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Atopy - Inhalant Allergies

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Atopy is a skin disease that produces itchy, irritated skin in both cats and dogs. The causes include allergies to certain substances from the environment and home. Pets suffering from atopy can be allergic to pollens, spores, dust, dander and other allergens. Absorption of allergens may be through respiratory trace or skin contact. Animals that are hypersensitive to environmental allergens may have irritated skin and ears. As the second most allergic skin condition in canines, this trait may be inherited.

Atopy affects approximately ten to fifteen percent of dogs between the ages of one to two years. As dogs are exposed to allergins over time, then the allergy develops. Breeds include Scottish, West Highland White, Cairn and Wire Haired Fox, Llasa Apso, English and Irish Setters, Retrievers, Dalmatian, Pug, Miniature Schnauzer and English Bulldog. Atopy can affect cats at any age. Pets with Atopy may have other allergies as well (ex. Food hypersensitivity and flea allergy dermatitis).

Symptoms and Diagnosis

The common symptom of Atopy is pruritus, itchy, irritated skin. Intense itching leads to scratching and biting of irritated skin. During a seasonal allergy, dogs may chew feet, scratch sides or rub its face on surfaces for three weeks. The resulting trauma to skin and discomfort creates secondary skin lesions distributed on the muzzle, face, carpal and tarsal areas, groin and other areas. These symptoms can worsen with age. Recurrent Pyoderma (bacterial skin infection) and otitis externa (caused by bacterial infection of the ear) may also develop and contribute to the pet’s discomfort. Other secondary skin abnormalities include redness, crusts, hair loss, scaling, stained fur from saliva. Dog may have a runny nose. Cats may show symptoms of facial itchiness, hair loss, sores, and bumps with bloody scabs.

Diagnosis of Atopy involves allergy testing or eliminating items from the pet’s environment. The veterinarian needs to know a history of symptoms. An exam that assesses the itching and skin lesions follow. Other skin diseases would be ruled out. Allergy testing includes bloodwork, urinalysis, intradermal skin testing and fungal cultures.


Atopy is a life-long disease that usually worsens with age. Treatment can involve medications, topical therapy and controlling environmental allergens. Although no cure exists, steps can help improve the symptoms and reduce the discomfort.

Medications may include antihistamines, corticosteroids and immunotherapy or allergy shots. Fatty acids, such as Omega-3 fatty acids, can treat allergies safely and help control symptoms. The fatty acids derived from fish oil can help decrease the amount and effects of histamine along with other chemicals that are involved in an immune response to allergies. The successful results are an improved quality of coat and shine. Corticosteroids carry the risk of iatrogenic Cushing’s Disease and excessive levels of gluco corticoids. Immunotherapy may reduce itching in sixty to seventy percent of canines and seventy-three percent of felines. Allergy shots require injection under the skin.

Owners can alleviate symptoms of discomfort by providing an environment for their pets that avoids identified allergens. Dust-free surroundings, closed windows and keeping the pet indoors to avoid the high pollen season will benefit. Flea control is another method. Owners need to observe rashes and skin lesions.

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