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What We Can Learn about Atopic Dermatitis from Dogs

Atopic dermatitis (AD) doesn’t just affect people – it’s a common skin condition in dogs, too. And while you wouldn’t wish the itchy condition on your best friend, dermatologists are realizing there are lessons to be learned by collaborating with veterinarians who treat conditions like AD in animals.

Several veterinarians were invited to present at this year’s Summer Meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology as part of a collaboration known as One Health. The idea for One Health came from the past, when a single physician cared for all members of a community – animal and human. One Health fosters collaboration between various medical and scientific disciplines, including physicians and veterinarians.1


The similarities

In both humans and dogs, atopic dermatitis has similar prevalence and usually develops early in life. In both species, AD develops as a result of genetic and environmental triggers, and it starts as an itch that develops into a rash.1

The big difference

While humans do have hair on their bodies, dogs’ coats cover their entire body with a thick layer of hair. Many dogs with AD have the rash over large areas of their body, making topical treatments nearly impossible. Most veterinarians prescribe systemic therapies for their patients.1

Systemic treatments

Systemic medications are treatments that affect the whole body and are generally administered orally or via injection. In humans, systemic treatments are recommended for people with severe AD that has not responded to topical medications. Because systemic treatments are used earlier in dogs (who cannot use topical options), dermatologists can learn from veterinarians about how the use of systemic medications may help their patients with mild or moderate disease.1

Future treatment options

Veterinary medicine has been quicker than human medicine to develop some immunomodulators, like an interleukin-31 inhibitor that targets the itch of AD. (To date, there are no FDA-approved medications for chronic itch in humans.) Interleukin-31 (IL-31) is a chemical messenger that has been discovered to be involved in the itch cycle and seems to be found in larger than normal numbers in people with AD.1,2

Before a potential new treatment can be tested in humans in clinical research, it must go through preclinical research, which includes:

  • In vitro – studies performed in a test tube, culture dish, or other mediums outside of a living organism
  • In vivo – studies performed in a living organism, usually done in animal models3

The studies conducted in animals help determine the safe dosage, any negative side effects, and the reversibility of those side effects. This way the effectiveness of a new therapy can be tested.4

Hopefully, the collaboration between veterinarians and dermatologists can help further research into new treatment options for AD, including those that treat the cause of itch.

  1. Dermatology goes to the dogs, Medscape. Available at Accessed on 9/25/17.
  2. Saleem MD, Oussedik E, D'Amber V, Feldman SR. Interleukin-31 pathway and its role in atopic dermatitis: a systematic review. J Dermatolog Treat. 2017 Mar 2:1-9. doi: 10.1080/09546634.2017.1290205. [Epub ahead of print]
  3. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Available at Accessed on 9/25/17.
  4. Pritchard JF, Jurima-Romet M, Reimer MLJ, Mortimer E, Rolfe B, Cayen MN. Making better drugs: decision gates in non-clinical drug development. Nature. July 2003;2:542-553. doi:10.1038/nrd1131.


  • ckbridgett
    1 year ago

    Great – another point: scratching preventing healing has long been recognised as an issue for dogs! See

  • Sarah Wallin moderator
    1 year ago

    Hi @ckbridgett, It is always interesting to learn about how treatment techniques compare and contrast for dogs and humans. Thank you for sharing your resource with us. -Sarah ( Team Member)

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