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Atopy, or atopic dermatitis, is an inflammatory, chronic skin disease associated with allergies. It’s an incredibly frustrating condition – for the pet, their owner and often, the vet. Fortunately new treatments are proving to be more effective and CVH vets are seeing pleasing results in patients.

Atopy is one of the most common allergic skin disease in dogs (it’s diagnosed only rarely in cats). The allergic reaction can result from exposure to normally harmless substances such as grass, pollens, mould spores, house dust mites, flea bites and various other allergens found in the pet’s environment.

The condition usually appears between 1 and 5 years of age and almost always remains for life (in fact it frequently worsens as the pet ages). It’s thought most dogs with atopy have a genetic predisposition that leads to an inappropriate immune reaction when the pet encounters causative allergens. The skin’s barrier function may be impaired too, allowing allergens to more easily penetrate the skin and trigger an allergic reaction.



Chronic and incessant itching, scratching, chewing and licking are the primary symptoms of atopy. Depending on the allergens involved, the condition may be more severe in certain seasons (for example, during spring for pollens). The irritation is often focused on the face, feet, underarms and lower abdomen, but hypersensitivity can occur anywhere on the body. Pets may chew their feet, or rub their face along the carpet in an effort to relieve the irritation. The constant scratching creates red, moist and inflamed lesions, often with hair loss. Some pets develop recurrent ear infections, in others the damaged skin becomes infected. Regardless of the body areas affected, the pet experiences relentless, stressful irritation.

Right: constant chewing of paws is one of the common clinical signs of atopy.



Treating atopic dogs can be challenging. If the allergen is known, limiting the pet’s exposure will be effective, but it’s usually impossible to remove all causative allergens from a pet’s environment.

Treatment of canine atopic dermatitis has traditionally relied on a range of therapies, from medicated washes and topical creams to a range of medications, including corticosteroids. While they may help atopic dogs, prolonged use of cortisone-based drugs can cause serious side effects and they were a last resort medication. Other possible treatments include appropriate antibacterial or antifungal medications  should the pet develop secondary bacterial and yeast infections.

Apoquel is a new medication that’s delivering excellent results in CVH patients. It’s a non-steroidal drug without the side effects of corticosteroids and it works by blocking the receptor for a specific molecule that triggers itchiness in dogs.

Regular use of medicated shampoos and conditioners (stocked by CVH) can also provide relief from irritation, normalise the skin’s barrier to allergens, and help reduce secondary infections. And it’s critical owners are vigilant in maintaining a year round flea control program. In atopic dogs, even one flea bite can cause enormous irritation and trigger furious scratching.

The right nutrition can also make a difference. CVH stocks a range of specialist diets aimed at improving the skin health and wellbeing of hyperallergenic dogs, and we recommend the use of Megaderm or a similar veterinary supplement containing Omega 3 and 6 oils.


Atopy is a lifelong condition and owners must be prepared to manage their pet’s allergies long term. This requires patience and dedication but our vets work closely with owners and their pets to ensure atopic dogs are healthy, comfortable and enjoy a good quality of life.