Atopic dermatitis is an allergy-related skin inflammation that causes itchy, raw, or red skin. If you’ve noticed your dog or cat itching or scratching lately, or if you've seen scabs on your pet, this could be the reason. Left untreated, continuous scratching of the affected areas can lead to other, more serious diseases.
Like humans, pets can get allergies. Dog allergies are often triggered by pollen, animal dander, plants, and insects, as well as processed meat and medication. These allergies can trigger symptoms like excessive itching, scratching, rashes, swelling, sneezing, watery eyes, and paw chewing.
Atopic dermatitis is the second most frequent skin allergy disease in dogs, but cats are also very vulnerable. Dermatitis is most commonly instigated by flea allergies, although even benign substances like grass, dust mites, mold, and other environmental factors can cause an allergic response. If a flea bite initiates the condition, it can get more irritated by an adverse reaction to saliva as your pet licks or chews the area.
Symptoms associated with atopic dermatitis tend to happen when pests are most active in the hotter months of the year. The most common areas affected include:
- Groin & Stomach
- Around the Eyes
- Between the Toes
In the early stages, the condition can be difficult to detect because your pet may not show any outward signs. As dermatitis progresses, you will notice your pet chewing or scratching their skin more than usual. In cases of moderate to severe dermatitis, you will notice redness or bald patches along with bumps, scabs, and cuts on their skin.
How Do I Treat My Pet’s Dermatitis?
Solving your pet's skin disease can be as simple as solving the flea problem. The first step is to visit your favorite veterinarian for a high-quality prescription flea medication. Even if you're not sure your pet's skin condition is due to fleas, it’s a good idea to treat them and rule it out as the source of the problem. It can sometimes take months to fight a flea infestation, but if they still show signs after being treated, the next step is to look at your pet’s diet.
Food allergies are the second most common cause of dermatitis. Even if your pet has had the same diet for years, specific proteins can produce food allergies at any point in your pet’s life.
Arrange a food allergy test with your veterinarian by trying a specific diet of prescription food and make sure nothing else, including medication, is consumed during this period. If you see your pet's skin is improving, then it is a good bet they are allergic to an ingredient in their previous food. You can continue with the prescription diet to control the allergy and keep your pet’s skin rash-free.
If fleas and diet are ruled out, then you will need to determine if environmental allergens such as pollen or mold are the culprits behind your pet's inflamed skin. This kind of allergy is much harder to diagnose and manage, but your veterinarian can prescribe medication such as steroids or antihistamines to manage chronic skin conditions.
Allergy Testing for Your Pet
If allergies occur for more than four months or do not respond to traditional treatment, it may be time to consider allergy testing. Serologic allergy testing can be done for dogs and only requires a simple blood draw. This type of testing can accurately identify allergens and direct your veterinarian to an effective immunotherapy treatment that can provide a long-term solution. The testing needs to be performed by a highly-reliable laboratory with a good reputation.
An intradermal skin test can be done for cats as well as dogs and is considered to be more reliable than blood tests. For skin testing, a small amount of antigen is injected into the skin of the animal and observed after a short period to see if there is a reaction, such as a red bump or welt. This test takes longer and can be pricier, so be sure to find a good veterinary dermatologist to walk you through the process.
Successful management of atopic dermatitis in your pet can sometimes be complicated and frustrating, but don’t give up! Proper diagnosis and follow-up care by a veterinarian is vital to maximizing the likelihood of curing or at least controlling a severe allergy.
Dr. Scott Weeks at the Pet Medical Center of San Antonio can provide the encouragement and direction you and your pet need to treat allergies and maintain overall good health. Contact our team today for more information!