Itchy dog in the snow
Photo: Carmelka/istock

Top 5 Vet-Recommended Steps for Itchy Dogs & Cats

Here are some of the actions I advise my clients to take when dealing with an itchy pet.

Add Omega Fatty Acids

The skin surface is made of a complex layer of phospholipids that create a membrane helping to keep out environmental allergens & irritants and maintain populations of normal bacteria. Unfortunately, due to stress, illness, allergies, infections, diet, and other contributing factors, the healthy membranes protecting the skin surface (and therefore the deeper layers) may become deficient. Providing your pet with an omega fatty acid supplement in addition to the natural fatty acids that exist in diets can greatly benefit skin health. It’s best to consult with your veterinarian about the most appropriate supplement for your pet’s needs (fish, flax, coconut, etc.), as it’s essential to have an proper balance of omega 3, 6, and 9 fatty acids.

Use Shampoo and Conditioner Regularly

Some owners only groom their pet when there are obvious skin lesions, a bad smell, or a general unthrifty appearance. Regularly bathing your canine or feline companion with a pet-appropriate shampoo can be a greatly beneficial in keeping up the general health of the skin and coat. Shampoo helps to lift off layers of dead skin cells to refresh the surface and also can remove over growing bacteria, yeast, and other organisms. Some prescription veterinary shampoos can even killed bacteria and yeast or provide an anti-itch effect with antihistamines, steroids, or topical anesthetics. Conditioner provides needed moisture and other beneficial substances, including omega fatty acids, naturally anti-inflammatory substances (colloidal oatmeal, aloe, etc.), and even topical medications to promote improved integrity of the skin surface.

Dont Forget Brushing or Combing

Like bathing, taking a pet-appropriate brush or comb through the coat of your canine or feline companion can provide many health benefits including removal of skin cells, extraction of loose hair and undercoat, and increased blood circulation (to enhance tissue oxygenation and nutrient delivery and facilitate removal of metabolic wastes and infectious organisms). Not all pets take readily to the brushing or combing process, so make sure to start gently and be consistent. Seek guidance of your veterinarian or professional groomer to determine the best means by which you can help maintain your pets’ coat via brushing or combing.

Provide Whole-Food and Human-Grade Diets

Pets that consume commercially-available processed diets consume ingredients that vastly differ from the format in which nature intended our dogs and cats to eat. Although some kibble and canned diets have ingredients that are more whole food based, they often also can contain chemical preservatives, artificial colors and flavors, mold-produced toxins, and even ingredients that are carcinogenic (cancer-causing). Whole-food ingredients are often better digested with improved nutrient absorption, as receptors in the digestive tract more closely match the inherent structure of foods in a natural format (as compared to synthetics, like with manufactured vitamins). Additionally, human-grade foods are higher-quality and are less likely to contain harmful ingredients than feed-grade ingredients found in most pet foods and treats. The appearance of a pet’s skin and coat greatly reflects what is going on internally from the perspective of overall health. In my experience, my patients that eat whole-food diets and treats throughout their lives instead of processed foods generally have healthier skin and a more lustrous coat.

Try Foods With Cooling Properties

In Chinese medicine, there are foods having energetic properties that are warming (Yang), cooling (Yin), or neutral. Dogs and cats with diseases where there is excess energy in the body (too much Yang) or deficient cooling energy (Yin) are often prone to skin redness (erythema), edema (swelling), pruritis (itching), flaking, infection, and more. Allergic skin conditions, immune-mediated (“autoimmune”) diseases, and cancer fit the bill of excess Yang or deficient Yin. Feeding meals that are fresh and moist provides much-needed hydration to the body that cool overabundant Yang and promote beneficial blood flow and nutrient delivery. Additionally, choosing foods that have cooling to neutral properties can help to quell some of the heat and energetic excess associated with red, irritated, itchy, and chronically infected skin. Cooling foods include: Proteins- turkey, duck, rabbit, fish (salmon, tuna, other), egg white, yogurt, cottage cheese, etc. Vegetables and fruit- spinach, kale, parsley, broccoli, mushroom, green peas, cucumber, apple, banana, melon, watermelon, cantaloupe, blackberry, cherry, blueberry, raspberry, pear, etc. Grains- brown rice, barley, whole wheat, quinoa, etc. When applying a Chinese medicine food principles to your pet, it's best to work with a veterinarian who has been trained in such philosophies. One can be found via the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society (IVAS) or Chi Institute.

Dr. Patrick Mahaney

Dr. Patrick Mahaney VMD, CVA, CVJ is a veterinarian and certified veterinary acupuncturist providing services to Los Angeles-based clients both on a house call and in-clinic basis. Dr. Mahaney’s unique approach integrating eastern and western medical perspectives has evolved into a concierge house call practice, California Pet Acupuncture and Wellness (CPAW), Inc. Additionally, Dr. Mahaney offers holistic treatment for canine and feline cancer patients at the Veterinary Cancer Group (Culver City, CA).
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