores, dust mites, and animal dander can provoke skin inflammation in allergic dogs.
VAdrgvet a dog with atopic deramtitis with itchy body loose wat 08c4c9ea 203f 4398 83be ca783b3649c5
  • Dietary sensitivities: Certain ingredients in a dog’s diet can incite the onset of atopic dermatitis, contributing to the list of triggers, even though it is a less common cause.
  • Compromised skin barrier: An impaired skin barrier is a pivotal player in the manifestation of atopic dermatitis in dogs. This weakened barrier allows airborne allergens to penetrate the skin more readily, sparking inflammation and itching in atopic dogs. Furthermore, this compromised skin defense makes dogs more vulnerable to secondary bacterial or yeast infections, such as Malassezia dermatitis, which worsens the condition.
  • Dysregulated immune response: In atopic dogs, the immune system may over-respond to allergens, leading to an amplified inflammatory reaction that results in skin inflammation and itching.
  • Secondary infections: Additional bacterial or yeast infections on the skin can intensify atopic dermatitis symptoms and complicate the management of the condition. An example is a secondary bacterial ear infection often seen in allergic dogs.
  • Nutritional factors: Deficiencies in essential fatty acids, which are crucial for skin health, may contribute to developing the disease.

It’s critical to comprehend that atopic dermatitis is a multifactorial condition, with several aspects contributing to the onset and advancement of the disease. Therefore, pinpointing and controlling these factors is essential for effectively managing the condition and enhancing the quality of life for afflicted dogs.

Is Canine AD Contagious?

While canine atopic dermatitis can spread via direct contact, it’s unlikely to be transmitted via air. Therefore, people living around animals with AD are not at increased risk of developing the disease. This is true even if you spend lots of time with the animal; just being near the animal does not mean you will create AD. Still, washing your hands after handling your dog is always a good idea, especially if he’s showing discomfort.

It’s also important to remember that while allergic dermatitis is a widespread problem among dogs, it’s not necessarily hereditary. If your pup seems to suffer from it, it’s probably part of his genetic makeup. But if you’d like to prevent it from occurring in future generations, consider spaying or neutering your pet.

Symptoms of Allergic Dermatitis in Dogs

Practical manifestations of atopic dermatitis in dogs encompass a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Persistent itchiness and scratching, a condition known as pruritus in dogs
  • Manifestations of redness and inflammation on the skin
  • Loss of fur
  • Development of skin lesions
  • Presence of dry, scaly skin
  • Recurring ear infections
  • Changes in skin color
  • Signs of swelling
  • Excessive licking and gnawing at affected areas
  • Unpleasant skin odor

Suppose you discern any of these symptoms in your dog, particularly if it has been exposed to an airborne allergen or has a food allergy. In that case, it’s vital to seek a consultation with your veterinarian immediately. This will allow for a precise diagnosis and the formulation of an effective treatment strategy.

How Do Vets Diagnose Atopic Dermatitis in Dogs?

Identifying atopic dermatitis in dogs can be complex, as its symptoms often mirror other skin conditions. To pinpoint the cause of these symptoms, veterinarians typically embark on a systematic approach which includes:

  • Comprehensive history: The vet begins by gathering a comprehensive account of the dog’s symptoms, tracking their emergence, duration, intensity, and potential catalysts.
  • Physical check-up: A thorough physical check-up enables the vet to detect any skin lesions, hair loss, redness, or inflammation, signs that may indicate atopic dermatitis.
  • Rule out other factors: To dismiss other potential sources of the symptoms, such as skin allergy, flea infestations, food allergies, or contact dermatitis, the vet will conduct a series of tests or implement dietary trials.
  • Intradermal skin examination: This procedure entails injecting minute quantities of common allergens into the dog’s skin to observe if there’s an allergic reaction. This test can aid in identifying specific allergens that might be causing the dog’s symptoms.
  • Serology (Blood tests): Blood tests can reveal the existence of antibodies against certain allergens, assisting in pinpointing the substances causing the allergic reaction.
  • Skin biopsy: In certain circumstances, a skin biopsy might be carried out to rule out other skin conditions or validate the diagnosis of atopic dermatitis.
  • Observing response to treatment: The veterinarian might recommend a trial treatment to monitor if the dog’s symptoms lessen. This can assist in solidifying the diagnosis of atopic dermatitis.

It’s crucial to understand that diagnosing atopic dermatitis can be intricate and time-consuming, potentially requiring numerous visits to the vet to reach a conclusive diagnosis. However, once atopic dermatitis has been confirmed, an appropriate plan for the treatment of canine atopic dermatitis can be devised to manage the dog’s symptoms and enhance its quality of life. This is particularly important for managing secondary skin infections, a common infection among dogs with pruritic conditions.

Treatment of Canine Atopic Dermatitis

a vet examining a dog

Atopic dermatitis is a chronic, inflammatory skin disease associated with allergies. In dogs, chronic skin diseases like atopic dermatitis can make their lives uncomfortable if not properly treated. Here are the main components of the treatment strategy:

Topical Therapies: Soothing the Skin and Preventing Secondary Infection

Topical therapies are often used to manage atopic dermatitis and are particularly useful in preventing secondary infection. These can include medicated shampoos, conditioners, and sprays designed to soothe the skin, reduce inflammation, and manage secondary infections in dogs. Ingredients like oatmeal, pramoxine, or hydrocortisone often feature in these therapies to alleviate itching and discomfort.

Systemic Therapies: Addressing the Underlying Cause

Systemic therapies work throughout the body to relieve symptoms and address the underlying immune response in dogs with spontaneous and chronic skin diseases. These can include antihistamines, corticosteroids, and cyclosporine, which reduce inflammation and suppress the immune response, relieving symptoms. Oclacitinib can be prescribed to manage inflammation and itchiness. Dogs receiving long-term corticosteroid administration may adjust their treatment to minimize potential side effects. Recently, a new class of drugs known as Janus kinase inhibitors, such as oclacitinib (Apoquel), have shown to be highly effective in controlling itchiness associated with atopic dermatitis in dogs receiving oclacitinib.

Allergen Specific Immunotherapy (ASIT): Building Tolerance

Allergen-specific immunotherapy (ASIT) involves introducing small amounts of the allergen to the dog over time. This approach, often involving allergens injected into the skin, aims to induce tolerance to the allergen. This can be a particularly effective treatment of atopic dermatitis, especially if specific allergens have been identified through allergy testing. The treatment is typically delivered through injections or orally.

Nutritional Therapy: Supporting Skin Health

Certain diets and supplements can help manage atopic dermatitis in dogs by promoting healthy skin and a strong immune system. This might include diets rich in essential fatty acids, known to promote skin health and reduce inflammation. For instance, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids can be beneficial, potentially alleviating food-induced atopic symptoms.

Regular Check-ups: Monitoring Progress

Given the chronic nature of atopic dermatitis, regular check-ups are crucial to monitor your dog’s progress and adjust treatment as necessary. Regular communication with your vet is essential to ensure the treatment plan works and make necessary adjustments for optimal control of symptoms.

How to Prevent Canine Atopic Dermatitis

The prevention of atopic dermatitis in dogs is vital for their overall health and comfort. Recognizing and addressing the causes of this prevalent skin disorder can help dog owners enable their pets to lead more robust, healthier lives. Here are some effective strategies for atopic dermatitis prevention in dogs:

  • Consistent grooming: Uphold a regular grooming routine that includes bathing your dog with a mild, hypoallergenic shampoo to wash off environmental allergens and irritants from their skin and coat. Frequent brushing of your dog’s fur will also aid in the distribution of natural oils, reduction of dander, and removal of allergens.distributing natural oils, reducing dander, and removing
  • Nutritious diet: Supply your dog with a well-balanced, nutritious diet that bolsters a healthy immune system. Seek advice from your veterinarian to ascertain the most suitable food choices for your dog. Consider including supplements like essential fatty acids to enhance skin health, especially among dogs with chronic skin diseases.
  • Control of environment: Curtail your dog’s exposure to allergens by maintaining your home clean and devoid of dust, pollen, and mold. Regularly clean and vacuum surfaces, and contemplate the usage of air purifiers to lessen airborne allergens.
  • Prevention of fleas: Establish an efficient protocol to prevent flea allergies, which can intensify atopic dermatitis. Please consult your veterinarian for suitable flea prevention products and adhere to their guidelines.
  • Maintenance of skin barrier: Sustain the health of your dog’s skin by utilizing topical treatments such as moisturizers or barrier creams for use in dogs. These products can assist in preserving the skin’s natural barrier and ward off allergens and irritants from inciting inflammation.
  • Stress reduction: Stress can debilitate your dog’s immune system, rendering them more susceptible to atopic dermatitis. Provide your dog with a comfortable, stable environment, and ensure they receive regular exercise and mental stimulation to alleviate stress.
  • Routine veterinary check-ups: Organize regular check-ups with your veterinarian to observe your dog’s overall health and identify any early signs of atopic dermatitis. This allows for timely intervention and can help prevent the condition from deteriorating.
  • Allergy testing and immunotherapy: If your dog has a history of atopic dermatitis or is susceptible to allergies, discuss allergy testing and potential immunotherapy with your veterinarian crucial for maintaining all dogs’ health. These treatments can assist in desensitizing your dog to specific allergens and diminish the severity of atopic dermatitis, which is particularly helpful for affected dogs and many dogs with pruritic disorders.

Implementing these preventative strategies can lower the risk of your dog developing atopic dermatitis and enhance their overall quality of life. Consult your veterinarian for personalized advice adapted to your dog’s needs. Remember that in some cases, atopic dermatitis cannot be differentiated from other conditions without professional veterinary medicine. This is why routine check-ups are so crucial for maintaining the health of all dogs, particularly those with chronic skin conditions.

Frequently Asked Questions

Atopic dermatitis in dogs is a chronic inflammatory skin disease that can cause itching, redness, and discomfort. While it is essential to consult with a veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment, there are some things you can do at home to help manage your dog’s symptoms:

  • Bathing: Regular bathing can help remove allergens and reduce the itching and inflammation associated with atopic dermatitis. Use a mild, hypoallergenic shampoo and rinse thoroughly.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplements: Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce itching and inflammation. Speak with your veterinarian about recommended dosages and types of supplements.
  • Environmental Allergen Control: Reduce your dog’s exposure to pollen, dust, and mold allergens. Keep your home clean and dust-free, and consider using air filters or purifiers.
  • Topical Treatments: Several over-the-counter topical treatments, such as hydrocortisone creams and ointments, can help reduce itching and inflammation. However, speaking with your veterinarian before using topical treatments is essential.
  • Diet: Some dogs with atopic dermatitis may benefit from a hypoallergenic diet. Speak with your veterinarian about the best dietary options for your dog.

It is important to note that atopic dermatitis is a chronic condition that may require ongoing management and treatment. Consult with your veterinarian for the best course of action for your dog.

There are various types of food that a dog with atopic dermatitis can eat, including:

  • Hypoallergenic food: This specialized dog food is formulated to minimize allergic reactions. It contains limited ingredients that are less likely to cause an allergic response.
  • Novel protein diet: This diet contains proteins that your dog has yet to be exposed to before, such as kangaroo, bison, or venison. This can help reduce the risk of allergic reactions.
  • Grain-free diet: Some dogs with atopic dermatitis may be sensitive to grains, so a grain-free diet may be recommended.
  • Limited ingredient diet: This diet contains limited ingredients, which can help identify any food allergies causing atopic dermatitis.

It is always best to consult your veterinarian to determine the best diet for your dog’s needs.

Dermatitis can be painful for dogs depending on the severity and location of the inflammation. In some cases, it may cause itching, discomfort, and pain, especially if the affected area is scratched or irritated. However, not all types of dermatitis are painful, and some may only cause mild discomfort or irritation. Therefore, having your dog evaluated by a veterinarian if you suspect they are experiencing any discomfort or pain related to dermatitis is essential.

Dermatitis in dogs can have various causes and may recur if the underlying cause is not addressed. Some common dermatitis causes in dogs include allergies (such as food or environmental allergies), parasites (such as fleas or mites), bacterial or fungal infections, hormonal imbalances, and poor grooming or hygiene. In addition, in some cases, underlying health conditions such as autoimmune disorders or cancer may also lead to dermatitis. Therefore, identifying and addressing the underlying cause is crucial in preventing recurrent dermatitis in dogs.

Some drugs can interfere with intradermal testing (IDT) and allergen-specific immunotherapy (ASIT) in dogs. For example, corticosteroids, immunosuppressants, and antihistamines can suppress the immune system and modify the allergic response, leading to inaccurate IDT results and reduced ASIT efficacy. Therefore, informing your veterinarian about all your dog’s medications before scheduling IDT or starting ASIT is essential. In addition, they may advise you to discontinue certain medications temporarily before testing or adjust the dose or frequency of medicine during ASIT.

Atopic dermatitis (AD) is a common skin condition in dogs that usually starts between 6 months and three years of age. However, dogs of any age can develop AD; some may not show symptoms until they are older. The severity and frequency of AD symptoms can vary significantly among dogs.

The frequency of bathing a dog with skin allergies depends on the severity of the condition and the veterinarian’s recommendation. Generally, it is recommended to bathe the dog once a week or as directed by the veterinarian. Overbathing can strip the natural oils from the dog’s skin, worsening the condition. A mild, hypoallergenic shampoo is also essential for dogs with skin allergies.

Several skin conditions can be mistaken for atopic dermatitis in dogs, including flea allergy dermatitis, food allergies, contact allergies, and other skin infections like bacterial or fungal dermatitis. Therefore, it is essential to have a proper diagnosis made by a veterinarian to determine the exact cause of a dog’s skin condition to provide the most effective treatment.

Atopic dermatitis in dogs may have a characteristic odor caused by secondary bacterial or yeast infections. The odor can be described as musty or earthy, and it may be more noticeable in certain areas of the dog’s body where there is more moisture, such as the ears or between the toes. However, not all cases of atopic dermatitis in dogs have a noticeable odor.

Benadryl (diphenhydramine) is an antihistamine that can help alleviate the symptoms of atopic dermatitis in some dogs, such as itching and inflammation. However, it may not be effective in all cases and should not be used as a sole treatment for atopic dermatitis. It is essential to consult a veterinarian to diagnose and treat atopic dermatitis in dogs, which may include a combination of medication, dietary changes, and environmental management.

Yes, there is often a seasonal pattern in dogs with atopic dermatitis. The symptoms tend to worsen during certain times of the year, particularly during spring and fall when pollen and other environmental allergens are more prevalent. However, some dogs with atopic dermatitis may experience symptoms year-round, particularly if they are allergic to indoor allergens like dust mites or certain foods. Therefore, working with a veterinarian to identify the specific triggers for a dog’s atopic dermatitis and develop an appropriate treatment plan is essential.

Yes, atopic dermatitis can be hereditary in dogs. It is a complex genetic disease, meaning multiple genes are involved in its development. Studies have found that certain breeds are more prone to developing atopic dermatitis, suggesting that there may be a genetic predisposition. Additionally, if a dog’s parents or siblings have atopic dermatitis, they are more likely to develop it. However, environmental factors like allergens and infections can also trigger the disease.

While there are anecdotal reports of CBD oil helping dogs with atopic dermatitis and other skin conditions, no strong scientific evidence supports its use. CBD oil is generally considered safe for dogs when used appropriately, but it’s essential to consult a veterinarian before trying any new treatment for your pet’s atopic dermatitis. They can help you determine if CBD oil is appropriate for your dog’s individual needs and provide guidance on dosing and administration.

Atopic dermatitis is a common skin condition in dogs. It is estimated that around 10% of all dogs are affected by atopic dermatitis. However, the condition’s prevalence can vary depending on breed, age, and other factors. For example, certain breeds, such as Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, and West Highland White Terriers, may be more prone to developing atopic dermatitis. The condition can also be more common in dogs living in urban areas or homes with carpeting or other allergens.

Disclaimer: The information provided on this veterinary website is intended for general educational purposes only and should not be considered as a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult a licensed veterinarian for any concerns or questions regarding the health and well-being of your pet. This website does not claim to cover every possible situation or provide exhaustive knowledge on the subjects presented. The owners and contributors of this website are not responsible for any harm or loss that may result from the use or misuse of the information provided herein.

Similar Posts