There are a number of reasons your pet may be itchy. Allergies are among the most common reasons your pet may be scratching all day. We’ve written a little about skin allergies before and, now that it’s spring, environmental allergies are all the more relevant!

That said, it isn’t just as simple as your pet being allergic to minute, airborne particles. In this blog post, we discuss “atopy” and why it causes environmental allergies.

What is atopy?

Atopy essentially refers to a fundamental weakness in the skin.

In understanding atopy, think of the skin cells (more fancily known as keratinocytes) as the bricks and the surrounding mix of fat and protein as the mortar. In atopy, there is usually a deficiency in the surrounding mortar, be it fat or protein. The skin barrier is really, really important to prevent water from going out and the nasties (pathogens, toxins, and allergens) from coming in.

With atopy, certain genetic factors lead to a deficiency in the mortar. The exact factors are incompletely understood but, in general, the deficient mortar leads to crumbling walls. This means that anything and everything can break through the barrier. The allergens that make it across the barrier wreak havoc, creating inflammation which kicks off the itch cycle.

Furthermore, the skin barrier is essential in preventing transepidermal water loss, which perpetuates a vicious cycle. The more water you lose, the more dehydrated the skin becomes and the more susceptible the skin is to inflammation…which weakens the skin barrier further.

How do I stop that itch???

If your furbaby is itchy, it is very, very important to stop that itch! The itching sets up the perfect conditions for infection…which causes even more itching.

That’s why much of our treatment is aimed at controlling the itching. There is NO CURE for atopy but we can definitely make your furbaby feel a lot more comfortable.

Your veterinarian will discuss the various treatment options with you. The most common options are: 1) Apoquel, 2) Oral and/or topical steroids, and 3) Antihistamines. One of the newest treatments on the market is Cytopoint, which is a monthly injection that can help control itching for up to a month at a time. That said, what’s right for your pet can depend on the severity of the itching, concurrent medical conditions, and effectiveness (which can be variable).

Can I prevent itching?

When it comes to prevention, it comes down to strengthening that skin barrier and reducing inflammation. Some modes of prevention work better in some dogs than in others.

Preventing exposure to the allergens can be very helpful! Strategies include clothing and washing the paws and belly with a gentle daily shampoo (not all shampoos are for daily use!!!). Just remember to keep your pet’s skin dry! Macerating the skin can actually weaken the skin barrier.

Preventing exposure also means that we need to keep that skin barrier strong! We’ve already established that ceramides are crucial to barrier function. Two pet products which contain ceramides are Triderm Calming Gel and Nutriderm Replenishing Conditioner. In humans, it is relatively easy to apply ceramides topically. In furry furbabies, it’s a little more difficult, so the right choice can depend on which area is being affected and how severe the atopy is.

You could also consider supplements to reduce inflammation. These include oral Omega-3 and 6 supplements, such as Blackmores Dermega. For dogs with sensitive stomachs, topical supplements, like Dermoscent Essential 6, may also be very useful.

And, if you’ve ruled out food allergies, chat with your veterinarian about prescription food for atopic dogs. Prescription food can be helpful in strengthening the skin barrier and reducing inflammation. Like all prescription foods, though, it’s important to start under the guidance of a veterinarian, so you can adequately assess whether the food is working or not.

BEWARE HOME REMEDIES. Just as how dermatologists are appalled that the internet prescribes baking soda and lemon juice for skin, veterinarians are wary of vinegar, essential oils, and the myriad things Dr. Google may prescribe. The skin barrier is quite fragile and some of these home remedies may actually do way more damage than good. Once the damage is done, it can take a long time for the skin to recover.

Still have questions about atopy? Have a chat with your vet! You can also call or e-mail us or leave us a comment!

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