Atopic Dermatitis


Atopic dermatitis is an itchy skin disease of dogs and cats. Atopy is the term used in veterinary medicine for the disease condition caused by allergies to environmental substances. These substances, called "allergens", may be pollens, plant or animal fibers, house dust, or molds. In atopic dermatitis, an allergic reaction occurs when an animal inhales airborne substances (pollen, house dust) or ingests (eats) a substance to which they are sensitive. Animals with atopic dermatitis often show symptoms such as scratching, licking their paws, and rubbing their face.

Recurrent skin and ear infections caused by bacteria or yeast are commonly associated with atopic dermatitis. The infections can be very irritating and itchy making the clinical signs of allergy worse. The better pet owners are at identifying and controlling the allergies, the fewer problems their pets will have with secondary infections.

Whenever your pet is showing signs of a health issue, your first step is to contact your primary care veterinarian. If it is indicated that your pet may suffer from atopic dermatitis or another serious condition, a veterinary specialist is available at an ExpertVet certified hospital.



With atopic dermatitis, itching, rubbing, licking, biting, or scratching are common symptoms. The itching may be localized to certain areas or may be over their entire body. Usually, the feet, face, ears, armpits and front legs are affected. This is in contrast to flea allergy where the rump, tail, groin and thighs are usually affected. About half of the animals with atopic dermatitis will also be allergic to fleas and so will have symptoms of both diseases.



Currently, there is no definitive diagnostic test for atopic dermatitis. Diagnosis is based on physical examination and clinical findings, exclusion of other possible diagnoses, and patient history. Your veterinarian can determine what your pet is allergic to by performing allergy tests. Current methods of allergy testing include intradermal skin testing with specific allergens or a blood test. Nevertheless, these tests cannot determine whether a pruritic (itchy) dog is suffering from atopic dermatitis or another disease (such as demodicosis or scabies). Only by careful examination and elimination of other differentials can a clinical diagnosis of atopic dermatitis be made.