Allergic dermatitis is one of the main reasons a dog or cat visits the veterinarian. Most allergies can be categorized into one or more of the following types: parasite allergy, food allergy, or environmental allergies (also known as atopic dermatitis). Allergies can be further complicated by secondary bacterial or yeast infections on the skin or ear, resulting in crusts, greasiness, or ear problems.

A diagnosis of atopic dermatitis is based upon exclusion of the other allergies (parasite and food) and supportive history.  The gold standard of treatment for atopic dermatitis is allergen specific immunotherapy (i.e. allergy “shots” or oral allergy “drops”). The immunotherapy is based upon results of allergy testing, via either a blood test or an intradermal (skin) allergy test. This is the only therapy that specifically targets what the pet is allergic to with no long term side effects. As immunotherapy can take up to one year to effect, other treatments to manage symptoms may be used in the interim. Antihistamines and corticosteroids have been utilized for decades in order to manage allergies; however, antihistamines are only occasionally beneficial and corticosteroids are not ideal for long term use unless necessary. However, with the availability of Atopica®, Apoquel®, and now CADI (Canine Atopic Dermatitis Immunotherapeutic), veterinarians and veterinary dermatologists have other successful treatment options to manage allergy symptoms, with less chance of side effects than corticosteroids. CADI is the most novel therapy available that utilizes a specific dog antibody to target the itch mediator. The therapy is administered via a subcutaneous injection every four to six weeks by a veterinary dermatologist or approved veterinarian. However, it is still prudent to note that all symptomatic therapies have their limits and to discuss the pros and cons of each option with your veterinarian.

Environmental allergy management needs to be individualized for each patient’s specific needs. As not all dogs and cats are alike and respond the same to every therapy, one should discuss the various management options with their veterinarian to find the one that best suits the patient and the family.

Dr. Katherine Doerr is a practicing Veterinary Dermatologist at Dermatology for Animals in Aptos CA and other locations.

Blog Post Author: 

Katherine A. Doerr, DVM, Dip. ACVD