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Carlisle Vets

Atopic Dermatitis

Or… “Help, My Dog Won’t Stop Scratching… and not only that, he sits in front of the TV to do it!”

There are many reasons why your dog could be feeling itchy. Read on for a review of what might be causing the itchiness and what we can do to help.

Parasites – fleas, lice and mites.

These little hitch-hikers bite, which hurts, so your dog scratches his or her skin. There are currently dozens of products on the market to kill external parasites. We stock a range of the safest and best. We have a spray, tablets and spot-on preparations. Most tablets are given monthly and are the treatment of choice for many owner for the convenience they offer. Fleas are rapidly developing resistance to some of the older flea products, particularly shampoos and powders, so please feel free to discuss your needs with someone from the surgery to make sure you get a safe and reliable product and sound advice on how best to use it.

Food Allergies

It’s strange but true that eating the wrong food can make your dog itchy. The worst offenders are wheat, beef and dairy proteins but any food could be the culprit. To confirm a food allergy is responsible for your pet’s itchy skin it is necessary to conduct a elimination trial. This means feeding a novel protein which has been chemically treated (by a process called hydrolysis) to reduce the size of the protein molecules. But… you must feed this food EXCLUSIVELY i.e. no tit bits, dog chews, gravy bones, dental sticks, Digestives or cups of tea. (Yes, some people do enjoy of cuppa with their dog!)

Atopic Dermatitis

This is an inherited problem to which there is, as yet, no cure, but we can help to ease the itching. It is the most common cause of allergic skin disease, with four out of five “allergy dogs” having atopic dermatitis. Dogs with atopic dermatitis have a tendency to develop allergies but much of the problem is due to failure of the barrier function of the skin. An allergen is anything that causes an allergic reaction. Common examples are house dust mites, grasses, weeds, trees, shrubs, storage mites, moulds and fleas. The problem with many of the common allergens is that it is difficult, if not impossible, to prevent you dog from coming into contact with them.

However, there are several medicines available which can help.

  1. Corticosteroids (“steroids”). These anti-inflammatory drugs ease the rash that forms when your pet comes into contact with the allergen. They are usually given by either injection or in tablet form but they are also available as creams and sprays. Steroids are widely used and are effective at reducing symptoms but they can lead to an increase in appetite and thirst while pets are under treatment. They are undoubtedly useful in the treatment of itchiness but if used at high doses over long periods they can, in themselves, make dogs poorly, though side effects are reversible when the drugs are withdrawn.
  2. Desensitisation Injections: This treatment option requires a blood sample to determine the specific allergens your pet is reacting too. A “vaccines” is produced for these allergens. Your pet will then receive monthly injections, usually for one to two years. The blood test and subsequent desensitisation course is likely to cost about £500.
  3. Immune modulators. These tablets change the way the skin reacts to allergens leaving it less reactive and itchy. There are currently two drugs available which go by the trade names of Apoquel and Atopica. Atopica has been used since about 1995 but Apoquel only came to the veterinary market in about 2013 though it had been used in human medicine before this. Both the vaccine and the immune modulators work by making the skin less sensitive so that it doesn’t get itchy in the first place.


There are several shampoos such which are soothing to inflammed skin and there are numberous dietary supplements (Essential Fatty Acids or EFAs) which support the skin cells.
Atopic dogs often have yeast and bacteria skin infections at the same time and may need antibacterial shampoos or antibiotics by mouth or injection.

In summary, atopy or atopic dermatitis, is a disease that we cannot cure though we can control it, usually with a combination of treatments rather than a stand-alone treatment. Regular visits to the surgery are often required to monitor the problem and ensure the right treatments are given at the right time. Some treatments can be expensive so it is always worth discussing your budget with your vet.