Atopy – Atopic Dermatitis in Dogs
Atopy or Atopic Dermatitis is an allergic-type condition. It is a relatively common condition of dogs presented to veterinary clinics. It presents a very real therapeutic challenge to vets and having an understanding of alternative medicine and holistic health affords a great advantage.
In Atopy there is a ‘type 1 hypersensitivity’ (allergy). In type 1, also called ‘immediate hypersensitivity’, there are cell-fixed antibodies (e.g. IgE), in basophils or mast cells (immune system cells)), which, when combined with ‘allergens’, release histamines and other vaso-active components, which give rise to inflammation and ‘pruritus’ (itching). The inflammation can be in parts of the body not in direct contact with the allergen. There is said by some to be a hereditary component, but this is not a key factor, in our opinion.
The characteristic itchiness is often seasonal, at first. If the signs are ‘suppressed’, e.g. by steroids, it can extend to all-year-round after one or two seasons, as a result of the suppression and exacerbation cycle. Feet, underside and face are most affected parts of the dog, with self-trauma superimposing further signs. Ears may be affected. There may be secondary pyoderma.
The term ‘allergy’ implies a malfunction of the immune system. The word is derived from Ancient Greek, to mean ‘other function’, so it is one of the few modern disease names that accurately and meaningfully describes the fundamental dysfunction, rather than simply describing signs and symptoms. There is a state of ‘altered reactivity’.
In allergy, the immune system responds inappropriately to ‘allergens’, which are materials that ‘trigger’ the reaction. These may be pollens, house dust, moulds, grass proteins, food components, flea saliva or certain chemicals. Removing or reducing these allergens from the environment or diet of the dog may reduce the symptoms but will not cure the problem. A fundamental correction of the immune imbalance, using homeopathic constitutional prescribing, is essential, if we are to hope for a cure.
The precise cause is not known with certainty but any powerful immune challenges, such as virus or vaccination, are likely candidates. Any hereditary component is restricted, in our opinion, to a hereditary predisposition, rather than a hereditary disease. Thus, certain breeds and certain lines may show greater susceptibility.
By and large, atopy cases are treatable (even curable) using homeopathy.
In conventional medicine, it is usual to try to suppress the allergic reaction with anti-inflammatory drugs (such as steroid/cortisone) or with anti-histamines. This is a life-time task and usually results in deepening or worsening of the problem, as a result of the suppression/exacerbation cycle, along with the provocation of serious side-effects. A common result of this process is an increasing dose requirement, with attending dangers of worsening side-effects. Desensitising vaccines may be offered (see immunotherapy), which are based on the result of specific allergy tests. This technique seems to ‘tire’ or ‘exhaust' the immune system into non-reactivity, but only helps in a few cases.
In natural medicine, at the Alternative Vet, we try to rebalance the immune system, such that the allergic reaction ceases to occur. This may require homeopathic constitutional prescribing and/or a remedy based more upon specific troublesome symptoms. In successful cases, homeopathy appears to be able to offer a realistic alternative to steroids and hyposensitising immunotherapy, even achieving cure in a proportion of cases. In addition to homeopathy, herbs and acupuncture can play a part in treatment.
In either case, it is wise to try to reduce the allergenic challenge from the environment in the meantime but, whereas in conventional medicine this is a permanent requirement, in natural medicine, a normal tolerance for the allergen may be re-established.
Diet is an essential component of holistic treatment, in that the immune system will heal much faster and more effectively if given a natural, healthy, unprocessed diet. Furthermore, some allergies occur to chemicals in the diet for which the dog has no need but which may be harmful anyway.
See also: Skin problems