Atopy, or inhalant or environmental allergy, will soon be making its springtime appearance as blooming flowers, budding trees, and spring plantings fill the air with pollen, mold, and dust. This common cause of skin issues in pets occurs when particular proteins, or allergens, enter the body through inhalation or direct contact. Inhalant allergies often are first seen in pets under age 3 but can affect animals of any age.

Causes of atopy in pets

Your pet likely has multiple allergies, because single triggers are rare. Usually, we’ll diagnose pets with atopy with a hypersensitivity to fleas, as well, and, occasionally, to an ingredient in her food. If your dog is diagnosed with allergies from an early age,  genetics is likely a contributing factor. However, studies have not been able to confirm that cats share this hereditary trait.

Common allergens causing atopy in pets include:

  • Pollen from grasses, trees, and other plants
  • Mold
  • Dust mites
  • Weeds
  • Fabric fibers
  • Human dander

Signs of atopy in pets

Pets diagnosed with atopic disease are plagued with skin issues for the rest of their lives. Atopy often flares up during the “bad” season, such as spring, but some pets suffer all year long, especially those allergic to dust mites. Allergies in pets also tend to worsen with age—for example, older pets that once had no problems in winter may develop year-round allergies.

Signs of environmental allergies differ in humans and pets. Humans suffer with sneezing, coughing, watery eyes, and a runny nose, while our pets will usually showcase the following signs:

  • Itching
  • Red, inflamed skin
  • Hair loss
  • Licking at the paws
  • Scabs and bleeding
  • Rubbing the face on the ground
  • Thickened skin due to chronic inflammation
  • Chewing at the legs
  • Licking at the groin, abdomen, or armpits
  • Shaking the head
  • Skin scales and crusts
  • Chronic ear infections

Diagnosis of atopy in pets

Diagnosing a pet’s allergic response is simpler than determining the culprit. If your pet is suffering her first flare of atopic disease, record her patterns for a year. Keep a record of her itchy times and gauge her comfort level to help decide whether she’s allergic to an allergen that’s outdoors and seasonal or an indoor allergen she’s exposed to daily. We may follow up with two forms of testing that will provide more information about the actual allergens and allow effective treatment:

  • Serologic allergy testing — This form of testing is simple to perform on your pet, requiring only a blood sample that will be analyzed at an outside laboratory to determine your pet’s allergens. The severity of your pet’s response, from no response to a mild, moderate, or severe reaction, will be noted, and an “allergy vaccination” designed to help combat her specific allergy issues will be formulated from the response information. This test is somewhat less reliable than intradermal allergy testing.
  • Intradermal allergy testing — For this type of allergy testing, your pet will be shaved along her side, injected under the skin with various allergens, and measured for her response severity. The results will help us determine the extent of your pet’s allergies.


Treatment of atopy in pets

Diagnosing and managing allergies can be frustrating for pets, owners, and veterinarians. Atopy is a complex disease that encompasses a wide range of allergens and appears in many different forms and combinations. Each pet presents unique clinical signs and requires individualized treatment. Households often have multiple pets that suffer some aspect of an allergic reaction, and, what works well for one pet’s discomfort won’t even touch another’s. Keeping an allergic pet comfortable is our top priority, but finding what works best may be a long trial-and-error process that can evolve and change over time.

Keep in mind that allergies can only be managed, not cured. Atopy can be managed with a variety of methods, but keeping a pet comfortable often requires multimodal therapy that uses different tactics, such as:

  • Steroids or other immunosuppressive medications
  • Prescription diets
  • Antihistamines
  • Immunotherapy
  • Fatty acid supplements
  • Prescription shampoos and topical supplements
  • Products that solely target the allergic reaction, such as Apoquel and Cytopoint

Is your pet itching for relief? Schedule an appointment and let us help you find comfort for your furry friend this spring.