Atopica for Dogs and Cats: The Benefits and Risks

Atopica for Dogs and Cats: The Benefits and Risks

  • Kirsten Thornhill - 27.02.2020

As a caring pet owner, you always go the extra mile to make sure your furry four-legged friend is living their best life. From ensuring that they are on the best lifestyle diet imaginable, to providing them with plenty of mental and physical attention, you try to do it all (and some). That’s why it can be frustrating and heart wrenching when problems arise completely out of your control. Could you have done anything to prevent it? What can you do now to make sure it doesn’t happen again?

Here at Petly CBD, we believe a key ingredient of being a responsible paw parent is being able to recognize signs of ailments early on and acting quickly to resolve it before things worsen. For instance, a common health concern that arises for many cats and dogs is dermatitis - a skin condition that results from allergen exposures. If your cat or dog develops this condition, your veterinarian may prescribe a medication known as Atopica, to help alleviate their symptoms. 

However, there are important risks that you should know about prior to treating your pet with Atopica. For many pet parents, the potential side effects associated with this medication far outweigh the potential pros. 

1, 2, 3, yipee!


What is Atopica

Sounds somewhat tropical, right? Think again. Atopica is a popular brand name medication for the drug cyclosporine. It’s an oral medication that is often prescribed to treat the symptoms of atopic dermatitis in cats and dogs. But, it can be used for other immune system issues in the body too. 



In today’s article, we’ll use the two terms (atopica, cyclosporine) synonymously in efforts to get our readers accustomed to reading both. 

What is Dermatitis in Cats and Dogs

Before we dive into all there is to know about Atopica, it’s important to cover exactly what it is commonly used for: dermatitis. Dermatitis can be defined as skin irritation or inflammation, typically being presented as swollen, inflamed, red, and irritated areas of the skin. The areas affected by dermatitis may ooze, flake off, scab over, or even blister. The chronic inflammation associated with dermatitis is most commonly caused by environmental allergens, leading to allergic reactions. 



While dermatitis may not seem all that serious, it definitely can lead to other issues developing. For example, the never-ending scratching and itching can lead to bacterial infections and possible scarring. Thus, understanding the clinical signs and symptoms of dermatitis as well as how to treat the condition are extremely important. 

Allergy Symptoms and Dermatitis

Just like us humans, dogs and cats can suffer from allergies too. The constant irritation and itchiness are enough to drive them to insanity. Thus, paw parents must ensure that they are doing everything they can to help prevent and relieve their four-legged fur baby’s distress. Unfortunately, in some cases, dermatitis isn’t completely avoidable. But, having a better understanding of the symptoms can help you treat the skin ailment before it worsens, you got this!

The Never-Ending Itch and Scratch

The most commonly seen symptoms of dermatitis in cats and dogs: itching and scratching. Yep. When the dermatitis progresses, these symptoms won’t go away (or unnoticed for that matter). Pet parents may notice their fur child rubbing against the couch or walls to help get some itch-relief if their skin irritations are hard to reach (or lick or scratch). 

“It’s just a small itch” or “it’s just a small scratch”. Well, it may be more than that. That little scratch or itch may lead to abrasions or cuts. These open wounds are a campsite for developing bacterial infections, especially if the itching and scratching continues. Ekk!

Symptoms of Atopic Dermatitis: Where to Look

Dermatitis can develop just about anywhere on the body….but certain areas are more likely to the skin condition. Paw parents may first notice their animal licking their face or paws more than usual. Also, the following areas may be areas to take note of too:



Around the eyes
In between the toes
Perianal region


Dermatitis in Dogs and Cats: The Causes

There are numerous reasons for animals to itch including allergies, infections, and parasites. One of the most commonly known causes of dermatitis in cats and dogs is the exposure to environmental allergens. 

In order to prevent dermatitis from developing, it’s important to have an understanding of what may be causing it. 


1. Environmental

As mentioned above, most cases of dermatitis result from environmental allergens. Allergens like pollen, mold, and dust are the main ‘bad guys’ of environmental allergens. However, they aren’t the only ‘bad guys’ hanging around leading to dermatitis

 Other environmental causes for this skin condition may include: 

  • Cleaning products
  • Plastic and rubber materials
  • Perfumes
  • Shampoos and soaps
  • Smoke 

A good rule of thumb is: if you think it’s affecting you, it’s likely affecting your feline or canine. While not all environmental allergens can be totally avoided, paw parents can limit their pet’s exposure. 

These allergens are typically first noticed between the ages of 1 - 3 years old. Commonly, these allergies can be seen more during certain seasons of the year, such as spring time. 


2. Contact Allergies

Another cause of skin dermatitis is contact exposure to allergens. For example, certain fabrics may cause an allergic reaction and lead to the development of severe skin irritations. If you notice your cat or dog is itching more than normal, consider whether or not you’ve made any changes to what you’ve come in contact with recently. Did you change your laundry detergent? Did you switch shampoos or soaps? 


3. Food Allergies

Food allergies can be one of the most itchy in dogs and cats. Their immune system may see the protein or other substances as foreign invaders. Food allergies usually develop over time, so your pet may be allergic to food they have been eating for years and years. Food allergies can happen to young pups up to dogs 5 years old and older! Food allergies don’t discriminate. 

The itchiness is typically around the face, anal area, and feet. Recurring ear infections may also be a tall tale sign of a food allergy. Itching does not respond to steroids or other NSAID medications and is typically non-seasonal. About 30% of dogs will have GI issues associated as well. 

Figuring out your pet’s food allergy can be a long, difficult process. With that being said, we want to stress that it is worth it! Continuing to feed your animal food they are allergic to can lead to severe GI issues and chronic inflammation. Again, when you can take control and help avoid health conditions for your fur child, you absolutely should. 


4. Flea Allergies

A single, small flea bite can leave your feline or canine itching for weeks. Unfortunately, fleas usually never bite just once. This form of dermatitis can cause irritation towards the base of the animal’s tail, but may develop just about anywhere. This can be prevented with appropriate lifestyle adjustments. We will discuss prevention shortly. 

How Does Atopica Work For My Dog or Cat



Now that we’ve covered what Atopica is used to treat, we can talk about how it works now. 


In many instances, allergic reactions happen due to a false alarm. The body is triggered by something it believes to be dangerous and simply acts accordingly, to try and protect itself. However, allergens like blooming flowers and trees or grass, aren’t quite a threat, but the body still reacts accordingly. 


Atopica is an immunosuppressant. It suppresses the response to these foreign “invaders” that aren’t really dangerous. Veterinarians will commonly prescribe


Atopica to help relieve symptoms of dog and cat allergic dermatitis. 

Atopica for Dogs and Cats: The Benefits

Before we talk about the horrible risks (yeah, there are too many), we want to talk about the benefits of the medication. Some dogs and cats may find significant relief from taking Atopica. Unlike other allergy medications, Atopica isn’t a steroid, thus, it doesn't have the associated side effects of common steroidal drugs. 

Cyclosporine: The Harmful Side Effects

Without knowing the potential adverse effects of Atopica, it doesn’t seem like that bad of a drug, right? Wrong. Atopica comes with a whole slew of potential side effects that may paw parents are not aware of entirely. Once you understand the potential side effects, you may decide that the cons outweigh the pros. 

The most common side effect of Atopica you ask? Gastrointestinal (GI) issues. This may include vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea. Ew. As many as 33% of dogs taking Atopica experience GI issues. Atopica is recommended to be given on an empty stomach for doggos, but can be given with food to diminish these side effects initially. Other options can be to start at a lower initial dose or freeze the capsules before administering. 

Less common side effects may include: 

  • Hypertension
  • Weight Loss
  • Tremors
  • Headaches
  • Kidney failure
  • Swollen gums
  • Easy bruising
  • Hearing issues
  • Gum overgrowth
  • Lethargy
  • Muscle Weakness
  • Yellowing of skin and eyes
  • Swollen glands
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Swollen glands
  • Development of cancer
  • Changes in vision
  • Immune suppression
  • Dizziness
  • Lack of coordination  

Long term use of this medication may predispose your pet to developing cancer. Also, liver and kidney toxicity are generally seen at very high concentrations of Atopica in the blood. 

Atopica for Dogs and Cats: Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, we can all agree that allergies and allergic reactions are not fun, for anyone. Unfortunately, your fur babies aren’t able to tell you exactly what’s going on and why they may not be feeling their best, but their skin can definitely show you. If you recognize that your dog or cat is experiencing chronic atopic dermatitis, try not to freak out. There is relief near! We urge our readers to do your homework and talk with your holistic veterinarian before administering medications like Atopica. 

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