Atopic Dermatitis in Dogs

Atopic dermatitis in dogs is an inherited hypersensitivity disorder, a dog allergy skin disorder that can affect any pure or mixed breed of dog. However it is seen most commonly in German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Dalmatians, Miniature Schnauzers and West Highland White Terriers. Symptoms usually occur between the first and third years of a dog’s life. Some people think of this condition as a dog skin allergy. However, it is the reaction to the allergy that brings on this disease. It is normally caused by an allergic reaction to something in the environment such as dust mites, instead of other causes such as dog food.

Atopic Dermatitis Symptoms

Symptoms often begin in subtle ways:
  • The owner may notice the dog is apparently grooming himself more often than usual, including during the night. However, dogs never groom themselves in the middle of the night. The dog is actually rubbing and scratching due to skin irritation.

  • The dog may be seen in generalized scratching, which may first be thought of as normal, but you may begin to think it is done too often.

  • If you scold your dog about scratching, you may find your dog scratching in private when he thinks you are not looking.
  • Then the owner may notice the dog often licking, scratching, and biting the paws, ears, armpits or groin area. These areas of the dog’s body are often the first to become irritated.

  • Red ears that feel hot and ear infections are a leading result of atopic dermatitis. But it is not the only cause.

All along, you may think the coat appears normal. This is why the problem called “an unseen itch.” At times,
  • Hot spots will be noticed, or

  • The coat may appear wet. That means your dog is licking when you are not looking.

Any of the above symptoms may be isolated skin eruptions that are unrelated. However, a series of such incidents is enough to suggest a dog allergy may be the culprit.

In time, atopic dermatitis in dogs will develop additional signs:
  • The skin will change color from pink to black. This will be clearly noticeable when your dog turns over on his back so you can give him a belly rub.

  • You will also usually see a reddish brown thin line or stain at the corners of his mouth, chin, between the toes, in the armpits, and in the groin.

  • Frequent scratching will become very noticeable.

If left untreated, the skin will continue to deteriorate and develop bald spots and red skin will be easily seen. At this point a veterinary dermatologist will need to be consulted for a comprehensive evaluation and a treatment plan selected.

Aatopic Dermatitis Diagnosis

Diagnosis for atopic dermatitis in dogs is difficult. There is no one single blood test to detect the disorder, so diagnosis is obtained through observation, the process of elimination, along with blood testing to eliminate other possible infectious causes, and sometimes a comprehensive skin test for likely allergens. Atopic dermatitis in dogs is not to be ignored. The condition must be diagnosed, the allergen identified and if possible, eliminated from the dog’s environment. Medication and treatments should be given to ease the discomfort.