Immunotherapy for Atopic Dermatitis in Dogs

Eczema or atopic dermatitis in dogs is an inflammation of the skin and is broadly divided into two forms: dry eczema and moist eczema.

What does atopic dermatitis look like in dogs?

Canine atopic dermatitis is not infectious to man or to other animals, but irritates the dog, making it scratch the affected part. This further inflames the skin and so the itching cycle begins.

Eczema may be seen in various sites on the body surface but commonly the face and ears are the first to show signs.

The skin becomes scaly and wrinkled, the hair falls out over an irregular area due to continual scratching, biting and rubbing. Many cases become bleeding raw areas before they finally dry up to the scaly, scurfy appearance.

As a result of licking and biting the surface becomes very red, covered with numerous minute blisters which rupture and bathe the area with a serous fluid giving it a glistening appearance.

Itchiness is intense and the poor animal forgets all else to bite, scratch or rub on any convenient object in a vain endeavor to obtain relief.

What is immunotherapy for atopic dermatitis?

Immunotherapy, also known as allergy shots, is a very effective treatment for flea dermatitis, food allergies, environmental allergies, and atopic dermatitis in dogs. Allergy shots are given to the dog in small doses under the skin. Over time, the dog’s immune system is “taught” that these allergens are not harmful and do not cause reactions.

What is the best treatment for atopic dermatitis in dogs?

Immunomodulatory medications are generally recommended as the first line of treatment for atopic dermatitis in dogs. These drugs have been proven to have a positive effect on reducing the symptoms of allergic skin disease in many patients.

The most commonly used medication is Apoquel®, which is given orally once daily and has been shown to reduce itching and inflammation, even if it is not curative.

Cytopoint® is another immunomodulatory drug that can be administered by injection every 4 weeks. This drug has been shown to be very effective in clinical trials, and it may provide faster relief than oral Apoquel.

In some dogs, these medications alone do not provide adequate control of their symptoms, and more potent anti-inflammatory medications are then added such as prednisone. And finally, secondary skin infections need to be treated with antibiotics and/or antifungals.

Is atopic dermatitis curable in dogs?

The cure consists of external and internal medication. On their own, external lotions are seldom efficient as they only treat the symptoms. The whole object is to remove the underlying cause.

For complex cases, the veterinary surgeon’s advice should be followed in order to help clear up the condition.

Where external parasites, lice, fleas, ticks, or harvest mites are responsible, use the benzene hexachloride insecticides. In all cases, a purgative is indicated especially where the cause of the condition has been proved due to habitual constipation.

Where eczema affects the scrotum or vulval region, particular care must be taken in the cleansing operation as considerable pain can be caused by eczema in these regions.

Where eczema affects the feet, causing inflammation and suppuration between the toes, the foot should first be washed in warm, soapy water followed by an astringent solution, then, after drying, applying a soothing ointment. The foot should then be bandaged carefully.

A meat diet has generally proved more suitable than starchy foods but often a complete change of diet to green vegetables has given interesting results.

Dogs with eczema should not be bathed nor should irritant soaps or dressings of any kind come in contact with the skin.

No skin disease can be thoroughly treated without the removal of the hair although this is often a painful and difficult task in moist eczema. It may be assisted by sprinkling and swabbing the area with warm water particularly where the hair is matted.

In selected cases, ultra-violet irradiation gives considerable relief and effects a rapid cure for eczema.

Where the lesions are intensely painful cold lotions to the skin cause considerable pain and then it is desirable to warm the medications prior to use.

There are available soothing lotions and ointments incorporating the anti-allergic principles causing eczema which are now being used with good results.

It will be necessary to protect the lesions by means of a jacket or coat to prevent interference by the subject – a muzzle may have to be used.

What to feed a dog with atopic dermatitis

Summarizing the condition, we see that a well-balanced diet is essential to eliminate this predisposing cause, see that adequate vitamins are present (especially Vitamin B).

Diet should be rich and nourishing, with very little in the way of biscuit, while some meals should be of raw beef and include green vegetables or cod liver oil in the diet.

You don’t see much eczema in a kennel where plenty of raw meat is consumed. Trouble could be avoided if puppies were taught to eat raw meat regularly instead of being fed only cooked meat.

Many people expect their dogs to keep healthy by giving them anything, and we all know from personal observation that many dogs so fed lead healthy and long lives. But it does not mean that all dogs have similar constitutions.

Keep parasites down, prevent constipation, and obtain early advice if a cure is to be obtained.

Finally, do not be discouraged if in spite of diligent treatment eczema reappears again.


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Hannah Elizabeth is an English animal behavior author, having written for several online publications. With a degree in Animal Behaviour and over a decade of practical animal husbandry experience, Hannah's articles cover everything from pet care to wildlife conservation. When she isn't creating content for blog posts, Hannah enjoys long walks with her Rottweiler cross Senna, reading fantasy novels and breeding aquarium shrimp.

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