Atopic dermatitis or "atopy" is the most common skin disorder diagnosed in dogs in the country.  Some dogs are simply diagnosed with "allergies".

  • Atopic dermatitis is a disease in which the dog becomes sensitive to environmental  allergens. Breeds commonly affected include West Highland White Terriers, fox terriers, Labrador and golden retrievers, dalmations and cocker spaniels, although any dog can be affected by this disease.
  • Allergies usually develop within 1-3 years of a dog being exposure to environmental allergens. Many pets initially have seasonal signs usually fall and spring, showing itching of the skin only during the season when the specific allergens to which they are allergic are most prominent. Eventually, most allergic pets will develop symptoms that last all year long.
  • Typical symptoms include itching, but normal appearing skin. This helps in diagnosing atopy vs. mange, flea dermatitis, yeast infections. Secondary infections from the actual itching can take place. Atopy and the secondary infections can become chronic, or ongoing, if the underlying issue is not addressed.
  • Traditional treatment of atopic dermatitis usually involves steroids and antihistamines sometimes antibiotics. Using low doses of steroids for very short periods of time does not seem to harm health, however to keep the symptoms of atopy in check, long term use of steroids may be the treatment suggested. Side effects of long term steroid treatment includes osteoporosis, adrenal gland dysfunction, liver dysfunction, thinning of the skin, predisposition to secondary infections throughout the body and weight gain. Steroids are immune suppressants so long term use creates a whole set of new issues directly related to the immune system.

A Natural Approach

  • Supplementation of the pet's diet with whole food supplements has proven effective as part of the therapy for pets with allergies in many veterinary practices. Whole food supplements, unlike chemical vitamins and minerals, supply a number of nutrients to the pet. These nutrients appear to work in several ways, including stimulation of the pet's own immune system, inhibiting the release of the chemicals such as histamine, serotonin, and substance P, causing itching during the allergy attack, and decreasing the clinical signs seen during the allergy attack (possibly by raising the "itch" threshhold.)"mDr. Shawn Messonnier, DVM

Proper Diet

Nutrition is a key component to treating atopy. The most heavily advertised pet foods are often among the worst foods to feed pets. And, as most pet owners rely heavily on advertising or price, both of which are not the best way to make a nutrition decision for a dog, many pets are eating substandard food.

Most commercial pet foods contain chemical preservatives such as BHT, BHA, and ethoxyquin. Artificial dyes and flavors are also added. Low quality cereals, unnamed meats and middlings are among the ingredient lists of many "grocery store" pet foods.

By choosing a diet that is free of these artificial and poor quality ingredients, many times this alone can show some differences in a dog's allergy symptoms.

While a high quality, meaty dog food is an acceptable choice for many pet owners, a homemade diet is easy and superior as it contains human grade foods and whole foods,  no chemicals and no dyes.

Regular Bathing

Many allergens causing itching in dogs are absorbed through the skin. Regular bathing in an organic, oil based shampoo can decontaminate the skin, washing away the irritating allergens.  However, many pet shampoos contain actual skin irritants, so reading the label and being familiar with the ingredients is critical.  Saponified oils such as olive and coconut are skin soothers.  Therapeutic grade essential oils contain properties that actually heal and sooth.

Whole Food Supplements

The best nutrition for people is found in whole foods, and this is also true for our pets. Whole food supplements are the best way to add required and highly usable nutrients to a dog's diet.  The whole food ingredients in these supplements function in a variety of ways.  Benefits can include detoxifying the liver, strengthening the pet's immune system, softening mucus in the respiratory tract, strengthening the digestive tract, decreasing cellular oxidation and functioning as natural antihistamines and natural anti-inflammatories. Adding these supplements to a quality diet provides the pet with a number of nutritious substances that assist the body in dealing with the allergen load encountered during the allergy season.  And, as there are no negative effects of adding whole food supplements to a dog's diet, this is much preferred to traditional steroids.

The majority of pets with atopic dermatitis in our country are treated for many years with increasing doses of antihistamines and potentially harmful steroids, which over time become less effective but increase in their harm done to the body.  A more natural approach, using a proper diet, regular  shampooing, and generous supplementation with the proper whole food supplements is a much more satisfying and less toxic approach to treatment.

Each pet is different, however the results of proper nutrition, regular bathing and whole food supplementation are almost always the same, an increase in health and wellness in the pet, which is a win-win situation for both pet and owner.