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Skin allergies or atopic dermatitis is a genetically inherited, recurrent, pruritic (itchy) skin disease.  It is caused by environmental allergens, most commonly pollen. The average age of onset is 1 to 3 years old but can begin at any age.

The clinical signs that a dog will exhibit include mild to severe pruritic ears, face, feet and underside of chest and abdomen.  Secondary skin and ear infections are very common.  The most common cause of ear infections (otitis externa) are inhalant pollen allergies.  Sometimes a seasonal occurrence is observed.

The diagnosis is made by excluding other diseases that cause pruritus such as mange, fleas, lice, food allergies, contact allergies, drug reactions and folliculitis.  Skin or blood allergy testing can be done to support the diagnosis.

Treatment of allergic skin disease has many different possibilities.  Hyposensitization (allergy shots) is 60 to 80 percent effective, requires giving shots at home, and can take up to 1 year to see beneficial results.  Other treatments include anti-histamines, Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oils), anti-inflammatory drugs such as prednisolone and cyclosporine, or the newest drug that blocks allergies called Apoquel.  Occasionally topical sprays are used to help alleviate the itchiness.

Allergic skin disease is a life-long disease and requires long-term management. Recheck exams are warranted to control secondary infections, control parasites and minimize flare-ups.

Authored by Peter De Waal, D.V.M.