Atopy - Inhalant Allergy


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Symptoms and Diagnosis | Prognosis

What is Atopy?

Atopy is the technical term for inhalant allergies. (Allergy - the body's reaction to an irritant) Inhalant allergies include:

  1. Dust mites
  2. Pollens of grasses, trees and weeds
  3. Molds
  4. Other enviromental triggers, such as smoke
Some allergy triggers

The things your pet is allergic to are called allergens. In pets, inhalant allergies generally are exhibited as itching and scratching. Inflamed ears and flapping of the head are often seen as well. Occasionally, some allergies may result in gastric upsets, but this is uncommon.Mushrooms

How did my pet get Atopy?

In dogs this can be inherited. In other words, your pet could have gotten this from a parent. However the mode of inheritance is unknown. It is estimated at between three and fifteen percent of the canine population is affected. Some breeds of dogs are more predisposed to this. They include: We don't know how cats become atopic, but some dog breeds are predisposed to allergies!

  • Boston terriers
  • Cairn terriers
  • Dalmatians
  • English bulldogs
  • English setters
  • Irish setters
  • Lhaso Apsos
  • Miniature Schnauzers
  • pugs
  • Scotties
  • West Highland White terriers
  • and golden retrievers

No specific breed of cat has been reported to stand out as an affected breed.

The average age of onset is between one and three years of age; although, it has been seen as young as three months and as old as six years. The first year may be very mild, with subsequent years (as time passes, the dog is exposed to more allergen) becoming progressively worse.

How do you find out if my pet has Atopy?Flowers can be an allergen for some animals, just like humans!

On physical exam the most common signs are scratching and licking of the skin and ear flapping. Most common areas of the skin affected are the face, feet and the arm pits. It's often seasonal as the allergens that are causing the problem will only be available at certain times of the year. Because of skin irritation, secondary infections are not uncommon.

Atopy needs to be distinguished from food sensitivities, fleabite dermatitis, skin infections, mites and contact dermatitis. Special testing may be required to distinguish between these diseases. Your veterinarian will make recommendations regarding which tests are best suited to diagnose this problem.

Specifically, we may need to do skin scrapings and allergy tests to determine what your pet is allergic to. Some testing may be done by a blood test, although intradermal skin testing can also be done in pets. It is considered to be the gold standard.Grass Some medications that your pet may be on may cause false negative testing results. Sometimes biopsies are required in order to get a full picture of your pets' skin disease. If a food allergy is suspected, a food elimination diet will be prescribed. Special diets must be strictly adhered to. Your veterinarian will determine which tests your pet needs and when they should be run.

What is the prognosis for my pet?

After diagnosis, a variety of treatments are available. It is important to understand that allergies are a lifelong problem. While we can control the symptoms we can't always cure the problem. If a food allergy is suspected, dietary change may be all that is necessary. If inhalant allergies are also at work, medications and possibly hypersensitivity injection treatment (hyper sensitization) may be required. Medications can range from antihistamines to glucocorticoids (commonly called steroids). Hyper sensitization means giving injections to reduce your pet's response to the allergen. Your veterinarian will explain how this is done. Reducing exposure to the offending allergen is also recommended. The leaves and pollen from trees and some insects can also cause allergies!This is often not feasible.

If your pet has been diagnosed with Atopy, you can expect to have treatment needed at least once a year. Many times, the patient needs to return to the hospital for routine checkups at least twice a year. Secondary skin infections are common in Atopy patients and need to be addressed as soon as possible. If there is a secondary bacterial skin infection, antibiotics may also be used. Although not life threatening, Atopy can make your pet very uncomfortable, and for that reason we do recommend treatment when the condition is diagnosed.

Keep the grass mowed!If your dog has a "seasonal allergy", be aware that the majority of atopic dogs experience itching during the seasons when flowers, grasses or trees are blooming and producing pollen. Seasonal allergy and atopy both describe allergic skin disease. Some atopic dogs have problems year-round because their allergen or allergens are always present. The house dust mite is usually the cause of non-seasonal atopy, but some dogs develop separate allergies that cause them to constantly itch.

Allergies to grass should be termed "grass pollen allergies". Pollens are airborne. Keeping the grass closely cut to prevent seeding will help, but there is little else that you can do to keep your pet from being exposed to airborne grass pollen from the rest of the neighborhood - or town.It will not hurt for your dog to walk on grass.

Dogs with chronic skin infections or allergies should also be tested for hypothyroidism because hypothyroidism affects the skin and may exacerbate allergic skin conditions. Allergies can cause the skin to produce more sebum (seborrhea), an oily material that will cause a musty odor. Other causes of skin odor can be a skin or ear infection or yeast and bacterial infections. After the itching and scratching are under control, the odor and seborrhea should clear up. Anti-inflammatory medications and desensitization therapy will often fail to help a pet with hypothyroidism.

Some dogs can benefit from frequent bathing Some animals love a bath! with special shampoos. Research has shown that some allergens are absorbed through the skin. Your veterinarian may prescribe an appropriate hypoallergenic shampoo.

If we have recommended futher testing, or if you have any questions on this topic please do not hesitate to contact us at 309-685-4707 We will be happy to answer all of your questions or concerns about Atopy.


  • Tilley, LP, Smith, FWK, The 5 Minute Veterinary Consult, Canine and Feline. 1997, Williams & Wilkins.
  • Mordecai Siegal (Ed.) The UC Davis Book of Dogs. 1995, HarperCollins Publishers.
  • Bonagura, JD (ed.) Kirk's Current Veterinary Therapy XIII Small Animal Practice. 2000,W. B Saunders Company.
  • Encyclopedia of Canine Veterinary Medical Information


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