• July 2013
  • Posted By Jesse Davicioni

Atopy is the term for a skin allergy. Any dog can get a skin allergy (although some breeds are predisposed to this condition). It is a lifelong condition, which cannot be cured, but managed.

The most common clinical signs of atopy are:

  • recurring ear infections
  • chronic itching at the belly
  • chewing at the paws

There are two forms of atopy, both conditions will show the same clinical presentation

  1. Allergy to external/internal allergens – (most commonly dust mites, but can be weeds, grasses, trees and others)
    • 80-90% of dogs suffering from atopy will be allergic to an external allergen
    • It most commonly afflicts dogs between 1-5 years of age
  2. Food allergy – dogs will become allergic to a food that they have been eating for months- years.
    • 10-20% of atopic dogs will have a food allergy
    • Dogs at any time of their life can get a food allergy
    • Food allergies are most commonly proteins (such as chicken, beef, fish, but can be proteins in grains (rice, wheat etc))

Some dogs will have a mixed allergy (food and internal/external allergens)


If your vet suspects your dog may be atopic there are number of treatments available

1. Apoquel (Octlacitinib)

Apoquel is a new drug, with no clinical side effects in most dogs.  Apoquel is a targeted drug which treats the allergy at the level of the skin receptors. It can be used to treat food allergies and atopy. The medication has a short life, so if not given daily, your dog will become itchy.

2. Cyclosporine

Cyclosporine Is an anti itch drug. It has no major long term side effects and is very effective at stopping the itch.The short term side effects of Atopica can be vomiting and stomach upset (for the first two weeks of treatment). It is advised to give an anti sick medication for the first two weeks (your vet may prescribe) and to give the medication on an empty stomach (2 hours before food usually).

80% of atopic dogs will respond to Cyclosporine

To see if Cyclosporine is an effective treatment for your dog it should be given for 2 months. After the 2 months period, approximately 25 % of dogs will need to be on atopica once daily , 50% every other day and 25% every 3 days

3. Immunotherapy

A blood test/intradermal skin test can be taken to see if your dog is allergic to external allergens (trees, grasses, weeds etc) or internal allergens (dust mites) (dogs allergic to external allergens will often be worse in the spring to autumn when the grasses/trees are in bloom and will exhibit little or no signs in the winter). If your dog is positive for external/internal allergens on the blood test (as well as the appropriate clinical presentation) then your vet may offer you an Immunovaccine.The vaccine is given for the rest of your dogs’ life. The idea behind the vaccine is to get your dogs’ immune system used to the allergen and thus stop having an allergic reaction to it.

Immunotherapy must be given for 6 months to test its efficacy.

The response rate to immunotherapy in dogs is approx. 60-70%.

4. Corticosteroids (prednisolone)

Very effective at settling down the itchYour vet may prescribe corticosteroids (usually in a tapered, decreasing dose) to stop the itch.

Short term (over a few weeks, or occasional repeated treatments), prednisolone has few side effects (excessive drinking and urinating, hunger, tiredness)

The long term side effects of corticosteroids can be serious and can lead to :

  • Skin and urinary tract infections
  • Decreased immune system
  • Hormonal disease ‘cushings disease’ (which then may require treatment as well)

Thus, long term (a course usually longer than a few weeks) treatment of corticosteroids should be avoided.


Other less effective but useful treatments to help to bring the itch down are:

  1. Antihistamines
  2. Omega fatty acids – Viacutan (vet product) – helps to build a protective barrier to the skin.

These treatments are rarely helpful alone (but may help in mild cases) but are often given in conjunction to help keep the itch levels down. Changing the diet to Royal Canin Skin Care often helps to decrease the amount of medication required.

Food Allergy Diagnosis and Treatment

For dogs with a suspected food allergy, your vet may recommend a 8-12 week exclusive food trial.

You may be asked to give a special diet for 8-12 weeks exclusively.

During that time no treats can be given!

There are two types of diets that can be given to rule out a food allergy

  1. Purified protein diet (PPD) , a true allergen free diet (there are a few types we recommend)
  2. A novel protein your dog has never eaten (salmon and potato, venison etc)

It is difficult to cook a novel protein which your dog has never eaten for 8-12 weeks thus we generally do not recommend a novel protein diet for diagnosis of a food allergy.

We hope that gives you some insight to a very frustrating , life long condition. With the appropriate treatment our aim is to make this condition worry free and manageable!


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