Down with Dermatitis: Atopica Allergy Medication for Cats and Dogs

Katelyn Son
By Katelyn Son
Medically reviewed by Ivana Crnec, DVM
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Atopica for dogs relieves the itchiness and skin lesions associated with atopic dermatitis. The active ingredient is cyclosporine – a potent systemic immunosuppressant. Cyclosporine is a cyclic polypeptide and metabolite of the Beauveria nivea fungus. 

Atopica (cyclosporine capsules) USP modified is the first FDA-approved medication for atopic dermatitis. However, just because it is approved does not mean it is universally fit for all dogs. There are various side effects and considerations. Therefore, Atopica requires a prescription, and its use warrants careful vet monitoring. 

When to Use Atopica for Dogs

When to Use Atopica for Dogs

You should use Atopica when your dog has atopic dermatitis or any allergic dermatitis that could benefit from immune system suppression. Cyclosporine works by affecting the immune cells involved in the allergic reaction. In other words, it inhibits the immune response, thus resulting in decreased inflammation and allergy symptoms. 

On the official Atopica website, you can find a simple canine atopic dermatitis quiz that, once answered, determines whether your dog needs treatment. 

Benefits and Uses of Atopica for Dogs

The official use of Atopica for dogs is managing skin allergies or, more specifically, atopic dermatitis. Atopic dermatitis occurs when the dog inhales potential allergens (pollen, dust mites, molds) or ingests allergy-triggering foods. 

In both cases, the immune system misidentifies the allergen as a threat and overreacts to its presence leading to an allergic reaction and its telltale symptoms: itching, licking, scratching, skin infections, chewing, gnawing, sleepless nights, hair loss, and a terrible odor. 

Cyclosporine suppresses the immune system and inhibits its overreaction, thus preventing atopic dermatitis in dogs. 

What are the Side Effects of Atopica in dogs?

The most common side effects of Atopica in dogs are vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and gingival hyperplasia. Sadly, gastrointestinal problems are not the only adverse effects. Below is a more detailed list of the Atopica side effects:

  • Anorexia
  • Headaches
  • Depression or lethargy 
  • Hypertension 
  • Easy bruising
  • Hearing and vision problems
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes
  • Loss of consciousness 
  • Trembling and convulsions
  • Lymphadenopathy (swollen lymph nodes) 
  • Kidney and/or liver failure. 

Interestingly, not all of these are actual side effects. Some are, in fact, poisoning symptoms caused by Atopica’s active ingredient. Because of the long list of adverse reactions, Atopica must be used with caution in:

  • Dogs with diabetes mellitus
  • Dogs with renal insufficiency 
  • Dogs with compromised immune systems. 

Atopica must not be used in: 

  • Puppies younger than six months
  • Dogs weighing less than 4 lbs
  • Dogs with a history of neoplasia
  • Pregnant and lactating dogs
  • Dogs on meds with drug interactions.  

Keep in mind that Atopica is a potent systemic immunosuppressant, meaning you must not vaccinate your dog while receiving this medication. The effect of cyclosporine on the immune response to live vaccines is not determined. 

Also, Atopica increases your dog’s infection susceptibility. You need to call the veterinarian if, after starting to use Atopica, your dog develops a fever, loss of appetite, tiredness, coughing, sneezing, runny nose.  

Lastly, as a systemic immunosuppressant, Atopica also increases the risk of the development of neoplasia. This is because dogs need a properly working immune system to protect themselves from malignant formations. 

Atopica Dosage for Dogs

Atopica Dosage for Dogs

The Atopica dosage for dogs is 2.2 mg/lbs (5 mg/kg) as a single daily dose for 30 days. After that, the frequency of use can be decreased to every other day or twice per week. The goal is to achieve the minimum frequency that yields therapeutic effects. 

Atopica tablets come in several strengths – 10 mg, 25 mg, 50 mg, and 100 mg. However, they cannot be crushed or opened, which means finding your dog’s right dosage will take some combinations. Here is a short explanation on how to combine the Atopica strengths:

  • 4-65 lbs – 10 mg capsule
  • 6.6-9 lbs – 2 x 10 mg capsule
  • 9.1-16 lbs – 25 mg capsule 
  • 16.1-33 lbs – 50 mg capsule 
  • 33.1-64 lbs – 100 mg capsule
  • 64.1-79 lbs – 100 mg + 50 mg capsule 
  • 79.1-121 lbs – 2 x 100 mg capsule.

Atopica medication is also available in the form of an oral solution (100mg/ml). However, the oral suspension form is more convenient for use in cats. 

Atopica is best given on an empty stomach – one hour before or at least two hours after meals. If you accidentally forget a dose, either give it as soon as you remember or skip it completely. Never double dose your dog to compensate for the missed dosing. 

Atopica for Dogs Usage Guidelines

Before the veterinarian prescribes Atopica for your dog, they will carefully evaluate the situation and consider both the benefits and possible adverse reactions. 

The vet will pay attention to your dog’s medical history and current medication treatments because certain meds may increase the plasma levels of cyclosporine. Here is a list of the medications with known cyclosporine drug interactions:  

Once you have the Atopica, there are some special precautions for handling and storage. For example, the cyclosporine capsules must not be broken, crushed, or opened. Also, you must always wear gloves and then wash hands after handling. 

The medication should be stored in its original unit-dose container at room temperature and out of reach of children. Since Atopica is not for human use, seek medical advice and provide the label or package insert to your physician in case of accidental ingestion. 

Atopica Alternatives for Dogs

Atopica Alternatives for Dogs

We’ve listed below natural and safe alternatives such as CBD oil and salmon oil. The long list of side effects and adverse reactions is scary enough to put many pet owners off the idea of using Atopica. 

CBD Oil for Dogs. Extracted from hemp, cannabidiol (CBD) oil is the perfect solution for dogs with atopic dermatitis. Instead of suppressing, the cannabinoids work by modulating the immune system. Our sincere recommendation is the Honest Paws CBD Oil. It is human-grade, full-spectrum, and made or organically grown hemp. 

Honest Paws Well CBD Oil for Dogs
  • Support sensitive skin & seasonal allergies
  • Boost immune system & cognitive function
  • Enhance bone & joint health
  • Promote relaxation & combat stress

Salmon Oil for Dogs. Fish oil has strong anti-inflammatory properties and is rich in skin health-boosting omega fatty acids. It helps relieve dry and itchy skin while providing moisturization and soothing effects. We recommend using the Vets Preferred Wild Alaskan Oil. This product is vet-recommended and made of Alaskan wild-caught salmon.  

Finally, whether Atopica is the right choice for your dog is something you need to discuss with a licensed veterinarian. Remember, the information in this article is purely educational. 

Wild Alaskan Salmon Oil
  • Premium Omega 3 Oil rich in natural EPA & DHA
  • Supports Joint Function, Immune & Heart Health
  • Skin and Coat Support for Dogs
  • 15.5 fl oz