Worldwide medical and scientific journal for animal health professionals
Veterinary Focus

Issue number 31.1 Other Scientific

Atopic dermatitis in cats demystified

Published 15/04/2021

Written by Jennifer Schissler

Also available in Français , Deutsch , Italiano , Español and 한국어

The atopic cat can be frustrating to diagnose and treat, but in this paper Jennifer Schissler demystifies some of the issues surrounding the condition. 

Key points

Atopic dermatitis is a diagnosis of exclusion in cats, and a stepwise approach is essential to reach an accurate diagnosis.

Pruritic behavior may or may not be apparent, but recognition of characteristic lesions can help direct the clinician towards the appropriate diagnostic steps.

Pruritus relief with consideration for acute and chronic treatment phases is essential; aim to minimize or eliminate glucocorticoids in the chronic phase. 

Client communication is paramount for success, and owners must be aware that atopic dermatitis is managed lifelong and not cured. 



Feline atopic dermatitis is an inflammatory, almost invariably pruritic condition with characteristic clinical presentations. Compared to canine atopy, the clinical presentation can be quite different, and less is known about the etiopathogenesis, although – as with dogs – it is a hypersensitivity reaction to certain environmental allergens including pollen, house dust mite and mold. Unlike atopic dermatitis in people and dogs, it is unclear if IgE plays an essential role in the pathogenesis of the condition in the cat, therefore recent publications have advocated for and used the phrase “feline non-flea, non-food hypersensitivity dermatitis” 1. The nomenclature used to describe feline cutaneous allergy is evolving and is not universally accepted; commonly used historic terms include “feline atopy”, “feline atopic syndrome”, “feline atopic-like dermatitis”, and “feline atopic dermatitis”. For the sake of consistency, the latter term is used in this article, given its general historical familiarity to readers, and because this condition is the practical clinical counterpart of canine atopic dermatitis.


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