Testing and Treating Atopy

Atopic Dermatitis or Atopy: A Common Skin Allergy in Dogs

Atopic dermatitis, also referred to as atopy, occurs when a dog inhales or comes
into contact with allergens that cause his skin to itch.

In response, he often scratches his skin to the point where he develops wounds or a
skin infection. Usually, atopy first appears when a dog is three years of age.

Unfortunately, some dogs never get rid of the problem and can suffer from atopic
dermatitis most of their lives.

What Causes Atopy

Atopy develops when a dog is exposed to allergens from dander, pollen, grass, mold, dust, or insects. In order to find out what is causing your dog's atopy then, your vet will need to run tests. When the sources are identified, a medication will be formulated which contains small portions of the problem allergens. While dogs can also suffer from flea or food allergens, most of the allergy tests run for dogs are for atopic or flea dermatitis. Vets normally do not conduct allergy tests for foods.

Intradermal Testing

Allergy tests used to test for atopy are either serum-based tests or the intradermal kind. Intradermal testing, which is sometimes performed by a pet dermatologist, involves shaving the dog's hair from his stomach or side in order to inject allergens at the site. After a small amount of time, the site is surveyed to see if any kind of allergic response develops, such as hives or a rash. During the testing too, a dog is carefully monitored in order to treat any adverse reactions or complications that may occur as the result of the test.

Serum Testing

Serum testing is conducted by taking a small sample of blood from your dog. The blood test will reveal which allergens are causing problems for your pet. Serum testing is not as involved or extensive as an intradermal exam and therefore is preferred by most owners of pets.

A Minor Detail

If your dog is already taking an allergy medicine when he undergoes either of the two aforementioned tests, then you'll have to discontinue use of the medication right before the testing and for a short time thereafter. Otherwise, the results could become skewed.


Allergy testing poses the minimum of risk to your pet and can aid your veterinarian in clearly distinguishing which allergens are causing bad reactions and which ones are of small concern. Again, as already mentioned, once the identities of the allergens are established, small portions of the allergens will be included in the allergy formula made especially for your pet.

This kind of treatment is referred to as immunotherapy, and is a treatment plan which generally must be followed for quite a while (from several months to over a year) to achieve good results. The allergy medicine is administered by way of injection.

Injections are More Frequent at the Beginning of Therapy

While the initial injections of the allergy medication will contain only small amounts of the allergens affecting your dog, the portions will become more concentrated further on into the treatment. Injections are also given more frequently at the beginning of the course and ultimately taper off to just one injection every two to three weeks after the progression of time.