Causes of Atopy: An Exaggerated Immune Response

18 January, 2021
Among the different allergic diseases we know of, we find atopy. It's also known as atopic dermatitis. In this article, we show you its most common symptoms and causes.

Atopy is a very common pathology in cats and dogs. It’s characterized by the appearance of skin lesions in specific regions of the body as an exaggerated immune response. This is a disease with a fairly common incidence, as 1 out of 10 dogs suffers from it. In addition, estimates show that its incidence may be increasing.

Therefore, it’s very frequently present in the human population and it’s a part of the daily lives of animals and people. Up next, we’ll talk about some aspects you should bear in mind about this disease.

What is atopy?

Atopy, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a pathology with a high genetic predisposition. The scientific community describes it as a chronic disease, which means that it has no cure. In addition, the body’s main reaction to it is an exaggerated immune response.

According to studies, the incidence of this pathology is increasing over time. This can be influenced by the aggravation and the link between allergens and different pollutants.

Its pathogenesis is varied and complex, displaying its own characteristics in each individual case. However, it has two central pathogenic mechanisms:

  • Hypersensitivity to environmental allergens.
  • Skin barrier alteration: A dysfunction of the body’s primary barrier against allergens is usually predictable.

Animals or people with atopy react to physical contact. These allergens interact through the mucous membranes or the skin, which produces an atypical, exaggerated immune response in the animal’s defenses.

A dog scratching.

 Atopy symptoms

Broadly speaking, atopy can be defined as an allergic reaction to different types of environmental allergens. Mites are the most common cause, followed by pollen and, to a lesser extent, other allergens. Some of the most common symptoms observed in atopy are the following:

  • Skin lesions
  • Itching, intense localized or general itching
  • Flaking off of the skin

An exaggerated immune response: How to look for the symptoms

Animals start to develop the itch by biting or scratching the affected area with their paws or claws. Another way they fight the discomfort is by rubbing against objects. As a result, all of this supposes different manifestations in the skin that range from a reddish coloration, flaking of the skin, or body regions that lose hair.

We can also carefully observe where the lesions are located in the animal’s body. In addition, these usually follow a specific distribution: lips, abdomen, eyes, skin folds, or the distal part of their limbs.

What criteria to follow for a diagnosis?

When looking to diagnose this disease, the specialist will perform a series of tests to confirm your suspicion. Therefore, there are some things we need to be aware of before this happens. Below, we present you the most relevant factors that accompany this disease.

Medical history

Atopy is a disease with a high hereditary predisposition. Therefore, it’s necessary to confirm if the parents or other close relatives suffer from it. It can also be observed if they had previously come in for skin problems and know which steps had been followed and if they were appropriate. Likewise, various specific breeds of dogs possess a greater prevalence of the disease:

  • French Bulldog
  • Dalmatian
  • German Shepherd
  • Poodle
  • Boxer
  • Labrador Retriever
  • Shar Pei
  • Terrier

Clinical picture

Atopy shares many symptoms with other different pathologies and can even be confused with food allergies. As a result, the veterinarian will likely perform an allergen test. This consists of inoculating the animal with the most common allergens and observing which one causes a reaction.

From that moment onward, a desensitization process will start. This consists of eliminating the allergens responsible for the disease from the environment. Some of them, such as mites, are usually found in everyday objects present in homes. They usually live in carpets, bedspreads, or similar objects.

Which treatment do doctors recommend for atopy?

First of all, it’s crucial to take the pet to the vet to certify if it’s indeed an atopy case. As a result, the professional will know which treatment is appropriate for your pet’s individual circumstances.

However, some measures that should be taken into consideration will be discussed below:

  • Endo and ectoparasite control. The presence of parasites in animals with atopy aggravates the overall picture.
  • Bathe the animal frequently, using a suitable shampoo. In addition, experts recommend that the pet should be bathed two to three times per week.
  • Follow a specific diet. In this case, you can find a great variety of foods that are suitable for the diet of your choosing within pet stores.
  • If the animal scratches itself uncontrollably, it’s advisable to use an Elizabethan collar or cone to prevent further damage.
A Kittie and a puppy both scratching.

Aside from these tips, veterinarians can opt for the administration of corticoids. However, the drugs only allow for control of the symptoms. Therefore, treatments and care must be carried out throughout the pet’s life. Both the animal itself and the veterinarian will dictate the frequency of such treatments.

In sum, atopy is a pathology present in young dogs and cats and veterinarians usually detect it between the first and third year of life. However, you can control this disease by following the veterinarian’s advice. In case of any doubts that may arise, we always recommend that you consult a specialist.