The atopy or atopic dermatitis is a chronic inflammatory disease of the skin due to allergies.
It is more exactly a predisposition to trigger allergic reactions upon contact with allergens generally harmless to others.
Having genetic bases, certain breeds are predisposed to atopy: Golden retriever, Labrador, Boxer, West Highland White Terrier, Bull Terrier, French and English Bulldog, Shar-pei among others.
An atopic dog will remain so all his life. It is possible to manage the disease in such a way that relapses are delayed and treated quickly to avoid complications. However, this disease can be quite restrictive.
Causes of atopy in dogs
Atopic dermatitis is caused by an exacerbated immune response to allergenic agents, even in very small amounts. In addition, the skin normally plays a barrier role by preventing allergens from crossing the surface layers. In atopic animals, the lipid barrier of the skin is of poor quality and is abnormally permeable to allergens and germs.
Thus, these conditions promote chronic allergic reactions with various clinical signs at the dermatological level. Usually, the first attacks appear in young adults, between one and six years old, but it can happen in puppies or in older adults.
Symptoms of atopic dermatitis
The symptoms of atopy in dogs can be very different from dog to dog, and atopic dermatitis take on various locations. Most often, one of the main symptoms is pruritus, that is to say an intense itching: he licks himself, nibbles or itches. The skin is also often red, possibly with hair loss, papules, or even scabs. The locations can be varied: between the fingers, in the ears, on the stomach or even on the face. Several areas are usually affected at the same time.
The skin is often of poor quality and superinfected by bacteria or yeasts: it is oily, even oozing, possibly smelly. It can be thickened and stain black. In animals with white hairs, licking is seen by the brown coloration of the hairs, especially on the fingers. The hairs are often dry, brittle and rough.
There are also more atypical forms of atopy: there may only be recurrent ear infections, lesions only on the face (lips, around the eyes, etc.) or the fingers for example, which can complicate the diagnosis.
The diagnosis of atopy
The diagnosis is primarily based on symptoms: the presence of one or more symptoms in a dog belonging to a predisposed breed is suggestive of atopy. Often the diagnosis is reinforced by frequent relapses. The symptoms generally respond well to certain treatments, particularly corticosteroids, but relapse without any other associated preventive treatment.
Most of the time, additional examinations are necessary both to clarify the diagnosis and to exclude other causes:
- Skin samples such as scrapings or layers to look for any parasites, bacteria or yeasts
- IDR (Intra-Dermo Reactions): these are skin allergy tests. They consist in injecting small amounts of allergens under the dog’s skin and after a while measuring the size of the red zone, this being related to the importance of the allergic reaction. These tests make it possible to detect what the animal is allergic to, with a view to eradicating these allergens, or even desensitization.
- Blood tests to measure antibodies specific to certain allergens. As with IDRs, this helps to identify what the dog is allergic to.
The most common allergens in dogs are flea saliva, mites and food allergies.
Treatments for atopy
The treatment of dog atopy is often unfortunately complicated. It is often done on several planes, in several stages, and it varies according to the dogs. As atopy cannot be cured, the treatment aims above all to avoid relapses or in any case to space them out as much as possible.
The first thing is to treat any secondary infections of the skin. This can be done by oral antibiotic and / or antifungal treatments. A treatment of several weeks is often necessary. Local treatments can also be prescribed: antiseptic shampoos or lotions, products to put in the ears or on the skin.
In the midst of a crisis, it is also important to calm the allergic reaction responsible for the symptoms. Corticosteroids are often used. However, too frequent or regular administration of corticosteroids is not without side effects and it is better to avoid them or at least to space out when possible. It is necessary to review the point regularly with your veterinarian and avoid self-medication with this type of product.
Other treatments known as immunomodulators exist, making it possible to reduce the allergic reaction. Often more expensive, they have far fewer side effects than corticosteroids. Antihistamine treatments can sometimes be effective as well.
Finally, there are desensitization methods, in order to reduce the allergic reaction of the organism, which prove to be all the more effective when the origin is well identified. However, desensitization can only be done for one or a few allergens at a time and must last for several months.
Prevention of atopy
Prevention aims above all to reduce exposure to allergens as much as possible and to restore an effective skin barrier to repel them. These preventive methods are often the hardest part of treatment.
- Flea treatments are essential. They are to be administered every month of the year in general for effective prevention. Environmental treatment for fleas and mites can also help.
- Diet often plays an important role in triggering attacks. There are specific hypoallergenic foods. These foods are to be administered exclusively and scrupulously. Any deviation from the diet can be a source of allergens and therefore relapses.
- Treatments improve the skin’s ability to fight allergens: shampoos, lotions, food supplements in particular. In any case, take advice from your veterinarian. He will be able to advise you and guide you to find the best balance for your dog.
When atopy in your dog, prevention is essential in order to avoid severe attacks of dermatitis. It often seems difficult to respect at first but quickly becomes a habit and a way of life. Some dogs then only have rare relapses, or even no more.