Atopy or an Itching, Scratching Dog

What is Atopy or Atopic Dermatitis?

Canine atopy is one of the causes of a very itchy or as we say ‘chronically pruritic’ dog. They bite and scratch themselves so much that they cause a secondary skin infection with loss of fur typically in these places:

  • chin
  • face
  • muzzle
  • ear and ear canal infection
  • between their toes
  • inner thighs
  • tummy or ventral abdomen
  • around their bottoms

The skin thickens and goes black to protect itself from all the scratching. The fur on the paws of white dogs tends to go pink or light brown from all the licking.

scratching boxer dog


Atopy usually starts at the age of between 6 months and 3 years.


It is a very well known condition in Terriers and typically affects the West Highland White Terriers. It is a very fortunate Westie owner who has a Westie with perfect skin. Labradors, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherd Dogs, Bull Terriers, Boxers, Setters and Shar-peis also seem to be affected. Other breeds can be affected too and it is up to us as vets to diagnose it.

Parasites and Dietary Problems

The possibility of all the scratching in your pet must have been ruled out by using good veterinary flea treatment and we are able to do skin scrapings to rule out the possibility of it being a mite infestation.

The same goes for ruling out a dietary allergy.

How to Manage your Atopic Dog

We advise and you decide on the course of treatment for your pet for these reasons:

  • Never have unrealistic expectations when your dog is diagnosed with atopy. Atopy is an incurable disease that requires continuous and lifelong treatment.
  • There will be some degree of lifelong expense. It is sadly never goes away completely
  • There is no single treatment for atopic dermatitis that is perfect. All the potential treatments have advantages and disadvantages.
  • It is common for your dog with atopy to have flare-ups from time to time. This is likely to involve future visits to see us. We are fortunate to have a dedicated skin vet – John Oleshko BVSc certSAD MRCVS Advanced Practitioner in Veterinary Dermatology at Ashfield House Vets
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