by Dr. Larry Siegler
Scritch, scratch, scritch, scratch... it may be the first thing you hear every
morning or even wake you up at night - your companion’s itching and scratching.
The most common questions from visitors to Only Natural Pet Store are about itching,
licking, scratching and skin problems. In this article we will discuss some of the
possible causes, and a basic protocol for addressing the most common cause – allergies.
Step One: History
Evaluating the history of your companion’s problem is very important in helping
your veterinarian determine the cause. Though allergies are the most common
cause of itching and licking, there are some diseases that need to be ruled out
before embarking on the path of allergy treatment.
The following are important details that will help your veterinarian diagnose
Once the cause of the itchy skin is determined, treatment can begin. Any secondary
bacterial or yeast infections must be treated, however, before much progress can
be seen in remediation of the underlying cause of the itchy skin. Hot spots occur
from self-inflicted trauma that results when the pet attempts to relieve a pain
or itch by excessive scratching, biting and rubbing. These must be controlled with
topical treatments while the animal’s immune system is recovering.
A majority of itchy skin is caused by allergies, so that is what we will address
here. In addition to itchy skin, other allergy symptoms may be present such as chronic
ear infections or respiratory symptoms such as coughing or nasal congestion, and
eye discharge. Food allergies may also cause symptoms such as vomiting or diarrhea
that can ultimately progress to inflammatory bowel disease. Some holistic veterinarians
also believe that seizures, arthritis, asthma and chronic urinary tract infections
can be caused or complicated by food allergies.
Itchy skin and allergy symptoms such as paw chewing have also been linked to
over-vaccination in a large number of cases. Frequently the symptoms will begin
within days or weeks of vaccinations. Please educate yourself about vaccinations
and the risks involved. A good start would be to read the article titled
The Truth About Pet Vaccinations.
Treating Itchy Skin Caused by Allergies
One of the most common causes of itchy skin is fleas and flea allergies. If you
suspect fleas, please read
The Natural Approach to Flea Control. Flea control is an essential step
in the treatment plan for any animal with allergies. Any dog or cat with a compromised
immune system is more susceptible to fleas and parasites, so plan to treat the home
environment a month BEFORE flea season begins. The last thing your dog or cat needs
when already battling allergies is a flea infestation to make things worse!
If your dog or cat has been itching for awhile, they may have created bare, red
patches in places that can become infected, so you need to address these areas right
away. Here are some products offered at Only Natural Pet Store that can help:
For Dogs and Cats:
Only Natural Pet Herbal Skin Ointment
Fido Derm Herbal Spray
Doc Ackerman's Instant Hot Spot Relief Spray
An additional option for Dogs is
Only Natural Pet Hot Spot Skin Relief Oil (essential oils)
Oatmeal Baths followed by conditioner to seal in moisture can relieve the itch.
Doc Ackerman's Herbal Colloidal Oatmeal Shampoo
Head to Tail Aloe Oatmeal Shampoo
If more potent topical treatment is necessary, your veterinarian can prescribe
topical treatments and/or shampoo to help curb the itchiness.
Diet – The Essential Remedy
The first thing to address in treating the underlying cause of allergies is the
animal’s diet. Many animals see a dramatic improvement with a change in diet alone.
With the addition of one or two basic supplements, this can be all that is needed.
Allergies are cumulative in the animal’s system – meaning that even if your dog
or cat tends to have seasonal allergies, his or her food may be adding to the overall
“load” on the system. Transitioning to a more appropriate diet (preferably raw or
at least home-prepared food) can make a big difference even for those pets with
seasonal allergies by improving their immune system strength and overall health.
Please see our article, "What
You Need to Know About Your Pet's Food," to learn more about improving
your companion’s diet. Foods that do not contain the most common allergens such
as wheat, soy, corn, beef, and chicken are the best choice. See
Allergy Formula Foods.
Essential Fatty Acids
The first dietary supplement to consider for an animal with itchy skin is essential
fatty acids (EFAs). Fish oil is considered the best source for cats and dogs, since
the fatty acid chains are readily usable by the animal’s system without any conversion
process, which is necessary for the utilization of plant-sourced essential fatty
acids such as flaxseed.
EFAs help reduce inflammation and nourish the skin and coat. They can also be
beneficial in assisting the healing process of the digestive system. For older animals,
EFAs can help alleviate arthritis symptoms as well. See
Essential Fatty Acids for more details.
Allergies are essentially the immune system gone awry. The body starts to “attack”
itself in response to what it perceives as foreign invaders. Supplements to help
modulate the immune system are very helpful in treating allergies. Only Natural Pet offers an excellent variety of immune support supplements to help deal with allergies.
Detoxification/Elimination Support and Healing the Gastrointestinal System
The gastrointestinal system is the first line of defense in an animal’s immune
system. When a dog or cat has allergies, the gastrointestinal system is often irritated
and inflamed. "Leaky gut syndrome" is the result of this chronic irritation, allowing
particles that are too large for the system to manage to pass into the bloodstream
– this triggers the immune response that manifests as allergies. Antibiotics contribute
to the problem by killing the healthy bacteria that aid digestion and maintain a
healthy gastrointestinal system. Healing the gut is crucial to the success of allergy
At a minimum, digestive enzymes and probiotics should be added to each meal to
aid in the breakdown of food particles, support the restoration of beneficial gut
flora and assist the healing of the digestive tract. Animal Essentials Plant Enzymes & Probiotics is a good digestive enzyme product without additional ingredients
that may aggravate allergies. For an animal that has been on prescription medications,
additional probiotics are important to help the GI tract regain a healthy balance
of beneficial bacteria. NF Spectra Probiotics and Wysong Pet Inoculant are excellent products for this purpose.
L-Glutamine is an amino acid essential to the proper function of the gastrointestinal
tract. Supplementing with L-Glutamine supports the healing process of the gut and
the restoration of healthy gut flora. See NF Formulas L-Glutamine.
An excellent choice for supporting the gastrointestinal system is Only Natural Pet GI Support, which is specifically designed as a comprehensive
intestinal support supplement for dogs and cats. It combines L-Glutamine with amino
acids, probiotics, vitamins and herbs to speed the healing of the lining of the
GI tract and support healthy digestive function.
For animals showing signs of weight loss, diarrhea and additional symptoms of
malabsorption/leaky gut, Seacure by Proper Nutrition provides essential nutrients for the healing
process of gastrointestinal and bowel function.
Supporting the animal’s organs that filter and eliminate waste is another important
step when addressing allergies. The liver, kidneys, gastrointestinal system and
lymphatic systems are working hard to eliminate the waste produces by the inflammatory
process present in allergic reactions, as well as any toxins from medications, the
environment and foods. Using natural cleaners around the house and eliminating
pesticide and chemical fertilizer use in the yard can go a long way in helping reduce
the load on the animal’s system. A high quality diet, preferably organic, will also
reduce the burden of toxin elimination.
Detoxification is essential for any animal that has been treated with multiple
courses of medications such as steroids, antibiotics or antihistamines. Steroids,
especially, are taxing on the animal’s liver.
Chinese herbs like Quercenol by Seven Forests, are excellent herbal and nutraceutical complexes
for animals with allergy symptoms, particularly those that have been on steroids
and other medications. Quercenol has anti-inflammatory and antihistamine properties
to help the allergies, as well as herbs to help cleanse and support the liver and
build the immune system.
like Only Natural Pet Blood & System Herbal Formula or Animals' Apawthecary Detox Blend are very useful in detoxifying a taxed elimination system. These are easier to give to cats than the Quercenol since they are liquids.
The length of time these supplements may be necessary will vary with the severity
of the problem and the response of the individual animal. Natural supplements, herbs
and remedies are not like prescription medications - they may vary in effectiveness
from one animal to the next, and in many instances take time to reach full effectiveness,
up to several weeks or more.
Relieving the Itch
Herbs and supplements designed to relieve the itchy skin and support skin health
are another step in the treatment program for chronic allergies. This can help relieve
the stress caused by the discomfort, which is supportive of immune function and
healing. In addition, reducing the itch helps in the reduction of secondary infections
and allows the skin to heal.
Skin Balance by Health Concerns is an excellent herbal complex for the
treatment of itchy skin in dogs (the tablets are too large for cats to swallow,
and would need to be crushed for use). In Traditional Chinese Medical terms, an
animal with an allergic reaction manifesting as itchy skin is suffering from wind
(itching), heat (redness), damp (oozing) and blood deficiency (dryness, poor coat)
problems. The herbs in Skin Balance reduce inflammation and itching as well as boost
skin health and assist in the cleansing of the blood.
Certain Chinese herbs, like Nature's Herbs for Pets Itch Relief, are ideal for cats and small dogs. They are a great choice for itch relief
and clearing the skin of inflammation and hot spots.
Integrative Therapeutics Inflamzyme is an enzyme combination that provides natural antihistamine
activity and reduces inflammation. Inflamzyme is an excellent choice if inhalant
allergies are suspected and symptoms include respiratory issues such as stuffy sinuses,
sneezing or coughing. It is best given between meals.
HomeoPet Skin and Itch Relief and Newton Homeopathics Skin Care are homeopathic remedies that may
be helpful for some animals. These will be more effective once any residual steroids
or medications have been cleared from the system. HomeoPet Hot Spots is similar to the Skin and Itch Relief formula, but
contains additional remedies to address the red, inflamed or oozing hot spot areas.
Time, Patience and Persistence
Natural treatments do take more time and effort than a course of steroid treatment.
The long-term health and well-being of your companion, however, will be far better
served by treating the animal’s whole system and the underlying cause of the itch,
not just the symptoms. Some cats and dogs become quite distressed by the itching
and can benefit from the addition of stress-relieving herbs, supplements, flower
essences or homeopathic remedies.
Persistence in treating the itchiness topically while you are addressing the
underlying causes through diet and supplements will greatly benefit your pet’s ability
to heal and reduce his or her stress as well. Secondary infections caused by relentless
scratching, licking or biting complicate and slow the healing process, and topical
treatment can help prevent this.
The information provided here is intended to help you support your companion
with mild to moderate allergy-related itching. Bear in mind that the treatment of
more severe allergies and itching require veterinary assistance. For help locating
a holistic veterinarian in your area try the
American Holistic Veterinary
Medical Association referral directory. If you cannot find a holistic veterinarian
close to you, many of them are available for phone consultations, so it can be helpful
to broaden your search to include nearby states in your region.
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The information is not intended to be a substitute for visits to your local veterinarian.
Instead, the content offers the reader information and opinions written by our staff,
guest authors, and/or veterinarians concerning animal health issues and animal care
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