Atopy is one of the most common skin diseases of dogs. It is well recognized that several breeds of dogs are predisposed to atopic dermatitis, some of which are also commonly used as service dogs. In this study, the medical records of 30 dogs from Guide Dogs for the Blind Association were examined to determine whether there were clinical features that could identify dogs at risk for atopic dermatitis before the condition fully developed. Fifteen dogs were normal, and 15 were diagnosed as atopic. Review of the medical records showed that 9 of 15 dogs with atopy had shown signs of skin disease by 7 months of age and all 15 had shown signs of skin disease by 11 months of age. By 15 months of age, all dogs had developed atopy. Event-curve analysis of the number of atopic and nonatopic dogs showed that atopic dogs were consistently affected by skin disease at a younger age than nonatopic dogs. Differences were significant by 10 months of age. The cumulative number of episodes was also an important predictor. For the total number of episodes of skin disease, there was a significant difference at 9 months of age between atopic and nonatopic dogs. Significant differences in the number of episodes of otitis externa did not occur until 12 months of age and 18 months of age for conjunctivitis. There was no difference between the 2 groups with respect to pedal dermatitis or pyoderma. From a predictive point of view, dogs that had 4 or more episodes of atopy by 15 months of age were at increased risk for atopic dermatitis.

Training service dogs is very expensive. This study suggests that careful examination of their medical records may identify dogs that are unsuitable because they are at risk for atopic dermatitis. Atopic dermatitis can be managed but not cured. Treatment is time-consuming and often expensive. Furthermore, many of the drugs used to manage this disorder may not be compatible with the dog's work. Although small, this study found that the best predictor in guide dogs was the cumulative number of episodes of atopic skin disease.

Prediction of future development of canine atopic dermatitis based on examination of clinical history. Fraiser MA, McNeil PE, Girling SJ. J SMALL ANIM PRACT 49:128-132, 2008.