Back to books...
The Allergy Solution for Dogs
<Sample chapter from the book: Topical Allergy Treatments>
Avoiding allergens is extremely important when caring for the allergic pet. While you can't keep your dog away from every allergen in this environment, you need to remove the allergens he has contact with as quickly as possible. Frequent bathing and conditioning is probably the most important part of the treatment of the allergic dog. Remember that your dog absorbs a lot of allergens through his skin. When you can remove these allergens, you decrease the exposure to the trigger that causes the dog to itch. When he itches less, he scratches less. Even pets on high doses of corticosteroids need frequent bathing and conditioning to remove the things from their bodies that cause itching. Bathing Frequency
How often is 'frequent'? Each pet will require a different regimen, but in general shampoo and condition your dog every other day or 2 to 3 times per week during the allergic season. Once the scratching is under control, decrease the bathing and conditioning to an as-needed regimen, which is usually once a week. For a severely allergic dog, consider daily bathing until he is comfortable, then weaning to 1 to 2 times per week to maintain a 'comfortably itchy' pet.
Are you surprised by this recommendation? Many people have been conditioned to the concept that bathing to often is bad for dogs and dries out their skin. While frequent bathing of a healthy dog with harsh, soapy shampoos can dry out and irritate the skin, the allergic dog has a disease that requires frequent bathing and conditioning. If you use gentle shampoos and conditioners, it is only the rare pet that develops dry, itchy skin. This can easily be remedied by adding a bath oil to the final rinse, but it is rarely needed. In fact, most allergic dogs improve considerably with frequent use of a hypoallergenic shampoo and conditioner.
Use Hypoallergenic Shampoos and Conditioners
You can use a number of products to bathe and condition the coat and skin of allergic pets. I like to start with the mildest product first, and use more medicated products only as needed. What do we mean by the term 'hypoallergenic' shampoo and conditioner? First, any shampoo or conditioner can irritate a pet's skin. Those designated as 'hypoallergenic' are least likely to do that. The shampoo and conditioner serve to remove allergens from your dog's skin and hair, condition and rehydrate the skin, reduce flakiness (flaky skin is itchy skin), and decrease inflammation and itching. The 'ideal' hypoallergenic shampoo and conditioner should:
Be soap free.
Soap can irritate and dry the skin, especially when the pet is bathed frequently, which is necessary when trying to decontaminate the allergic pet. Hypoallergenic shampoos use surfactants to remove the dirt and excess oil on the skin and coat.
Be easy to use.
It's hard enough to find time to bathe and condition your pets several times each week. The product must be easy to apply and rinse off.
Contain anti-itching ingredients.
The most common holistic ingredient is colloidal oatmeal. I prescribe a product that contains the oatmeal plus aloe vera, which is known for its healing, soothing, and anti-inflammatory properties.
Look and smell nice.
I know it seems odd to mention this, but keep in mind that if you don't like the way the product looks or smells, you probably won't use it very often, if at all. All things being equal, I choose products that are attractive looking and smelling.
Consider Medicated Shampoos and Conditioners
Your veterinarian may recommend other types of shampoos for your dog. For an allergic pet that does not respond to the mild hypoallergenic shampoos, you can use a medicated shampoo and/or leave-on conditioner to decrease his itching. These are basically hypoallergenic products that contain topical anesthetics, antihistamines, or corticosteroids. Obviously, when we're trying to find a natural approach to treating itching, we'd prefer not to use medicated products. However, using a topical product containing medication such as antihistamines or corticosteroids is preferable to using these drugs orally or by injection. If your dog requires such a product and the product decreases the itching without the use of oral medications, seriously consider such an approach. Anything we can do to decrease the need for oral or injected drugs is important.
Other types of medicated shampoos and conditioners include those designed for pets with infections. Since so many allergic dogs have skin infections, you might need to use these products for short-term treatment.
While frequent hypoallergenic shampooing and conditioning are an extremely important part -- maybe the most important part -- of the treatment of the itchy dog, the majority of pets do not improve with shampooing and conditioning alone. You should use these topical applications as one part of your pet's treatment. When combined with nutritional supplements, feeding a natural diet, and other complementary therapies, shampooing and conditioning can be quite effective in removing foreign proteins from the skin and coat of the dog, relieving itching, and assisting the skin in healing.
As with so many complementary therapies, there are a number of anecdotal reports showing that treating dogs with atopic dermatitis topically with glycoproteins (a sugar-protein molecule) produced relief from itching and inflammation. Research is needed to provide a better idea of just how glycoproteins work and how they are effective.
Aloe vera is the main source of a glycoprotein called acemannan. Look for either aloe vera or acemannan as an ingredient in shampoos and conditioners. It is in the brand that I prescribe for pets with atopic dermatitis, along with colloidal oatmeal, which is also well known for its topical anti-itching effect.
Excerpt from The Allergy Solution for Dogs: Topical
Allergy Treatments used by permission of Prima Publications.
Copyright © 2001 by Shawn Messonnier, D.V.M. All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2007, Paws & Claws Animal Hospital, All Right Reserved