Atopy is a common cause of itching in dogs. Atopy is caused by exposure to environmental allergens such as pollen, molds, insects and dust mites, in a susceptible individual. In dogs, these allergens may be inhaled, or ingested but the major route of entry is thought to be through the skin.
Humans with atopy generally have respiratory symptoms, but dogs with atopy mainly have skin problems, especially itching and licking. Common areas involved are the feet, face, abdomen and ears. Secondary bacterial and yeast infections in the ears and skin are also commonly seen. It is important to know that atopy cannot be cured, but it can be very successfully managed to greatly improve the quality of life of most pets.
The most successful way to control these allergies is to take a multi-pronged approach. Allergy skin testing will identify the specific allergens that are causing problems. Just like in humans, dogs can be put on “allergy shots" to help manage their allergies. The goal with these shots is to desensitize the immune system, so that it doesn't react so severely to the allergens. Almost always, other symptomatic treatment is needed as well. A combination of medication, shampoo therapy, diet modification, and if possible, environmental changes can be used to help allergic pets. In complex cases, a referral to a veterinary dermatologist is advised.
The goal in treating pets with atopy is to improve their quality of life using the least harmful treatments possible. While corticosteroids, such as prednisone, are usually quite effective at managing the symptoms of atopy short term, they can be dangerous to use long term and lose effectiveness over time.
Dr. Glen Burkett BVSc. Diplomate American College of Veterinary Dermatology