Atopic dermatitis or "atopy" is one of the most common skin disorders diagnosed in dogs in the country. Some dogs are simply diagnosed with "allergies".
- Atopic dermatitis is a condition 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, and other purebred breeds; although any dog can be affected by this condition.
- Allergies usually develop within 1-3 years of a dog being exposure to environmental allergens. Many pets initially have seasonal signs usually fall and/or summer, 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 immunosuppressants, 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 synthetic 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" threshold.)" Dr. Shawn Messonnier, DVM
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.
Many allergens causing itching in dogs are absorbed through the skin. Regular bathing in an organic, essential 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 oil and coconut oil are great skin soothers. Therapeutic grade essential oils contain properties that actually heal and soothe the skin without stripping the skin of moisture.
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 supporting the immune system, with vitamins, minerals and digestive enzymes, as well as Omega 3 fatty acids to help support a healthy immune system, skin, coat and joints.
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.