Information on symptoms of allergic contact and atopic dermatitis in cats and dogs

    symptoms of allergic and atopic dermatitis in cats and dogs

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    1. What is Dermatitis?
    2. What Causes Dermatitis?
    3. Diagnosing Dermatitis
    4. Help for Dermatitis
    5. More Information on Dermatitis

    What is Dermatitis?

    Although Dermatitis is often wrongly likened to eczema, Dermatitis is in fact the inflammation of the skin. Almost any rash can be grouped under the umbrella of dermatitis using this characteristic - including skin cancer, eczema and seborrhea.

    A rash of dermatitis for an animal is itchy and red and the amount of time the dermatitis has been present will determine the look of the rash. For animals with dermatitis, scratching is perhaps the only source of relief; however this leads to lesions and the itching only getting worse as the condition progresses.

    What Causes Dermatitis?

    There are distinct types of dermatitis responsible for a rash. These include:

    • Flea-bite dermatitis (Caused by flea saliva residue on your pet’s skin)
    • Allergic contact dermatitis (Your pet’s delayed hypersensitivity to allergens such as bleach, fertilizers, carpet cleaners and flea collars.)
    • Atopic dermatitis (An allergic-type reaction that is accompanied by wheezing, asthma, and very dry skin.)
    • Seborrheic dermatitis (Yellow, greasy scales like dandruff on the skin of certain breeds – especially those with wrinkles or folds.)
    • Autosensitization dermatitis (Itchy rash that occurs in response to an intense inflammatory process somewhere else on the body, especially fungal infections.)
    • Lichen simplex chronicus (Rash caused by long-term scratching of an area producing thickened skin.)
    • Pyotraumatic dermatitis (Often referred to as a "hot spot" -- red, moist, hairless, painful-looking sore that appears suddenly. Often, this licking and scratching goes on at night, so the sudden appearance of the sore can be an unpleasant surprise.)
    • Canine acral lick dermatitis (A fairly common skin condition in dogs. Affected dogs usually spend a considerable part of their day licking at one particular spot on one leg. An infected wound eventually arises at the site.)
    • Canine sarcoptic mange (An extremely irritating condition caused by the Sarcoptes mite most often affecting a dog's abdomen, chest, legs, and ears.)
    • Feline notoedric mange (Similar to canine sarcoptic mange, Notoedres cati is a microscopic mite that infests the skin of cats typically affecting the ears, face, and neck.)


    With most types of dermatitis, the following symptoms may be noted:

    • Persistent scratching of a particular area
    • Persistent licking of a particular area
    • The appearance of a red, painful-looking sores, often overnight.
    • Scaly, rough or oozing areas on the skin, usually accompanied by hair loss. 

    Diagnosing Dermatitis

    Generally, dermatitis is diagnosed based on the history and appearance of the rash. Your vet will inspect the affected area and if possible, the exact type of dermatitis is identified, although this can be difficult. Some skin tests can be performed to identify contact or atopic dermatitis or a fungal infection.

    Help for Dermatitis

    If your pet’s dermatitis results from flea bites, action should be taken to rid the home of fleas. Corticosteroids such as injectable dexamethasone and oral antibiotics may be given to calm the itching and inflammation – however these medications may have side effects. ‘Hot spots’ need prompt attention to prevent infection.

    Be aware that topical steroids can have significant side effects and most topical steroid creams need to be prescribed by a health care provider

    More Information on Dermatitis

    Tips for dermatitis-prone skin
    • Control your pet’s fleas regularly! This is key in the battle against dermatitis.
    • If you bathe your pets – do not bathe them too often. Make sure you use a natural, gentle shampoo – and always dry them off properly. Never use human perfumes, moisturizers or talc on your pet’s skin.
    • Treat other rashes, especially fungal infections, even though they may not seem related and watch out for infection.
    • Avoid dressing your pet in clothing: the skin needs to ‘breathe’ and in the case of dermatitis related to allergies or triggers, some detergents may be at fault for your pet’s irritated skin.