Atopic dermatitis is a dermatological disease characterized by itching, that is easy to detect and diagnose in humans. Animals and, specifically, pets suffer from atopic dermatitis just like humans, although its diagnosis is more complicated and the way of treating the disease is different.

Prevalence in animals

In a previous post we saw how dermatological diseases are the second reason for veterinary consultation, just behind preventive consultations. Among dermatological diseases, atopic dermatitis has a high prevalence in animals, even higher than in humans:

Prevalence of atopic skin in animales

How do I know if my pet has atopic dermatitis?


The main sign of canine atopic dermatitis is itching. This is easily observable if the animal frequently licks and/or scratches an area that will normally present what is called a primary lesion. Because of continuous scratching, other types of injuries will occur with alopecia, peeling, etc. that will make diagnosis difficult [1].

Canine atopic dermatitis lesions are usually concentrated on the legs, armpits, nose, abdomen, and ears. These lesions can become infected, so it is convenient to be aware of the appearance of these symptoms.

To diagnose atopic dermatitis, the veterinarian will first exclude other types of dermatological conditions such as the presence of ectoparasites, skin infections, allergic dermatitis due to flea bites or food allergies, contact dermatitis, lymphomas, or pustules.

Once all the above problems have been ruled out, the Favrot diagnostic criteria will be used, in which it is considered that the sensitivity and specificity can be increased if 5 of the 8 criteria are met [2]:

1.     Onset of signs before three years of age

2.     The animal lives mainly indoors

3.     Itching that responds to glucocorticoids

4.     Itching without lesions at first

5.     Affected front legs

6.     Affected ear pinnae

7.     Unaffected ear margins

8.     Unaffected thoracolumbar area

For all these reasons, it is important to keep in mind the clinical history as well as the type of feeding of the animal.


Like dermatitis in dogs, feline atopic dermatitis is itchy and can also manifest with alopecia, papular-crusted dermatitis, placo-nodular dermatitis and/or ulcers in the facial and cervical region. That is, it usually manifests itself with lack of hair, inflammation of the skin and lesions.The diagnosis of feline atopy is complicated since it is very similar to food hypersensitivity. Therefore, the veterinarian will diagnose atopic dermatitis by ruling out other diseases with similar symptoms:

  • Flea bite dermatitis
  • Presence of external parasites
  • Presence of superficial pyoderma (ulcers)
  • Food hypersensitivity or dietary intolerance
  • Fungal (Malassezia) or contact dermatitis

Finally, an allergy test may be required to find out the allergen causing the atopy.


Equine atopic dermatitis occurs mainly in young animals, with certain breeds, such as the Arabian or Thoroughbred, being more susceptible than others to suffering from this disease. The diagnosis of equine atopic dermatitis is carried out in a similar way as the diagnosis in dogs and cats, by ruling out the most frequent causes of dermatitis in horses:

  • Contact dermatitis: usually caused by contact with a plant or cleaning product
  • Food allergy: It usually accompanies the itching with gastrointestinal symptoms and weight loss
  • Photosensitivity: It is usually produced by the ingestion of some types of plants. Horses are, along with cattle and sheep, the animals most susceptible to photosensitivity
  • Equine summer dermatitis: It is caused by the bite of an insect, this hypersensitivity could be due to some type of genetic component


Image by JamesDeMers en Pixabay

Treating atopic dermatitis in animals


As atopic dermatitis is an autoimmune disease, the most severe cases of atopic dermatitis may need an immunosuppressive treatment: either using a cream with glucocorticoids in the affected area or orally.

Oral glucocorticoids are usually used in acute flare-ups of dermatitis and their treatment should not be extended too long as they cause significant side effects. If a long-term treatment is required, it is more convenient to use cyclosporine as an immunosuppressive agent. Cyclosporine has fewer side effects than glucocorticoids, but it is advisable to monitor treatment under veterinary supervision [3].

In recent years, a series of oral medications have appeared, such as oclacitinib (Janus kinase inhibitor) or Lokivetmab (monoclonal antibody against interleukin 13), these medications seem to improve skin lesions and provide relief from itching [4].

Topic treatments

As a topical treatment we can find the use of shampoos that help restore the barrier function, moisturize the skin and calm itching [3].

In addition to treating the areas affected by dermatitis, it is convenient to treat possible secondary lesions that are the result of scratching the animal. Thus, it is convenient to use topical products such as shampoos or antibacterial lotions that prevent infection of these secondary lesions [3].

AntalGenics’ solution

Nowadays, addressing atopic skin in animals without side effects is possible thanks to Calmapsin®, an innovative ingredient developed by AntalGenics for topical use in both sensitive and atopic skin.

  1. Lorente Méndez, C. Dermatitis atópica canina: importancia de su condición crónica. Boletín GEDA. Enero 2019
  2. Favrot C, Steffan J, Seewald W, Picco F. A prospective study on the clinical features of chronic canine atopic dermatitis and its diagnosis. Vet Dermatol. 2010;21(1):23-31

    Cover image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay