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Atopic dermatitis in dogs is an inflammatory, chronic skin disease associated with allergies. In fact, this is the second most common allergic skin disease in dogs, after flea allergy dermatitis.

If a dog has atopic dermatitis, the immune system reacts too strongly to common environmental allergens that are absorbed through the skin such as mold spores, dust mites, and grass. These irritants become absorbed more easily due to a dysfunction in the skin barrier, which decreases resistance to secondary infections.

The allergic reaction causes the animal to rub, lick, bite or scratch. Unlike man, animals with atopic dermatitis only occasionally cough, sneeze or get asthma. Instead, they itch.

The most commonly affected areas in dogs and are the ears, wrists, ankles, muzzle, underarms, groin, around the eyes and between the toes.

Causes of Atopic Dermatitis in Dogs

The main causes for the allergy dermatitis dogs have to deal with include:

  • Food
  • Contact
  • Inhalant
  • Flea
  • Yeast
  • Bacterial flora allergies

In some cases, thyroid disease worsens these symptoms, further complicating treatment and diagnosis. 

Symptoms of Atopic Dermatitis in Dogs

Symptoms associated with atopic dermatitis often get worse with time, though they may also be seasonal.

The symptoms associated with atopic dermatitis include:

  • Itching
  • Scratching
  • Rubbing
  • Licking
  • A yeasty smell
  • Greasy skin
  • Redness or tough skin


Your veterinarian will take a comprehensive medical history and conduct a complete dermatologic and physical examination of the animal so as to determine the specific type of dog or cat dermatitis and identify its underlying cause.

Additionally, allergy testing may be performed as a diagnostic aid.

Treatment of Atopic Dermatitis in Dogs

Pets that develop signs of atopic dermatitis should be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible. Steroids or anti-itch shampoos can help relieve the itching in the short-term, and antihistamines or fatty acid therapy can help get the allergies under control for a period of time. In severe cases, where the skin is infected, antibiotics may be needed to clear up the damage. If allergies persist, regular desensitization shots may be required. It’s also important to minimize a pet’s exposure to allergens, otherwise they will return once treatment is halted.


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