Skin Conditions

What Is Atopic Dermatitis in Dogs and Cats?

If your dog or cat is itching, scratching, or biting themselves until their skin becomes red and raw, they may have atopic dermatitis. Atopic dermatitis is an allergic reaction that makes the skin itchy and inflamed. This is the second most common skin allergy found in dogs and cats, next to flea allergy dermatitis. City By The Sea Veterinary Hospital in Asbury Park, NJ, helps dog and cat owners find the right course of atopic dermatitis treatments. Learn more about diagnosing and treating atopic dermatitis.

The Symptoms of Atopic Dermatitis 

The atopic dermatitis symptoms could be mistaken for grooming at first. Most dogs and cats will start by itching, scratching, rubbing, chewing, and licking themselves more than usual. Eventually, atopic dermatitis results in a yeasty smell, greasy skin, and redness around the afflicted area. Some of the most common places where you may find atopic dermatitis include:

  • Around the ears
  • On the feet
  • Under their belly
  • Around the muzzle
  • In the armpits
  • On the groin
  • At the base of their tail
  • Around their eyes
  • Between their toes

The Causes of Atopic Dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis in cats and dogs is typically caused by allergies. Pets can develop allergies at any point in their life. It is most common for atopic dermatitis to emerge between the ages of one and six. Pets can have atopic dermatitis for years before it becomes severe enough for their owners to notice. Some common sources of allergens include:

  • Grass
  • Mold spores
  • Dust mites
  • Foods
  • Dog bed stuffing
  • Contact with other pets
  • Chemical irritants
  • Smoke
  • Indoor plants

Diagnosing Atopic Dermatitis in Dogs and Cats

Diagnosing atopic dermatitis will usually involve an attempt to pinpoint the specific allergen causing the skin irritation. Many veterinarians will first try to find the source of the reaction by taking a detailed medical history and mapping a pattern of exposure during times of outbreak. Pets can receive allergy testing through a blood test or intradermal skin testing. A skin test would apply several allergens to the dog or cat’s skin and look for small red bumps (called wheals). Allergen testing is often cost-prohibitive. So, veterinarians commonly recommend other methods of diagnosis first.

The Most Common Treatments for Atopic Dermatitis

Treatment for atopic dermatitis in dogs and cats can be as simple as avoiding allergens. Many cases require more involved intervention, though. Hyposensitization is a common atopic dermatitis treatment. This involves injecting trace amounts of the allergen under your pet’s skin. This treatment alleviates symptoms in 60-80% of dogs, but it can take more than six months to show results.

Alternatively, atopic dermatitis medications may be recommended, called immunomodulating medications. Such medications may be administered as a pill or injection. It is a good practice to combine medications or hyposensitization with prescription-strength shampoo and topical treatments to reduce the discomfort and chance of infection.

Will My Cat or Dog’s Atopic Dermatitis Go Away?

While it is possible, atopic dermatitis in dogs and cats rarely goes away. In most cases, an allergen-related skin irritation must be monitored for the rest of your pet’s life. Once treatment begins, you should see your veterinarian every two to eight weeks to monitor your pet’s progress. Once the atopic dermatitis is under control, you should still have check-ups every three to 12 months. In the best cases, you and your veterinarian may be able to develop a plan for avoiding the allergens that trigger a reaction in your pet.

Is There Any Way to Prevent Atopic Dermatitis?

There are no reliable ways to prevent your pet from developing atopic dermatitis. Allergies naturally occur in dogs and cats. While you can attempt to protect them from potential allergens, many sources of allergies cannot be avoided. The closest thing to prevention is awareness. If you can catch the signs of atopic dermatitis early, your pet will experience fewer negative reactions, and you can get their irritation under control before it gets too severe.

When Should I Consult the Vets at City By The Sea Veterinary Hospital?

It’s normal for our dogs and cats to scratch and lick themselves. This can make it tough to know when to consult a veterinarian for the issue. You should certainly see a professional when the scratching becomes habitual and starts to cause harmful side effects, like fur loss and red patches of skin. However, it’s never too early to consult a doctor if you are noticing the early signs of atopic dermatitis. City By The Sea Veterinary Hospital is always here for you and your furry family members in the Asbury Park area. Schedule an appointment for your pet’s atopic dermatitis now!