In humans with atopic dermatitis (AD), the epicutaneous application of allergens (atopy patch tests or APT) to which the patients are sensitized often results in the development of inflammation resembling that of spontaneous skin lesions. Dogs are affected with a natural homologue of human AD, but information on the induction of positive patch testing reactions is limited. The objectives of this pilot study were to determine the nature and cellular dynamics of inflammation occurring after APT in dogs hypersensitive to house dust mite and flea allergens. Laboratory Beagles were sensitized experimentally to Dermatophagoides farinae house dust mites (two dogs), Ctenocephalides felis flea saliva (one dog) or both (two dogs). Two other dogs served as nonsensitized controls. Both allergens and saline were applied epicutaneously. Macroscopic evaluations and skin biopsies were performed at 4, 24, 48 and 96 h after starting allergenic challenge. Biopsies were evaluated histologically and immunohistochemically with a panel of monoclonal antibodies specific for canine leucocyte antigens. Positive macroscopic reactions consisted of erythema, oedema and induration, and they occurred between 24 and 96 h after allergen application. Macroscopic and microscopic APT reactions developed only whenever serum IgE was present against tested allergens. Microscopically, positive APT was associated with epidermal hyperplasia, Langerhans' cell hyperplasia, and eosinophil and lymphocyte epidermotropism. Dermal inflammation was mixed and arranged in a superficial perivascular to interstitial pattern. Numerous IgE+-CD1+ dendritic cells and gamma-delta T-lymphocytes were observed. Macroscopically and microscopically, APT reactions in these experimentally sensitized animals resembled those seen in lesional biopsy specimens of dogs and humans with spontaneous AD. Therefore, APT in hypersensitive dogs provides a relevant experimental model to investigate the pathogenesis and treatment of both canine and human AD skin lesions.