Atopica for Cats and Dogs: Know The Risk

By Chelsea Hunt-Rivera / January 8, 2019

Your four-legged companion means everything to you. Trust us when we say we completely understand. Here at Simple Wag, we are all animal lovers and would go to the ends of the earth to ensure our pets’ happiness and well-being. Therefore, we know how difficult it can be when problems inevitably arise, particularly when you’re going above and beyond to take good care of your beloved furry friend.

One common health issue that both cats and dogs suffer from is a condition called atopic dermatitis. It is typically caused by environmental allergens and can result in severe skin irritation and inflammation. When atopic dermatitis is diagnosed, your veterinarian may prescribe a medication called Atopica in order to relieve your pet’s symptoms. However, before you do there are quite a few important details worth knowing. In this article, we will cover everything that pet owners must be implicitly aware of before administering the medicine. You may find that the potential risks greatly outweigh the possible benefits. Let’s begin!


What is Atopica (Cyclosporine)

Atopica for cats and dogs is an oral medication prescribed to treat atopic dermatitis. Atopica is the common name for the drug cyclosporine. Therefore, throughout the article, we will refer to the medication interchangeably. In certain circumstances, Atopica is also commonly prescribed to treat skin allergies and skin legions.

What is Dermatitis in Dogs & Cats

Before we dive into the risks associated with Atopica, it is imperative that pet owners have a general understanding of what exactly it treats. Atopica is used to treat atopic dermatitis in dogs and cats. Atopic dermatitis is chronic skin inflammation that is commonly brought on by environmental allergens, although it can also develop from food allergies. Dermatitis causes horrific skin irritation and constant itching that can lead to the development of scarring, open sores, and bacterial infections if left without proper treatment.

Symptoms of Dermatitis & Allergies

Atopic dermatitis (and general allergic reactions) can cause significant irritation. Dogs and cats can suffer from allergies just like their owners. Yet, our pets aren’t exactly about to tell us that something in the air or in their food is bothering them. Therefore, it is up to pet owners to be able to recognize the symptoms of the condition in order to relieve it as soon as possible.

Constant Itching & Scratching

The primary symptoms of dermatitis in dogs and cats is persistent itching and scratching without finding relief. You may notice your pet rubbing up against furniture or up against just about anything that will help them reach an area that is irritating them. You may also notice wet spots on their fur from excessive licking.

While these symptoms aren’t exactly troubling on their own, they can lead to a slew of issues. For instance, constant licking can quickly lead to the development of hot spots. These open sores can seemingly appear overnight and be extremely challenging for a pet owner to get rid of. They can also rapidly grow and spread, causing permanent scarring.

Additionally, persistent itching and scratching will ultimately lead to open cuts and abrasions which, in turn, can become a breeding ground for bacterial infections. You can see how quickly something as simple as itching can cause a much bigger issue.

Dermatitis in Dogs

Where to Look for Symptoms

Pet owners may first recognize their cat or dog is itching their face or licking their paws much more often than usual. However, that’s not the only place to look for symptoms. Dermatitis can also develop in the following areas:

  • Ears
  • Muzzle
  • Around their eyes
  • Wrists
  • Ankles
  • In between their toes
  • Underarms
  • Groin

Causes of Dermatitis in Dogs & Cats

As we previously mentioned, dermatitis in dogs and cats is a result of allergies, typically environmental allergens. It’s important for pet owners to realize that any allergy that may affect people can also affect their furry companion. Dogs and cats are incredibly sensitive creatures and allergens can greatly disrupt their day-to-day life. Therefore, understanding specific causes can help pet owners prevent allergic reactions from developing in the first place.

Environmental (Also called atopy)

Environmental allergies are a direct cause of atopic dermatitis and, therefore, present a need for medications like Atopica.

Common environmental allergens include:

  • Pollen (grass, tree, weed, or flower pollen)
  • Mold
  • Dust

However, while the aforementioned allergens are certainly the most common, they are far from the only elements can affect your fur baby. Additional allergens include:

  • Smoke (from cigarettes, fires, etc.)
  • Perfumes
  • Cleaning products (including many household cleaning products)
  • Plastic and rubber materials
  • Certain shampoos and soaps

As you can see, something that you may not realize could cause dermatitis may very well be the culprit. Luckily, by limiting your pet’s exposure, many environmental allergens can be avoided.

Allergens can cause dermatitis

Flea Allergies

Another cause of canine and feline dermatitis is flea and ticks bites. This often present irritation towards the base of the animal’s tail. Again, preventing this allergy tends to be easier than preventing others. More on that in a moment!


Although less common than environmental allergies, dogs and cats can develop dermatitis due to a food allergy. Most of the time, food allergies cause gastrointestinal issues rather than skin irritations. However, in some cases, dogs and cats will show signs of a food allergy solely through skin reactions. Food allergies can be difficult to pinpoint and often require an elimination diet which can be quite time-consuming. With that being said, we want to stress that it’s 100% worth it. Feeding your pet a food that they are allergic to will ultimately result in chronic inflammation and severe, avoidable gastrointestinal issues.


Additionally, dogs and cats can develop dermatitis from contact with certain fabrics that they are allergic to. This can also develop due to laundry detergents that their body reacts negatively towards. Again, this is one of the easier “fixes” when it comes to preventing allergies.

Time of the Year

Finally, as most people are well aware of, certain times of the year can bring out the worst allergic reactions. The blooming spring season causes many Americans to rush to their local CVS to pick up Zyrtec in order to get through the day. Sadly, our cats and dogs can’t exactly vocalize they are suffering, but their skin can. Be sure to stay aware of their skin condition during these months. A good rule of thumb to follow is that if your allergies are acting up, your pet’s may be, too.

Understanding How Atopica Works

Most allergic reactions result from the body responding to nothing more than a false alarm. Dogs and cats, like people, can have these reactions to harmless environmental elements like dust or grass. Of course, sometimes an allergic reaction is a response to something threatening. Yet, most of the time, it is a reaction that isn’t based on potential harm.

Atopica is an immunosuppressant. It suppresses the response to these foreign elements that the body views as “threats.” Therefore, the body doesn’t react.

This allows it to provide relief for conditions like feline allergic dermatitis and canine atopic dermatitis.

Benefits of Atopica for Cats and Dogs

Now, we certainly aren’t suggesting that Atopica should be thrown off the market forever and ever. Some cats and dogs can benefit from the medication. It can prove to relieve itchy, irritated skin amongst our furry friends. Additionally, many pet owners like the fact that Atopica contains no steroids, unlike other prescription drugs. However, for most, the cons far outweigh the pros.

Cyclosporine Side Effects

Here’s where things can get incredibly worrisome. As a doting pet parent, you know that a life consisting of skin irritations is no way to live. However, the side effects associated with Atopica for cats and dogs are truly horrific. Take a look for yourself.

Side effects include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Tremors
  • Headaches
  • Swollen bleeding gums
  • Gingival Hyperplasia (overgrowth of gums)
  • Development of cancer
  • Kidney failure
  • Hypertension
  • Easy bruising
  • Hearing problems
  • Lethargy and muscle weakness
  • Yellowing of skin and eyes (jaundice)
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Swollen glands
  • Changes in vision
  • Immune suppression
  • Dizziness and lack of coordination

Even more worrisome is that the majority of the aforementioned side effects can occur when Atopica is given at the recommended dosage. That’s right. You can do everything just as your vet prescribed and countless side effects can still occur.

Atopica Dose for Cats & Dogs

If you decide to give your pet Atopica there are a few additional things to understand. First and foremost, Atopica should only be given under the supervision of a veterinarian. Pet owners should never alter their pet’s dosage without consulting with their vet. Specific dosages will be dependent on your pet’s weight. Typically, Atopica will be given once daily for 30 days and then the dosage will taper off from there.

Of course, these are merely guidelines. All cats and dogs are different. We cannot stress enough that pet owners must follow their vet’s guidelines as closely as possible in order to avoid accidental poisoning.

If you miss a dose of Atopica, be sure to give it as soon as possible. However, NEVER double up on a dose. This can cause immediate poisoning and irreversible harm.

Precautions of Allergy Medicine for Dogs

Unfortunately, the side effects of Atopica and all conventional allergy medicine aren’t the only things that dog owners should be aware of. There are additional precautions that if not followed, can cause irreversible damage. Of course, the biggest concern with many allergy medications is the fact that many are immune-suppressing. These immune-suppressing effects cause dogs to be more susceptible to diseases and infections due to the fact that the immune system is in a weakened state.

Also, the following dogs should never take allergy medications as it can cause irreversible harm:

  • Breeding dogs
  • Pregnant dogs
  • Lactating dogs

Do not give Atopica to lactating dogs

As you can see, Atopica for dogs is not the only medication geared towards relieving allergies that can ultimately cause Fido harm. It is incredibly important for dog owners to understand the potential risks of all convention drugs prior to administering them.

Precautions of Atopica for Cats

Additionally, there are even more precautions when it comes to Atopica for cats. To start with, Atopica should not be given to cats who have a history of malignant disorders, feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) infection, or feline leukemia virus (FeLV). Also, cats with any sort of hypersensitivity to cyclosporine should not take the medication. Due to the fact that Atopica is a systemic immunosuppressant, it can make cats more susceptible to infections. Therefore, cat owners must keep a close eye on their feline’s overall health when taking the Atopica. Also, the immunosuppressant effects can also make cats less responsive to vaccinations as well as increase their risk of developing neoplasia.

Furthermore, certain persistent side effects of Atopica such as persistent weight loss can result in hepatic lipidosis. Therefore, monitoring their weight while on the medication is imperative. Also while taking the medication, cats should avoid any exposure to Toxoplasma gondii as well as drugs that affect the P-450 enzyme system.

Finally, it is essential that your veterinarian has a clear understanding of your cat’s medical history prior to prescribing Atopica. Cats with diabetes mellitus or renal insufficiency should not take the medication as it can cause worsening kidney issues.

There are also additional precautions for the cat owner administering the medication. Comparatively to its use in dogs, pet owners must thoroughly wash their hands after handling Atopica. Reactions may also occur if the cat owner has sensitivities to Atopica.

Additional Cat & Dog Allergy Medications

Before we discuss an effective alternative, we want to make sure that our readers understand that Atopica is certainly not the only conventional allergy medication available for cats and dogs. However, with all conventional drugs comes an extensive list of potential risks. For instance, veterinarians also commonly prescribe Apoquel for dogs. Yet, like Atopica, Apoquel has some extremely worrisome side effects. As an immune-suppressing drug, Apoquel can cause severe infections, bone marrow suppression, and the development of polydipsia. It really makes pet owners think twice before willingly deciding on conventional allergy medication.

Preventing the Need for Allergy Medicine

Here at Simple Wag, we believe that prevention is the best medicine. While not all cases of dermatitis can be completely prevented, there are effective ways that pet owners can ensure they are taking certain necessary steps to limit allergen exposure.

For instance, avoiding environmental allergens like smoke, pesticides, herbicides, and household cleaners can make a huge difference in your furry friend’s life. Additionally, it’s important for pet owners to recognize whether their cat or dog may be suffering from a food allergy. Food allergies, while time-consuming to diagnose, must be handled appropriately. Consistently feeding your pet a food that they are allergic to will result in chronic inflammation of their gastrointestinal tract which can lead to serious, irreversible damage.

Additionally, by ensuring that your cat or dog is taking an appropriate flea and tick preventative is an important way to prevent skin irritations and, therefore, prevent conditions like dermatitis. We recommend consulting with your veterinarian to ensure that the medication is being used efficiently and that you don’t over-medicate your pet. For example, in certain parts of the country, flea and tick medication may not be necessary during certain months.

Perhaps the most important way to prevent the need for harsh, chemically based allergy medications is being able to recognize early signs of an allergic reaction. Common signs of an allergic reaction include itching, licking, and scratching but can also include gastrointestinal issues like vomiting and diarrhea depending on what allergen is causing the reaction. Understanding specific clinical signs allows pet parents to act efficiently and appropriately before the reaction becomes serious.

Cyclosporine for Dogs & Cats: The Best Option?

One look at the list of potential side effects associated with Atopica may have you thinking “no way,” and we tend to agree. Of course, you want to relieve your cats and dogs from their irritation, but the possibility of irreversible damage is overwhelming… to say the least. Luckily, there is hope and effective all-natural alternatives that all pet parents should know about. Our top choice is CBD oil.

CBD for Dogs & Cats

When it comes to our favorite way to treat irritated, itching skin, we look no further than CBD oil. Derived from the hemp plant, CBD oil proves to be incredibly effective at providing relief for countless ailments, including atopic dermatitis. Companies like Honest Paws also make specially formulated CBD treats that are geared towards relieving allergy symptoms such as dry, itchy skin. The treats are rich in omega 6 and fatty acids that work together with the 100% full spectrum CBD to alleviate the unpleasant realities of environmental and food allergies. If your canine or feline is suffering from allergies or atopic dermatitis, we highly recommend these products.

That’s not all CBD is great for. There’s even more good news!

cbd oil for dogs and cats

CBD: An All Natural Anti-Inflammatory

If you enjoy keeping up with our articles, you likely know that we tend to mention inflammation quite a bit. That’s due to the fact that inflammation is a massive culprit of nearly every health concern that your furry friends may face. From arthritis to cancer, inflammation is to blame. When it comes to atopic dermatitis in cats and dogs, chronic inflammation of the skin can result in the development of a slew of problems in addition to the constant itching, licking, and scratching. Therefore, eliminating present inflammation and preventing future inflammation is imperative.

Luckily, CBD can help. CBD proves to be an effective anti-inflammatory for humans and animals alike. The best part? Pet owners can implement CBD oil for around $2 a day and not only relieve current inflammation, but prevent it from developing in the first place.

We highly recommend CBD oil. It will provide your four-legged companion with countless benefits, even aside from being a wonderful, all-natural anti-inflammatory.

Relieving Gastrointestinal Upset with CBD

Additionally, we want to also mention that while environmental allergies will often cause skin irritation, cats and dogs can also experience food allergies that result in gastrointestinal problems. In these cases, CBD can also help as it proves to relieve tummy issues like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. For more information about pet allergies, click here.

Additional Benefits of CBD!

The benefits don’t stop there, CBD also proves to do the following:

  • Boost the immune system
  • Reduce the frequency and severity of seizures
  • Increase the appetite
  • Ease symptoms of arthritis in cats and dogs
  • Minimize aggressive behavior
  • Ease anxiety and symptoms of stress disorders
  • Mitigate cancer symptoms such as nausea
  • Provide relief for both chronic pain and acute pain

CBD is better than Atopica for cats and dogs

Atopica for Cats and Dogs: The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, we know that your cats and dogs mean the world to you. For this reason (amongst many others), it is absolutely imperative to know the potential risks of all medications prior to administering them. Yes, Atopica may relieve your cat’s and dog’s itchy skin, but at what cost? Is the possibility of kidney failure, poisoning, and loss of consciousness worth it? What about the dangers associated with their susceptibility to infection? We don’t think Atopica is worth the countless risks. Plus, there are alternatives available that prove to be just as effective without the scary list of side effects.

When all is said and done, choosing the best medicine for your furry friend is up to you. Whether you decide on a conventional medication or a holistic alternative will vary from one pet owner to the next, and we understand that. However, we hope that you will consider an all-natural option like CBD oil. It can truly make a world of difference for your pet.

Itchy, irritated skin is no fun for anyone, but there is hope. From all of us at Simple Wag, we sincerely hope your best friend feels better soon.


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About the author

Chelsea Hunt-Rivera

Dedicated Pet Parent who loves to create amazing content for pet owners and is helping change pet wellness as the Head of Content for