Atopy in dogs is caused by an allergic reaction to tiny particles in the environment that are normally present in a dog’s life. These particles called allergens include pollens, moulds, house dust mites, and other environmental allergens.
The allergic reaction or the abnormal reaction of the pet’s immune system causes itchiness, which leads to scratching, excessive licking, chewing or rubbing of the affected areas of the body.
As time goes by there could be more damage to the skin such as hair loss, thickened and irregular surface, and secondary bacterial infection. Other clinical signs such as recurring or chronic ear infections and redness of the eyes (conjunctivitis) can also be present.
These clinical signs can be either intermittent or chronic.
Affected dogs seem to be genetically predisposed to suffer from this condition and although dogs from any breed can have atopy, the list of the most affected breeds includes: German Shepherd dogs, Boxers, Poodles, Labrador and Golden Retrievers, Pugs, English Setters, Dalmatians, Lhasa Apso’s, West Highland White Terriers, Cairn Terriers, Bull Terriers, Fox and Jack Russell terriers.
Unfortunately there is no cure for atopy but the disease can be managed to reduce the clinical signs and discomfort, improving the quality of life of dogs dealing with this condition.
If you realise your pet is itching more than usual or notice any of the other signs previously mentioned, bring your pet to the vet.
Conditions such as flea allergy dermatitis or food allergy often present similar clinical signs and it is very important to reach the correct diagnosis in order to successfully treat and manage canine atopy.
How do we treat an itchy allergic dog?
We prescribe a drug called oclacitinib – It stops the itch without the bad side effects of “steroids” (corticosteroids , prednisolone). It is used mainly in allergic dermatitis, particularly in atopic dermatitis.
If your pet has ever been prescribed prednisolone, you may be familiar with the increased thirst, the wetting accidents, the massive appetite and the weight gain that may accompany prednisolone use. You may also be aware of the potential serious side effects of steroid use such as a higher risk of diabetes, skin infections, heart problems, Cushing’s disease and stomach ulceration. These side effects do not occur with oclacitinib.
It is normally prescribed for dogs over one year of age with allergic dermatitis that have failed to respond to simpler treatments such as hypoallergenic diets, specialised shampoos, antibiotics and parasite control. It is available as a tablet which is given twice daily for 2 weeks initially then once daily. It may be possible to reduce the dose further.
It should not be used in lactating, pregnant or breeding dogs, and should not be used if your pet has a skin infection, Cushing’s disease, or is suffering from a tumour. If you are interested in using this medicine for your pet’s itchy skin complaint, then you should discuss its use with us.
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