Abstract Topical tacrolimus is successfully used in people with atopic dermatitis. Preliminary studies in dogs with atopic dermatitis using tacrolimus in a compounded lotion formulation indicated that tacrolimus significantly decreased erythema and pruritus according to investigator, but no significant improvement was reported by the dog owners. The objectives of this study were to evaluate the clinical efficacy and safety of the commercially available 0.1% tacrolimus ointment (Protopic®) in dogs with atopic dermatitis. The study was designed as a double-blinded, placebo-controlled, cross-over study. Selected dogs were allocated to either tacrolimus or placebo for 4 weeks. After 4 weeks there was a wash-out period of 2 weeks and treatments were switched. Twelve dogs completed the study. Clinical signs were scored. Blood samples were collected for complete blood count, chemistry panels and tacrolimus levels at week 0 and 4 of each treatment. Tacrolimus ointment significantly decreased severity of symptoms for both owners and investigators at the end of the trial. When the same dogs received the placebo, there were no differences between week 0 and week 4 scores. Dogs with localized disease responded better than dogs with generalized disease. Tacrolimus was detected in the blood of animals receiving the active ingredient. Levels were below the level of toxicity and no adverse effects were reported in any of the dogs. No changes in complete blood count and chemistry parameters were detected between groups or within groups. In conclusion, tacrolimus appears to be a safe alternative treatment in dogs with atopic dermatitis, especially in those with localized disease.