Canine Atopic Dermatitis is a genetically predisposed allergic skin disease and one of the dogs' most common inflammatory skin diseases. The pathogenesis is complex and continuously updated as we learn more about this disease.
These dogs are allergic to environmental allergens such as dust mites and tree pollens. These types of allergies, if involving plant pollens, are commonly seasonal due to the timing of pollination throughout the year.
Exposure to these allergens is via inhalation or absorption through the skin. Once the animal has had exposure to the allergen, it will mount an exaggerated immune response and develop clinical signs such as itching and inflammation of the skin. Animals with Atopic Dermatitis will scratch, chew, lick or rub areas of the body such as their paws, face, ears, axillae (armpits) and abdomen. The location of the itch can vary between animals, and the severity of the itch can vary also. Some animals may only display itchy ears, while others may suffer from severe itching in many different body locations.
A diagnosis is made by ruling out other causes of itching, such as parasites, food allergy, contact allergy, and bacterial and fungal infections. The history of the pet’s itching and the sites of itching are assessed by your veterinarian to ensure that they fit with a diagnosis of Atopic Dermatitis.
Once a diagnosis has been made, an allergy test can be performed. The allergy testing aims to identify the environmental allergens the animal is allergic to, not diagnose the presence of Atopic Dermatitis. The allergy tests most useful for Atopic Dermatitis are intradermal skin tests or blood tests. Once the allergens have been identified via testing, desensitising vaccines can be prepared for that animal.
Desensitising vaccines are the only treatment choice that alters the animal’s immune response to benign environmental stimuli. These vaccines aim to desensitise your pet to specific allergens by giving controlled amounts of the vaccine via injection or orally under the tongue. Over time, after receiving regular doses of the vaccine, your pet’s immune system will become desensitised to the allergen and will not mount an exaggerated immune response when exposed to the allergen in normal conditions.
We can use many other medications and treatment modalities in pets with Atopic Dermatitis, and sometimes a combination of these is required to control and manage this complex disease.