Dermatitis In Pets

Dogs or cats who are constantly scratching themselves but show no sign of flea infestation might have some form of allergic or atopic dermatitis. In pets, this is a common condition, and can be attributed to several factors, such as reactions to grass, mold spores, house dust mites, other environmental allergens. In some cases, allergic reactions from flea bites can be the root since fleas release saliva when they bite. Allergens in the saliva may result in inflammation, causing itchiness in your pet and resulting in your pet’s “self-mutilating” actions (i.e. scratching or biting).

Let’s take a look at some common dermatitis conditions in cats and dogs, the most common household pets, and how these “hot spots” can be treated.


Allergic or irritant dermatitis in pets affects both cats and dogs. In dogs, the disease usually manifests when the dog is between 3 months and 6 years of age. However, in some cases, the dermatitis may be very mild and not problematical, until the dog is about three years old. Dermatitis in cats, like dogs, is typically a hypersensitivity reaction to certain molecules which are active in the cat’s environment, and occurs at any time in the cat’s life.

Pet dermatitis can occur at any age. In both cats and dogs, pollens, house mites, and flea bites can lead to allergic contact dermatitis. The most commonly affected are the ears, ankles, muzzle, underarms, groin, and the areas surrounding the eyes. The lesions are very red, and may result in small bumps or blister-like lesions which are extremely itchy.

Diagnosis of Dermatitis in Pets

In order for your vet to determine the cause of your pet’s dermatitis, he needs a complete medical history of the animal’s family line, as well as a physical examination of the pet. Several types of tests may be administered. Intradermal testing is one, which requires small amounts of allergens to be injected into the animal’s skin to see if a reaction occurs. In other cases, a ‘patch’ test is conducted: a small amount of an allergen is rubbed on the skin and bandaged. The skin is monitored for about 2 to 5 days to see if a reaction occurs.

Treatments for Dermatitis in Pets

Treatments will depend on the cause of your cat or dog’s allergic reaction.

1. Hyposensitization: In this treatment option, your pet receives small doses of the allergen causing the dermatitis until a resistance is formed. This type of treatment is usually administered to 60 to 80 percent of dogs; however, it may take anywhere between six months to a year to see an improvement.

2. Steroidal medications: Corticosteroids and antihistamines are meant to reduce inflammation and control itching. A common medication is Cyclosporine, which has long been used to control allergy-related itching. The formula can be sprayed all over the pet’s body to control itching, and has minimal side effects.

3. Biotin and hypoallergenic shampoo: Biotin is a type of fatty acid that helps restore the healthy environment of the epidermis.

Prevention and Control

Avoiding exposure to the allergens or contact irritants is the best way to prevent pet dermatitis; however, complete avoidance is not possible. It’s best for pet owners to practice the following:

Regular shampoos using formulas to remove any allergens on the skin
Frequent washing of the pet’s beddings in hypoallergenic detergents
Use only glass or stainless steel feeding and water bowls, which should be cleaned properly
Be conscious of grass and enviromental contact with pollen or insect allergens.

Dermatitis in pets may be challenging to deal with, but with proper management, it can be controlled.

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