Causes and treatment of atopic dermatitis in dogs

Preventing and treating itching and skin lesions requires a personalized patient plan

Managing atopic dermatitis (AD) in dogs begins with finding the allergens that trigger the attack and ends with giving the best treatment. Darren Berger, DVM, DACVD, Associate Professor at Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine, addressed the relationship between allergens, Alzheimer’s disease and condition management at the 2022 Fetch dvm360® conference in Kansas City, Missouri.

“Allergy management is allergen control,” he said during his presentation sponsored by Virbac. And if customers think they’ll never do that [see a] flare, that’s an inappropriate expectation.” The “realistic goals” are to reduce the severity of Alzheimer’s disease, the spacing of flares, and to make long-term treatment less expensive.


An inflammatory condition, Alzheimer’s is the second most common allergic skin disease in dogs, after flea Atopic Dermatitis,2 and can be caused by food, parasites, and environmental allergens.


“They’re microscopic fleas and mites,” Berger said, but flea preventatives can prevent signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.


“We have to stop talking about expensive diets…[and] luxury foods [and]… Start talking about diagnostic tests,” Berger added, citing the benefits of an exclusion diet as a diagnostic tool to ascertain which food, if any, is causing your dog to itch or show other signs of Alzheimer’s disease.


Pollen and dust mites are among the environmental allergens that may cause a skin reaction in dogs.


Since atopic dermatitis is multifaceted, treatments should be individualized and combined interventions should be used to improve outcomes. The stage of condition and severity as well as the distribution of the lesion should be considered when developing a treatment plan.3 Once the cause of the flare has been identified, the following treatments can be explored.


One way to prevent or manage flare-ups is to eliminate known allergens from a dog’s diet. Increasing fatty acids in the diet can help prevent flares, Berger said, although this practice is not helpful in managing signs and symptoms.


Bathing with a non-irritating shampoo can relieve mild signs and symptoms.3 The International Committee on Animal Allergies (ICADA) recommends formulations containing complex sugars and antiseptics (Allermyl; Virbac), phytosphingosine, mulberry oil, or lipids (Douxo Calm; Ceva). It’s soothing,” Berger said, noting that clients who are uncomfortable with pets after bathing use warm water more often and notice a change after switching to cold water.


According to ICADA, topical and oral glucocorticoids, oral cyclosporine, oral oclaccitinib, and injectable recombinant interferon effectively reduce itching and skin lesions, while topical glucocorticoids and immunotherapy targeting specific allergens can prevent or delay recurrence of the disease. Alzheimer’s. Allergens are the trigger: “Don’t stop the itching; Berger said.


Communication is essential. “I don’t tell clients what to do. Involve them in the decision-making process” to help them understand why they are doing what they are doing and to ensure adherence to treatment and better long-term outcomes, Berger said.

Customer input is also important because not all dogs respond to treatments in the same way. If the condition appears seasonal, for example, a food allergen can be ruled out as the cause. Likewise, the cost must be discussed: if treatments are too expensive, dogs will go without them. “Education is our job [clients]To give them options.


  1. Berger D. Atopic dermatitis in dogs: How a dermatologist discusses atopic dermatitis with pet parents. Presented at: Fetch dvm360® Conference, August 26-29, 2022; Kansas City, Missouri.
  2. Atopic dermatitis in dogs: causes, symptoms and treatment. PetMD. February 13, 2020. Accessed September 21, 2022.
  3. Oliveri T, DeBoyer DJ, Favrot C, et al. Treating canine atopic dermatitis: updated 2015 guidelines from the International Committee on Animal Allergies (ICADA). BMC Veterinary Res. Published online August 16, 2015. doi: 10.1186 / s12917-015-0514-6