When all systems in the body are humming along in balance, immune substances produced by the body protect the skin, eyes, ears, and digestive system. Your dog and cat feel good. In a healthy animal (dog, cat, or human) normal inhabitants of the skin coexist in harmony, each doing their jobs and living their lives in a symbiotic relationship.
If an animal’s immune system is under more stress than it can manage, this symbiotic relationship is upset. Skin problems – hot spots, rashes, yeast overgrowth, and bacterial infections – are often the first symptom seen. Medical interventions include antihistamines, antibiotics, and steroids. All of these medications modify and suppress the immune system. Our goal should be to help the immune system work properly, not to suppress it.
Chemical intervention may be needed. However, with good nutrition, bathing when needed, and proper exercise, many animals regain their health and thrive without medication.
“Allergic” Skin Problems. The Staphylococcus bacteria that normally inhabit the skin usually cause skin infections. They are one sign that there’s not enough of the immunoglobin IgA protect the skin. The underlying cause of an IgA deficiency on the skin is often over utilization of IgA in the gut. Because things are not well balanced in animal’s gastrointestinal tract, the IgA is needed more there, and there’s not enough to protect the skin. After this has gone on for a while, production of IgA is disrupted.
Yeasts are also natural inhabitants of the skin, but when the proper balance is disturbed, they can multiply rapidly and cause skin and ear problems. You’ll know your dog has yeast by the characteristic corn chip (some think cheese popcorn) smell. Yeast causes intense itching and can grow in localized areas (causing a creamy white accumulation between toes), in the ears, or can affect the whole body. An overgrowth of yeast is a signal that your animal’s immune system is not functioning well.
These conditions cause a variety of symptoms. Fur may feel “sticky”, there may be lots of flakes on the skin, or red spots with little white heads, which often have black areas around them. You may see red, inflamed skin covering large areas of the body, and your animal may be “itchy” Your dog might lick her legs, chew her pads, and there may be inflamed spots between toes, in armpits and inner legs.
“Hot Spots.” are an inappropriate immune response, and in some ways a mystery to medicine. They seem to appear in an instant and can spread at an alarming rate. These oozing sores are extremely painful and can easily become infected.
Keep Skin Clean. If the immune system is highly reactive, environmental substances (ragweed, grass, pollen, mold) animals pick up just by walking outside can provide enough irritating substances to cause a reaction.
Allergic animals aren’t the only ones with skin problems
Elderly animals and those in poor health often exude an unpleasant fragrance. Their bodies are getting rid of toxins that should be removed to help support the detoxification process in the aging system.
If we humans have a rash, scab, infection, or injury to our skin, we don’t have much question about what to do – we keep it clean! The same is true for dogs and cats. Our animals will feel better, smell better, and heal faster if their skin is kept clean. However, in the case of cats, they may not be happier: bathing is not usually on their list of favorite activities.
Why don’t we wash our animals more often? Because we have been told not to, or because it’s one more thing to add to our busy lives. We may have read that we’ll disturb the balance of our animal’s skin if we wash them too much, and their skin will get dried out. Healthy animals may not need frequent bathing: each animal is different. Bathe them when they need it.
Animals with skin problems do well with weekly baths. However, at the height of the “allergy” season, many dogs require baths daily or every other day.
Between baths, rinsing problem areas that are not infected can be extremely soothing. Localized inflamed areas may be washed without washing the whole animal, and this may help to stretch the interval between baths. For example, if your dog has irritated and inflamed feet, you can devise a simple system to immerse one foot at a time in a bowl of soapy water, and then rinse them the same way – in just a few minutes.
Tips on choosing shampoos: From the wide variety of commercial pet shampoos available, choose as you do for yourself, trying to avoid toxic ingredients.
Avoid shampoos that include oatmeal. Oatmeal has a great reputation as a soothing ingredient, but animals that have a problem with grain are likely to have problems with oatmeal shampoos. Grain-based shampoos may also provide a carbohydrate food source for unwanted yeast and bacteria on the skin.
“Health” shampoos including essential oils should be used only with extreme caution. Do not use them on cats. Consult with someone knowledgeable about oils if you’re interested in this approach. Always test shampoo first on a very small area!
Critical points for successful and pleasant bath time: Wash thoroughly! Use comfortably warm water, not too hot. On very hot days, many dogs enjoy cool water, which can also reduce inflammation and irritation. Wet your dog completely and use highly diluted shampoo to help spread it all over the dog, Dogs with water-repellent coats (Labradors, Portuguese Water Dogs) are hard to get wet at all: diluted shampoo makes the job easier.
Be gentle! Keep soap out of eyes and ears. Irritated skin is delicate and easily injured. Animals will be worried that you are going to cause them pain — do your best to avoid that. Hot spots in particular are exquisitely painful.
Rinse, and rinse, and rinse! Soap left on skin is very irritating.
Dry the skin completely! This might be difficult, depending on your animal’s coat, but it’s extremely important. Bacteria love to grow in warm, damp setting. Breeds with heavy coats may develop bacterial problems just from staying wet. “Hot spots” can develop in damp areas very quickly in a dog prone to them.
Some dog’s coats air-dry very nicely while others require work. Human hair dryers are not appropriate unless used with a “NO HEAT” setting! Allow some distance between the dryer and the animal. Trim back his/her coat around any affected areas to allow air to get to the skin and to help these areas dry faster. Stay away from “hot spots” with the dryer!
Some animals benefit from a close cut during the summer. This makes keeping an eye on skin much easier!
Prevention: do a body scan. Every day when you’re just sitting together, talking about life, look your animal friend over thoroughly. You can see, feel, and smell when it’s time for a bath. Take the time to do it when it’s needed: skin conditions can flare out of control rapidly.
Look closely for little black specks in your dog’s coat. This may be “flea dirt”, and though you may see no fleas, there might be some. It takes only one flea to trigger a very nasty skin problem in a sensitive dog. Get veterinary assistance when needed!
Feed Real Food. Good nutrition includes whole food antioxidants and ample fresh, non-oxidized essential fatty acids. These components are critical for healing. Without the support of good nutrition, acute episodes may become chronic and possibly life-threatening conditions.
Fresh food provides the best nutrients and helps to proved healthy conditions in the digestive tract, so that the immune system is strong. Without good digestion, an animal cannot be healthy. Good food is the foundation for good health
© Steve Brown and Beth Taylor
See Spot Live Longer