Clinical trials underway for dog skin allergy

Canine atopic dermatitis is incurable and causes a dog’s skin to become intensely itchy.

Kajsa, who suffers from Canine Atopic Dermatitis, a chronic allergic skin condition, lays on the floor at the Ben Pomeroy Student-Alumni Learning Center on Friday, March 29. Her owner, Helena Montin, a second year vet student, says,

Jack Rodgers

Kajsa, who suffers from Canine Atopic Dermatitis, a chronic allergic skin condition, lays on the floor at the Ben Pomeroy Student-Alumni Learning Center on Friday, March 29. Her owner, Helena Montin, a second year vet student, says, “she’s a big part of why I wanted to go to vet school.”

Kait Ecker

A new clinical trial at the University of Minnesota is testing the effectiveness of a new treatment for a common dog allergic skin disease. 

The clinical trial, now open and enrolling through the College of Veterinary Medicine, is investigating a new topical gel and its usefulness in treating dogs’ allergy symptoms. Canine atopic dermatitis is an incurable disease that affects around 10 to 15 percent of dogs, according to Sheila Torres, a dermatologist in the veterinary school and the principle investigator on the study.

Atopic dermatitis causes intense itching and can also result in secondary infections from aggravating the skin through chewing, scratching and licking. The disease not only negatively impacts the dogs’ lives but also the lives of the owners, Torres said.

“They don’t sleep, they’re concerned about the dog and the financial burden can be a problem too,” Torres said.

It can sometimes cost significant money diagnosing and treating a dog with atopic dermatitis.

“It’s an allergic condition, and we, to this date, cannot cure allergies,” Torres said. It can be hard to find an effective treatment regimen, and what works for one dog might not work for the next, she added.

“We have quite a few options to treat atopic dermatitis. However, most of the treatment [methods] are associated with potentially severe side effects,” Torres said. This can vary from medication to medication, and may suppress their immune system. “That is why we are still in need of medications that are safe to use to treat this disease,” she said.

The team is hoping the topical gel will show a reduction in skin inflammation. But it would most likely be used with other treatment methods to effectively control the disease, she said.

Andrea Eckert, the lead technician on the project, said the screening process for participants in the study includes making sure the dog is showing visible signs of the red, itchy and inflamed skin.

“It’s a lot of the time the shorter coat dogs; we see a lot of pit bulls or Chihuahuas that have a lot of those problems. Labs, things like that. But it can be any breed,” Eckert said. “It just depends on the dog. We don’t know why some get allergies and others don’t.”

Kajsa, a short-haired rescue hound, was diagnosed with atopic dermatitis after her owner, Helena Montin, a University veterinarian student, adopted her. The experience of having her dog suffer from severe allergies played a big role in her decision to go to vet school. Finding the proper way to treat Kajsa was hard at first.

“I just felt so guilty because she was just so itchy, and I just didn’t really know what to do,” Montin said.

It was negatively affecting Kajsa’s quality of life too, she said. Kajsa would interrupt her play to sit down and scratch, Montin said. Eventually, Montin found the ideal treatment regimen to be a combined effort of a special diet, a weekly bath with medicated shampoo, weekly ear cleaning, preventative paw wipes and a special cream.

The biggest challenge in treating Kajsa’s atopic dermatitis is looking out for and treating any secondary infections that result from having irritated and itchy skin, like yeast infections.

“We’re happy now,” Montin said. “Right now we’re maintaining.”

Torres, also one of Montin’s professors, has specifically been a helpful resource for Montin and Kajsa, and they’ve participated in some of the clinical trials at the University’s veterinary school. Montin said she knows it can be a complicated and drawn out process to treat a pet with atopic dermatitis, and it’s best to simply trust your vet.

“I think, no matter what, it’s challenging,” she said. “I think it’s challenging anytime your pet has any kind of disease or sickness.”