Atopy is an allergic condition caused by allergens that enter through the respiratory (and occasionally the digestive) tract. Pollen from grasses and weeds, mites from household dust, and molds appear to be the main causes atopy in dogs. The disease usually begins as a seasonal problem, with symptoms occurring from spring to fall. Eventually the disease becomes chronic and symptoms appear throughout the year.

Atopy is seen most frequently in certain breeds. These dogs appear to be predisposed to the problem. Dalmatians, poodles, terriers, dachshunds, Irish setters, and schnauzers are most often affected. Individual dogs are generally diagnosed between the ages of one to three. The disease is rarely seen in animals greater than 7 years of age.

The most common symptom of atopy is itchy skin. The face, ears, abdomen and underside of the paws are often affected. Skin lesions are the result of self inflicted wounds from rubbing and scratching. Other symptoms, including sneezing, runny eyes, and loose stools may be present.

Diagnosis of atopy is based on the breed of dog, clinical symptoms, and skin or blood tests. Your veterinarian will recommend tests that are specific to your pet’s problem.

The most effective treatment for atopy is avoidance of the offending allergen. This is often impractical or impossible and medication is required. Medical products used for treating atopy consist of hyposensitization injections and anti-inflammatory medication. Unfortunately, hyposensitization treatment often yields disappointing results.

Regular bathing and grooming, along with flea control, often helps reduce clinical symptoms associated with atopy.