pug wrapped in a blanket

Atopic Dermatitis- Allergic Skin Disease, is relatively common in dogs and cats. Itching is one of the most common reasons for a pet to be brought into the vet and can be caused by a number of factors.

Atopic Dermatitis (or from any other cause) is extremely upsetting for a pet. Unfortunately many signs of skin allergies go unnoticed or are mistakenly considered to be mild when actually the animal’s quality of life could be improved with treatment. Consider that these animals often have poor quality rest/sleep due to the irritation which can further effect their mental well-being just like with ourselves.
If a pet stops its normal activities such as walking, playing or sleeping to chew, lick or scratch on a regular basis then we need to manage the irritation. These animals often have poor quality rest/sleep due to the irritation which can further effect their mental well-being.

Atopic dermatitis can affect any area of the body and different breeds may be more prone to different areas being affected. Common areas of the body that animals may focus on and suggest an underlying allergy are:

  • Muzzle.
  • Ears.
  • Feet.
  • Anal glands/backside.

How to tell if an animals behaviour is excessive?

Excessive licking of an irritated area is often overlooked as grooming, but a tell tale sign that it is excessive is an orange/brown stain of the fur. This is easiest to see in light colored animals but can be seen on dark fur as well. Most commonly this discoloration is seen on the feet and indicates a level of irritation that should be addressed.
Another sign that a long term marked allergy has been present is skin that has become blacker and thicker in response to prolonged irritation and scratching. These changes can all disappear when the allergy is controlled.
Animals with atopic dermatitis can react to almost anything including certain food ingredients, house dust-mite faeces, fleas, mites and pollens as well as many, many more possibilities.
golden retriever type dog lying down looking sad

Owners are often confused why vets are obsessed with flea treatment when no fleas are visible. Vets worry for a few reasons:

  • In allergic animals that have blood tests to identify what they are allergic to flea saliva is normally implicated in almost ALL animals! This means that only a few flea bites can potentially start a marked allergic response in these animals.
  • We find fleas on untreated pets regularly. Unfortunately every animal will pick up a flea on a regular basis from the environment.  Remember not seeing a flea is not the same as the animal never having a flea.
  • 95% of the flea population at any one time is in the environment. An absence of fleas on a visual check doesn’t mean the animal won’t pick up fleas on its daily walks which could flare up the allergy. This is why regardless of any other thing our animals are allergic to vets urge strict flea control (monthly) with a product that kills the fleas as quick as possible (within 8 hours of jumping on the animal) to limit bites and flare ups.
  • It is much cheaper to regularly treat for fleas than to repeatedly treat skin irritation, infection and discomfort caused by fleas flaring up allergies.


  •  Atopic dermatitis can be managed like other allergies e.g. hayfever but it is not possible to cure the condition.
  • Treatment focuses on identifying the cause and avoiding it (such as with food allergies).
  • When avoidance is not possible (pollen, dust mite faeces) controlling the itch with medication is required. This may be seasonally or permanently depending on the trigger allergen.
  • Controlling fleas on the animal and in the house.
  • Antibiotics are sometimes needed to control skin infection but do not treat the underlying allergy in any way.
If your pet has hair loss, scabby skin, is scratching, licking their feet, has repeated ear infections or regular anal gland issues then speak to us on how treating skin allergies may make them more comfortable. Rosevean Veterinary Practice – 01736 362215
Ginger cat hiding face