Animal Allergy and Dermatology
Service of Connecticut
Diagnosis and Management of Skin Disease and Allergy
Atopic Dermatitis (Atopy) is the technical term for environmental allergies. This disorder has a genetic tendency, so it is likely your pet inherited this predisposition from one of its relatives. Atopy is something your pet will not outgrow, and unfortunately it tends to worsen with with time.
There are tiny particles (also known as allergens) which cause a reaction, mainly in the skin. This reaction is what makes your pet itch. There are a few categories of allergens: grass, tree and weed pollens, mold spores, as well as indoor environmental allergens such as house dust and house dust mites, feathers, tobacco smoke.
The diagnosis for a seasonal problem is fairly straight forward. Something, usually a pollen, is making your pet itchy. When the season passes, all is quiet until next year. Diagnosis of an itch that's year-round, however, requires detective work. In addition, secondary infections (bacteria, yeast, parasites) can also cause itchiness, and these must be dealt with first, and as they occur.
One is avoidance of the offending allergen (by stopping smoking, removal of the allergen from the home, keeping the pet away from fields that contain that particular weed, etc.). As you can imagine, this is not so easy. However, bathing your pet frequently can decrease the allergens' chance to cause a problem by washing them away.
Another can be symptomatic treatment, which means using oral and/or topical medication to prevent the itch. There is no magical formula to determine which treatment will always work, and treatment often involves a lot of trial and error.
Allergy testing can be performed which directs us as to which allergens to include in immunotherapy. This immunotherapy is now available as an injection or oral drops. Immunotherapy may require 3-12 months to take effect to decrease the itch.
When they do work, the itch may be reduced as much as 60-75% without having to give much other medication. This means some pets may still need medication as the immunotherapy is started and/or at their worst time(s) of the year. Unfortunately, some pets may not improve at all.
Dr. Emily Rothstein
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Dermatology
BOARD CERTIFIED VETERINARY DERMATOLOGIST®