atopic, allergiesIf your dog or cat has environmental allergies, chances are that you have heard the term “atopy.” Atopy is one of the most common causes of chronic itching in pets, and refers to animals that have a genetic predisposition for developing reactions to allergens in the environment such as dust, pollen, and molds.


Certain breeds such as Golden Retrievers, terriers, and Bichon Frises seem to be at higher risk for being atopic, but any breed can be affected. Most pets with this problem will begin to show symptoms between 6 months and 3 years of age. These can include:

  • Itching
  • Scratching
  • Biting
  • Licking
  • Head shaking

Most commonly the ears, armpits, face, paws, and belly are affected. Symptoms may be seasonal or all year round depending on the offending allergen.

If a pet is suspected to be atopic, there is not a single test that diagnoses the condition. Rather the veterinarian diagnoses the pet based on its history and the elimination of other possible causes for itchiness such as parasites, food allergy, infection, or flea allergies. Once a pet is determined to be atopic, allergy testing may be done in order to identify which allergens are responsible for the pet’s symptoms.


There is no cure for atopy and most pets that are affected will have symptoms for their entire life. Atopic animals can be managed, however, in a few ways. If the allergens that bother the pet can be avoided, obviously this should be done. Topical therapies such as shampoos or sprays may also be utilized. Systemic therapies including antihistamines, fatty acids, or anti-inflammatories are needed by many pets. Anti-inflammatory medications can include oral or injectable steroids (cortisone), or cyclosporine (Atopica). Some pets also benefit from having antigen specific immunotherapy, or allergy shots.

Atopy can be a very frustrating condition to deal with because there is no cure and all pets respond differently. Oakland Veterinary Referral Services has a team of veterinary dermatologists to help develop a personalized plan for your pet.