Causes and Prevention of Atopy in Dogs

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Causes of Canine Atopy

Canine atopy is a clinical syndrome that involves an abnormal reaction by a dog’s immune system when it comes into contact with substances or organisms in the environment that do not cause an allergic response in normal animals. The things that trigger the atopic reaction are known as allergens. Common allergens in dogs with atopy include pollen, grasses, weeds, trees, plant fibers, mold, household cleaners, dust, dust mites, various grains, insect bites, animal dander, chemicals, fertilizers, wool and feathers. However, almost anything in the environment can trigger an atopic reaction in a particular dog if its immune system is primed to be hypersensitive to that substance. Atopy in dogs has a strong hereditary component; it shows up more frequently in certain breeds, and has even been tracked within certain families, but the exact mode of inheritance has not been discovered. Factors other than genetics can influence the development and course of the disease, such as geographical and seasonal variation in the presence of particular allergens.

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Prevention of Canine Atopy

As with other hypersensitivity reactions, atopic reactions can be prevented by keeping the dog away from the allergens that trigger the reactions. It can be tricky to identify the allergen or combination of allergens that cause atopy in a given animal. However, if the allergens are not otherwise obvious, it is medically possible to identify them using skin allergy testing. Another thing that can help to reduce a dog’s atopic skin reactions is to minimize its exposure to all things in the environment that are known sources of itchiness, such as fleas, ticks, mites, poison ivy and poison oak, so that the discomfort caused by atopy is not compounded.

Special Notes

Most atopic dogs are allergic to more than one environmental allergen. Atopy can’t be “cured” in the traditional sense of the word. However, it can be controlled with medication, diet and lifestyle changes. Fortunately, this disorder is not life-threatening, but it does require regular veterinary attention and owner management to ensure that affected dogs have the best possible quality of life.


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