Dog Allergies – Treatment With Cyclosporine (Atopica)

Cyclosporine is an immunossupresant drug that is commonly used in allergic dogs.  Although the exact mechanism of action is not understood, it appears to decrease allergy symptoms by dampening the cell-mediated immune response.  The trade name for the veterinary version of the drug is Atopica.  I usually start therapy with a daily dose for 30 days and then taper off to the least amount possible that will also keep the dog comfortable.  Clients are instructed to give the drug at least one hour prior to or two hours after a meal for best effect.

In my experience, the most common side affects of cyclosporine are related to the gastrointestinal system; vomiting, diarrhea and anorexia.  It may also cause excessive growth of the gums (gingival hyperplasia) as well as warts (papillomatosis).  Regular dental care is needed to address these issues.  The drug is not recommended in patients who have suffered with malignant cancer and is used with caution in animals with a history of liver or kidney problems.

The biggest hurdle to this therapy is cost.  The drug is expensive to use, especially in large or giant breed dogs.  Depending on the patient, cyclosporine may be given with another drug, ketoconazole, that is commonly used to treat fungal infections.  Ketoconazole increases the duration of action by inhibiting the breakdown of cyclosporine allowing the dose to be cut by a third or so in most cases.   

If your pet is on cyclosporine, do not give any other medications without first speaking to your veterinarian.  Cyclosporine cross- reacts with many drugs.  It may also take weeks to months to see improvement in your pet’s allergies on this drug.  A typical dog will show moderate improvement in 30 days and then plateau over the next 2 to 4 months.  If a dog’s symptoms have not improved at all after 6 weeks of therapy, I generally switch to another form of therapy because not all dogs will respond to cyclosporine. 
Some in the profession believe cyclosporine is a safer alternative than utilizing steroids.  I believe the jury is still out.  I know of no study which provides a conclusive answer to the long-term effects of cyclosporine use versus steroids.  So, if your animal is on this treatment, stay close to your veterinarian as time unfolds to insure your pet stays healthy.

Published by kristennelsondvm

Dr. Kristen Nelson grew up on a farm in Watertown, Minn., where she developed a deep love for animals of all kinds. She received a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Minnesota, College of Veterinary Medicine. Kris then completed a small-animal internship at the prestigious Animal Medical Center in New York City. In addition to writing and speaking, she cares for small and exotic animals in Scottsdale, Az. Dr. Nelson is widely quoted in the media. Her credits include Ladies’ Home Journal, USA TODAY, the Los Angeles Times and numerous radio and television interviews. Dr. Nelson has written two books, Coated With Fur: A Vet’s Life and Coated With Fur: A Blind Cat’s Love. Kris and her husband Steve share their home with rescued cats, birds and a dog.

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