What is Allergic or Atopic Skin Disease?

Many dogs suffer from allergic skin disease. This can range in severity from a dog who continually licks its paws, to a dog that is constantly scratching its entire body. These patients experience a variety of clinical signs, including red, irritated skin, hair loss, ear infections or anal gland irritation. This disease can be very debilitating to your dog, and can significantly affect its quality of life. Imagine having a constant itch that you were unable to scratch! The continual scratching can also trigger skin infections, setting up a vicious cycle of itching that gets progressively worse if not treated.

What is the cause?

There are many allergies that can initiate this condition, from food allergies to parasite allergies to environmental allergens.  The patient bites and scratches at their skin, introducing bacteria from the mouth and claws into the skin barrier. This causes the skin to become infected, making it even itchier than before! Staphlococcus bacteria and yeasts are the most common infectious agents.

What can be done?

As there can be many causes of similar symptoms, diagnosis and treatment is a process of elimination. Your vet will ask questions about possible triggers for the skin disease, and may take samples from the skin or ear to determine whether there is an infectious component to the problem. We will then try to find a solution to manage the condition. Some discussion points might be:

1. Flea control

Many dogs are allergic to the saliva of the flea, so just one flea bite is enough to set off a bout of atopic dermatitis. Even if your dog is allergic to something other than fleas, being constantly bitten by a parasite will only exacerbate the dermatitis issues. We recommend using good quality flea control products such as Bravecto or Nexgard. Supermarket products are usually ineffective, as they use older chemical compounds that fleas have become resistant to. Our team of vets and nurses can help you choose the right flea prevention for your pet.

2. Treatment of secondary infection

If your dog's skin is infected, we need to treat the infection to break the itch-infection cycle. This is achieved by treating with a combination of oral antibiotics and topical products. Some dogs may require a medicated shampoo to help remove surface bacteria or yeast from the skin. Your vet will prescribe the necessary medictions during your consultation.

3. Anti-itch treatment

We need to stop the patient from scratching itself, in order to allow the skin barrier to heal. For short-term treatment a steroid tablet called prednisolone is very effective at relieving itch. We avoid prescribing steroids for long-term use, as they have a number of side effects if used continually. For dogs that are itchy all the time, we can administer a monthly injection called Cytopoint, or you can administer a daily tablet called Apoquel. Both these medications have far fewer side effects than steroids and are registered for ongoing use. Our clients tell us these drugs are life changing for their pet, with their formerly miserable, uncomfortable dogs no longer biting their skin to pieces, and sleeping through the night without being woken to scratch. Your vet will discuss options with you during your consultation, and together we will come up with a plan to keep your dog happy and comfortable.

4. Food Response Trial

If a food allergy is suspected then we recommend a food response trial. The majority of food allergies in dogs are to an animal protein. Therefore, to diagnose food allergies we need to feed them a protein source that they have never been exposed to before and see if the skin improves. We recommend feeding a strict diet of ONLY Royal Canin Anallergenic for at least six weeks while we rule out food allergy. If the trial is started it is important to strictly adhere to the new diet for the full six weeks and revisit to assess any improvement before resuming any other diet. Please note that dental chews, treats, and even flavoured parasite prevention products cannot be given during a food trial.

5. Allergy Testing and Desentisizing Vaccine

If your dog's allergies are severe, we may refer you to a dermatologist to for intradermal skin testing. This involves clipping the hair from your dog, and injecting a number of allergens under the skin. The reactions to this test allow us to determine the exact cause of your pets allergies. From here, a vaccine is made from the offending allergens. This is administered regularly to desensitise the dog to these allergies. In some cases, this vaccine is able to cure the disease, while in others it is only able to provide some relief. Our vets will discuss your dog's case with you during your consultation, and we can organise referral if this is right for your pet.