It is spring! Time for flowers, bees, butterflies, and, if you are unlucky, hay fever! Dogs don’t get hay fever like you or me, instead, they get a skin condition referred to as Atopic Dermatitis.
What is Atopic Dermatitis?
Atopic dermatitis (AD) is a chronic inflammation of the skin caused by environmental allergens. In dogs suffering from AD the immune system gets sensitized to harmless environmental substances such as grass, dust, insect saliva, spores, etc. When those dogs come into contact with those allergens it causes a violent allergic reaction characterized by itching, rubbing and licking. The most affected areas will include the head, face, paws and belly.
As a dog owner there are two questions you can ask yourself when skin issues arise.
Are the skin problems getting worse and worse and occurring under similar circumstances? For example, if your dog gets very itchy after playing in the backyard during springtime, it could be an indication that your dog is suffering from AD.
When did you first notice skin issues in your dogs? As a general rule AD generally develops between 6 months and 3 years of age
What are the symptoms of Atopic Dermatitis?
The affected area of the skin will be red, intensely itchy; however, in chronic cases, the skin may become dark and thickened. In general, atopic dermatitis will cause skin disease in the following areas: ears, muzzle and lips, paws, around the eyes and in between the toes.
How to Diagnose Atopic Dermatitis?
There are two steps to the diagnosis of atopic dermatitis:
Determining if your dog has atopic dermatitis: Different criteria are used to determine if a dog has atopic dermatitis. Your veterinarian will take a history and do a thorough physical exam. As a general rule a dog is considered to have atopy if at least 3 of the following criteria are met:
- Intense itching
- Involvement of the face or digits
- Thickening of the skin at the wrists or ankles
- Chronic skin issues/relapsing skin issues
- Breed predisposition
- Dermatitis improve under steroid therapy
- Age of onset between 6 months and 3 years
Diagnosis of the specific antigen responsible for atopic dermatitis: It is not always feasible to detect which specific allergen your dog is reacting too; however, in some cases, allergen testing can give your veterinarian a specific answer.
If you have concerns that your pet(s) might be suffering from Atopic Dermatitis, contact your veterinarian for advice on diagnosis and treatment plans.
Written by Dr. Louis Roussille, Associate Veterinarian, June 2018.