Atopic dermatitis, or Atopy, is an allergic skin condition commonly seen in animals and people. At least 1 in 10 dogs in the UK are atopic and cats suffer from this condition too. Allergens are environmental and are commonly indoor such as dust mites and storage mites. Outdoor allergens include pollens from grasses, trees or weeds.
The signs that are most commonly seen in affected pets are skin and ear problems. Signs may be seasonal initially, but tend to be recurrent or long-lasting. Age of onset in dogs is anything from 6 months to 3 years of age though pets may be even younger when they show initial signs. Certain breeds are more commonly affected such as Labradors, Retrievers, Terriers (especially Westies) and Boxers, so hereditary factors are important.
The main signs you may notice in an affected pet relate to itching. Pets may lick, chew or scratch at affected areas and initially you may think that your pet is trying to clean the skin. However, with excessive trauma to these areas, you may notice staining of the hair from saliva, loss of fur (alopecia) and possibly reddening of the skin (inflammation) which can lead to infections. Eventually the skin may thicken and go dark (pigmentation) though this generally takes months to occur. Ear problems are commonly associated with atopic dermatitis. Head shaking, ear flapping, scratching at the ear/s, holding the head to one side, and discomfort may all be due to atopy.