atopica for dogs

Atopica for Dogs: Uses, Benefits, and Side Effects Guide

Atopica is a brand of dog medication that contains the immune-modulating substance known as cyclosporine. It is one of the most effective treatments for canine atopic dermatitis especially those that are unresponsive to corticosteroid therapy. Because of its inherent immune system suppressing activity, many veterinarians are rather reluctant prescribing it because it naturally lowers the ability of the dog’s immune system to fight infections. Even a simple flu virus can prove fatal if the immune system is at its lowest point. As such, Atopica is often prescribed more as a last resort when all other treatment modalities have already been exhausted. Moreover, dog owners are instructed to adhere to the recommended dosing as well as the institution of preventive measures to aid in the dog’s immunocompromised state.

Atopica works by affecting the T-lymphocytes of the immune system which have been implicated in the unusual and abnormal immune reaction to otherwise non-pathogenic allergens. By inhibiting the action of these immune system cells, skin allergy reactions which are often indicative of atopic dermatitis such as intense itching, gnawing, scratching, hair loss, and even secondary skin infections are thus, minimized if not effectively controlled.

Atopica is specially formulated for dogs and requires a prescription from your veterinarian. It is synthesized from the active metabolite produced by the fungus called Beauveria nivea.  If you have a pet cat, you should use the Atopica for Cats formulation as these drugs have different strengths owing to the anatomical and physiologic differences between dogs and cats.

dog scratching


There is only one indication of Atopica for Dogs and that is for the control of the symptoms and signs associated with atopic dermatitis. Owing to its immunomodulating effects, it is only used on dogs that weigh no less than 4 pounds.

Canine atopic dermatitis is an inflammatory skin condition that is similar in presentation to the atopic eczema experienced by humans. The manifestations often include intensely itchy skin, dry and cracked skin, and red and swollen skin. In certain areas of the affected region of the dog’s skin, clear fluid may ooze out because of the increased permeability in the vascular bed underneath the skin. Over time, these areas thicken.

The exact cause of canine atopic dermatitis is unknown. However, there have been theories about the role of genetics in its development. There are also those that theorize about the effects of allergens and even hard water. Whatever the case, one of the most clinically significant features of the disease is the activation of a mixture of Type I and Type IV hypersensitivity reactions.

  • Type I reactions refer to allergies to which atopic dermatitis is classified. These are mediated by immunoglobulin-E.
  • Type IV hypersensitivity reactions are those that are classified as delayed-onset allergic reaction where T-lymphocytes are the principal mediators.

Cyclosporine primarily targets the T-lymphocytes of the immune system and as such, this is how it exerts its action against canine atopic dermatitis.

Benefits of Atopica

Despite its rather fearsome nature, owing to its immunomodulatory or immunosuppressing effects, Atopica can provide many amazing benefits to your dog especially when used as directed. These benefits are typically related to the reduction, if not elimination, of the many signs and symptoms of atopic dermatitis.

  • Vastly improved level of comfort 

At any rate, your pooch will no longer have to feel itchy. It will also not feel the need to scratch every now and then. The liquid that oozes from its skin which eventually dries out will no longer occur and as such this will make it more comfortable for your dog to really enjoy its day. The swelling will also be reduced, allowing your dog to lie down more comfortably. Of course, there will still be instances of itching, but these will be less severe and less intense, allowing your pet to perform a lot of the usual things it does every day.

  • More peaceful rest and sleep 

Just imagine if you were a dog and you had a very itchy and highly inflamed skin, would you be able to sleep, too? That’s exactly what your dog is going through. It cannot get the sleep and rest that it deserves because of the swelling and constant itchiness on its skin. Atopica addresses this problem by eliminating one of the causes of atopic dermatitis, enabling your pet to sleep better.

  • Restoration of skin integrity 

Atopica can also help restore the integrity of your pet’s skin. Because the inflammatory changes are effectively controlled, your hound will no longer have to scratch. This minimizes cuts and scrapes on the skin. Over time, the reparative processes of the body will start repairing the injured skin to facilitate regeneration of skin cells. This helps keep the skin of your Fido intact.

  • Prevention of secondary infections 

Intact skin is a requirement for a good defense against bacterial and fungal infections. This is especially true in the case of Atopica since it has this ability to lower the functioning of the immune system. However, because it controls the inflammatory activity of T-lymphocytes on the skin of your pet, then the skin itself is able to regenerate completely. While bacteria can enter Fido’s system through other means, intact skin is typically the first line of defense against microbial attacks. At any rate, Atopica can indirectly help strengthen the integrity and reinforce the defensive capabilities of the pooch’s skin.

How Atopica Works

Cyclosporine has a very high affinity for T-lymphocytes. These cells of the immune system are responsible for cell-mediated immunity. There are many different kinds of T-lymphocytes. These can include effector T-cells, helper T-cells, killer T-cells, memory T-cells, and suppressor T-cells, just to name the more common. Each type has its own function in the immune system. For example, killer T-cells often work in tandem with natural killer cells and other immune system cells to kill foreign bodies or antigens in the body. Memory T-cells, on the other hand, produce copies of an antibody that is specific to a particular antigen so that the next time an antigen of similar characteristics, the Memory T-cells will go straight to the production of these antibodies to neutralize the antigen.

What Cyclosporine does is that it attaches itself to the immunophilin protein component of T-lymphocytes. This initiates a cascade of biochemical changes that effectively halts the expression of pro-inflammatory substances like cytokines, most especially interleukin 2 and lymphokine. Since Cyclosporine essentially prevents the expression of these inflammatory substances, this leads to the reduction of the inflammatory signs and symptoms seen in atopic dermatitis.

Potential Side Effects

Since Atopica for Dogs is essentially an immunosuppressant – it suppresses the natural activity of T-lymphocytes and other immune system substances – its side effects can be quite bothersome. It is for this reason that veterinarians who prescribe Atopia for Dogs insist on heightened vigilance on the part of dog owners.

When given in the right dose, the side effects can be mild and are often related to the ingestion of the drug. These can include the following signs and symptoms.

However, it is usually not uncommon that dogs may react differently even with the correct dose. As much as possible, you need to bring Fido to the vet clinic if you observe any of the following clinical manifestations.

  • Body temperature exceeding 103OF
  • Unexplained runny nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • Persistent inflammation of the outer ears
  • Difficulty or even painful urination
  • Unusually lethargic
  • Overgrowth of the gums known as gingival hyperplasia
  • Swelling of the lymph nodes, known as lymphadenopathy
  • Muscle cramps or weakness
  • Changes in the characteristics of the coat
  • Allergic reaction such as the occurrence of hives, difficulty or labored breathing, and unexplained swelling of the dog’s face, tongue, or lips

Things You Should Know about Atopica

Cyclosporine is an immunosuppressant. We cannot help but overemphasize this enough. Even though the formulation of Cyclosporine for dogs has been modified to be a lot safer than its human counterpart, it still affects one of the most important cells of the immune system. That being said you should always protect your pooch against infections while it is receiving Atopica therapy. This often includes ensuring optimum cleanliness and sanitation in the area where your dog stays. It also means shielding it from other dogs as well as persons who may have an existing infection since its immune system is especially low at this point. The type of food that you provide to Fido also matters. These should be rich in immune-boosting nutrients to help augment whatever T-lymphocytes are left to defend the canine body against microbial invasion.

Atopica for dogs is an immunosuppressant that is solely intended for the management of atopic dermatitis in dogs. It is duly approved by the FDA and should never be used on any other organism except canines weighing at least 4 pounds. It is also only available with prescription. Because of the nature of its mechanism of action, it is critical to adhere to the directions of your veterinarian.

What Your Vet Should Know before Prescribing Atopica

Any health issue that your dog may have should be discussed with your veterinarian prior to the initiation of Atopica therapy. This is especially true if your pooch has an active bacterial, viral, or even fungal infection as its immune system is already trying to fight these infections. Adding Atopica into your dog’s system will further strain its immune system, making it fully incapable of fighting the said infections. Disease conditions of the liver and kidneys should also be discussed as well as high blood pressure, cancer, or any other chronic serious medical condition. Lactating and/or pregnant dogs are also not recommended to receive Atopica.

How to Give Atopica to Your Dog

Atopica is available in 10-, 25-, 50-, and 100- milligram strengths. It should only be given as a once-daily therapy for dogs that weigh no less than 4 pounds. However, it is also common for veterinarians to recommend an every-other-day dosing or even twice-weekly administration.

The recommendation is to give an oral dose of Atopica which is appropriate for the dog’s weight. This is given once a day, typically an hour before or 2 hours after having a meal. This is to be administered for 30 days. Once the initial 30-day therapy has been completed, the dose frequency is reduced to every other day or even twice a week. This is continued until a minimum dosing frequency that maintains the therapeutic effectiveness of the drug has been reached.

  • 4 to 6.5 pounds – One 10 mg capsule
  • 6 to 9 pounds – Two 10 mg capsules as a single dose
  • 1 to 16 pounds – One 25 mg capsule
  • 1 to 33 pounds – One 50 mg capsule
  • 1 to 64 pounds – One 100 mg capsule
  • 1 to 79 pounds – One 100 mg and one 50 mg capsule as a single dose
  • 1 to 121 pounds – Two 100 mg capsules as a single dose

What to Do if You Miss a Dose

You can always administer any missed dose as long as it is not within the next scheduled dose. What you should never ever do, however, is to double up on the next dose as a means of compensating for the missed one.

What to Do in Case of Atopica Overdose

If you observe any of the adverse reactions we have listed above, you should immediately take your pooch to your veterinarian. Allergic reactions and severe adverse reactions need to be managed immediately and decisively.

itchy puppy

Some Drug Interactions

Sulfa-containing antibiotics, as well as aminoglycoside antibiotics, should never be used in conjunction with Atopica. Other drugs that may interact with Cyclosporine include cimetidine, ranitidine, etodolac, ketoconazole, piroxicam, prednisolone, methylprednisolone, itraconazole, metoclopramide, digoxin, erythromycin, and allopurinol. Any type of immunization or vaccination is also contraindicated as this can result in a full blown infection as a result of the weakened status of the dog’s immune system.

Atopica is a very powerful drug for atopic dermatitis. Unfortunately, its ability to suppress the dog’s immune system can be a major consideration whether to push through with the therapy or not. In instances where the decision is to push through with the treatment, it is imperative to follow the veterinarian’s instructions to the letter.


  1. Dr. Hanie Elfenbein, DVM, PhD, Atopic Dermatitis in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments, PetMD


  1. Vivian Newman
    Feb 24, 2022

    How often should vet run liver and kidney function tests on 13 year old dog taking 50mg Atopica daily. She has been on 50 mg daily dosage for 18 months.

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    Apr 05, 2021

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Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.