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Symptoms and Signs of Atopy in Dogs

Source: PetWave, Updated on July 16, 2015

Effects of Atopy – From the Dog’s Point of View

Atopy is an extremely common, genetically-influenced disease that causes dogs to become hypersensitive to things that normally would not cause an allergic reaction. The most consistent symptom in atopic dogs is pruritis, known commonly as skin itchiness. Often, pruritis is mild and seasonal, at least during the early stages of the disease, when the symptoms may wax and wane. The symptoms in some dogs never progress beyond this stage of annoying but not overwhelming itchiness. Eventually, however, many atopic dogs become so distraught that they relentlessly rub, scratch and bite at their itchy areas. This self-trauma causes skin sores, and secondary bacterial skin infections often develop. As the disease progresses, some dogs develop year-round symptoms. The effects of atopy can become so severe that they traumatize the dog, make it miserable and destroy its enjoyment of life.

Symptoms of Atopy – What the Owner Sees

Owners of atopic dogs may notice one or more of the following hallmarks of atopy. Typically, the more severe signs occur later in the disease, although not all animals become severely affected:

  • Itching, scratching and rubbing; especially on feet, face and belly
  • Licking, biting and chewing; especially on feet, face and belly)
  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose (allergic rhinitis)
  • Watery eyes
  • Skin and coat discoloration (brownish-red; saliva staining; common on feet)
  • Skin bumps, lumps, pustules
  • Skin sores (raw; weeping; “hot spots”; from self-trauma)
  • Skin cuts and scratches
  • Crusty skin surface (scabs)
  • Greasy skin (seborrhea)
  • Dry flaky skin
  • Hair loss
  • Skin infections
  • Red, swollen, inflamed, irritated ears and ear flaps (pinnae)
  • Ear infections
  • Dark, waxy ear exudate
  • "Yeasty” ear odor
  • Skin thickening and darkening

In addition to the feet, face and abdomen, areas that are often affected by atopy are the base of the tail, the groin and flanks, around the eyes, on and inside the ears, under the front legs (in the armpits/axial area), between the toes (interdigital spaces), on top of the feet and on the muzzle.

Dogs at Increased Risk

There is no clear-cut sex or age predilection for developing atopy, although it is slightly more common in females and in dogs between 1 and 3 years of age. There is marked geographical and seasonal variation in the symptoms of this disorder. While any dog, including mixed breed dogs, can suffer from atopy, certain breeds are more susceptible. These include the Chinese Shar-pei, Cairn Terrier, West Highland White Terrier, Boston Terrier, Boxer, Scottish Terrier, Sealyham Terrier, Lhasa-Apso, Shih-Tzu, Wire-Haired Fox Terrier, English Bulldog, French Bulldog, Pug, Poodle, Dalmatian, Irish Setter, English Setter, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever and Miniature Schnauzer.

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