The Spring Scratch: Canine Atopy

May 15, 2018 | Alternative Therapies, Care & Wellness, Diagnosis, Dogs, Medications, Pet

The Spring Scratch: Canine Atopic Dermatitis (Atopy)
By: Dr. Jaclyn Erwin

Spring is here is full force, the flowers and trees are blooming and the winter drearies have changed to a colorful scene. With all this beauty comes pollen, grass, mold, and dust particles causing our canine companions to itch and itch.

Atopy, is one of the most common skin disorders in dogs. This is an inherited allergic reaction to allergens being absorbed across the skin barrier. The airborne particles or allergens are harmless to those that are not allergic to them. However, allergies will develop in those dogs with a genetically-influenced disease causing the immune system to overreact. Affected dogs will become extremely itchy making their skin more susceptible to bacterial and yeast infections causing the itch to worsen. Atopy is a chronic disease with the goal to control the disease by decreasing and stopping the itch rather than being cured of the disease. Treatment for atopy starts with a combination of supportive care and medications. Because atopy is so common, there are now several different medications available for treatment that your veterinarian will use to tailor the best therapy for your pet.

Supportive Care

When a dog’s itch is mild and no skin infection has developed, supportive care can provide relief. This consists of bathing with a medicated shampoo to physically remove allergens from the skin while also restoring the skin barrier, topical anti-inflammatory products, antihistamines, and essential fatty acids (EFA).


More often supportive therapy is not enough and your pet will need medications prescribed. As with any medication it is important to look at the risk vs. benefit to the pet. Your veterinarian, who knows your pet and your pet’s medical history and can tailor the most appropriate treatment.

Corticosteroids (prednisone/prednisolone/dexamethasone) work by reducing inflammation and itching. However, with steroids can come several short term side effects such as increased drinking, urination, and appetite. If a pet is on the medication for longer periods of time, there is a risk for liver and endocrine (hormonal) issues developing.

Oclacitinib (Apoquel) is an oral medication that works as well if not better than steroid medication with noticeable improvement in itching within 24 hours. Apoquel works by inhibiting the signals involved in inflammation and itching with limited side effects.

Cyclosporine (Atopica) is an immunomodulating medication. Atopica is used for longer term treatment since it can take four to eight weeks before good response is seen. As such, it is typically combined with other medication to give immediate itch relief so, by the time the itch is controlled, the cyclosporine can maintain the immune response to allergens.

Cytopoint (CADI) is a dog specific antibody used to decrease inflammatory responses in dogs. Because this is a normal antibody the dog already has, it is safe to use with other drugs and can be repeated every four to eight weeks, if needed. For Cytopoint to be most effective, any skin infections (bacterial and/or yeast) will need to be treated which can be determined by your pets veterinarian.

Immunotherapy (Allergy Specific Immunotherapy or ASIT) = “Allergy shots”
For many patients with atopy, immunotherapy can be the best option over other treatments available. ASIT involves an individually made serum using small amount of allergens or proteins against which the patient reacts. This treatment is used to control the pets own immune system and reaction to allergens. To determine which allergens are affecting your pet requires either blood or skin testing. Once results are obtained, your veterinarian can formulate a plan for treating your pet with either allergy injections or a oral (sublingual) medication. Immunotherapy can take six months to a year before one can see results in a pets allergy symptoms making this treatment ideal for the longer term.

If you notice your pet starting to itch, lick, or shake their ears, know there are many options available for treatment. Please give us a call at 703-820-8367 or visit and make an appointment today to discuss options that will help your pet start on the road to relief.