Atopia defines an allergic skin reaction caused by environmental agents. As opposed to contact dermatitis, atopia is non-dependant on geographical location and season and can affect the whole of the body surface. Yet, some skin areas may be more severly insulted.
The typical clinical picture of an atopy consists of a constant severe itching. The animal scratches and bites itself continuously which leads to reddening of the skin with pustulas (small blisters containing pus) and papules (round swellings of the skin which can be reddened on the surface). In severe cases, extensive inflammation and open wounds are visible. These changes are particularly noticable at the stomach, groins and flanks. The severity of the skin irritation can vary but an allergic condition is permanently present.
It is assumed that the disease has a genetic basis. Within the first months of life, there is an imprinting of the immune system on certain environmental allergens which bring actual disease to the outbreak between the 1st and 3rd year of life and maintain it the whole life. House dust, dust mites, feed components, mold or wool can be considered as activator whereas in most cases more than one component might be involved. The absorption of the allergen takes place through inhalation or skin contact, but may also be realized through the digestive tract. For breeds such as Boxer, Dalmatians, English Setter, Golden as well as Labrador Retriever, and Irish Setter there is a certain predisposition for atopies.
The diagnosis is made after extensive investigation of the anamnesis and a clinical examination which admits the exclusion of all other disease patterns. An atopy is generally to be considered as lifelong and thus incurable. With an appropriate management and the application of anti-inflammatory drugs, however, in many cases symptoms can be alleviated and the animal can be given a comfortable life with the disease as far as possible.
Skin diseases are normally no clinical emergencies. In case of severe alterations of the skin and severe developments of the symptoms indicated before, it is sufficient to call the veterinarian and to agree upon a date for the next day. In case the consultation hours elapsed, then you may also call the next day, explain the situation and agree upon a date. Meanwhile, you should try to prevent the animal from scratching on the affected spots, since otherwise secondarily caused diseases may develop. For that, you may tinker provisionally a neck collar or slip a T-shirt over the animal. In addition to the medicinal therapy, some additional measures are appropriate for the owner to restrict the skin irritations. A bathing treatment or shampooing assists in preventing secondary infections and removes at the same time allergens and inflammatory products from the skin surface. The application of high class edible oils (Omega - 3 and Omega - 6 fatty acids) can result in symptom alleviating effects on the skin, which however develop normally not until some weeks after the start of application.