When I was a little girl, we had a schnauzer mix named Patches. I dearly loved her, but her skin was always so greasy and full of dandruff that Mom would never let Patches into the house. That poor little dog itched constantly. We barely had enough money for food, and vet visits were few and far between.
The doctor said Patches needed medicated baths three times a week, regular pills, and a special diet. I remember telling my friends that Patches was allergic to grass, of all things. In other words, we couldn’t cure her skin problems. Every few months, Dad would haul her off to the vet after Mom insisted that he have her put to sleep. But he never did. He always came home with more shampoos, and promises to take better care of her. I used to spray her or rub in Noxema to sooth her skin, and we used Sebulex shampoo when she finally got a bath, every few months.
I look back on Patches and her care with great regret. I was just a little kid, and my mother was always afraid I would “catch” something from Patches.
Today, our generation knows that foods containing additives, dyes, and preservatives can contribute to skin problems. Also, low thyroid, certain grains in food, pollen and dust allergies – a host of causes – can lead to constant itching in your pet. Allergy testing is available, but the results don’t always provide easy answers. After all, if the dog is allergic to dust mites, it is pretty hard to keep her away from them.
If your pet is constantly licking her paws, scratching her chin or ears, or digging at her butt, allergies might be the problem. First, have your vet eliminate other causes such as impacted anal glands, ear mites, or fleas. Constant scratching often causes a secondary staph infection. Cortisone provides immediate relief, but can drive the infection deeper into the dog’s system, and long term use comes with a host of undesirable side effects
The best offense against allergies is often holistic, natural treatment. A colleague of mine in the Dog Writers Association of America, Dr. Shawn Messonnier, operates a holistic veterinary practice in Plano, Texas. He has developed his own line of organic pet shampoos, and I quote him here:
I treat a lot of pets with skin diseases including various skin infections and allergies. However, it is rare that I ever have to use any conventional medications. Why? Because not only do I make sure that my patients are eating a natural diet, free of harmful byproducts and chemicals, and taking a supplement regimen consisting of various herbs and homeopathics that helps heal their damaged skin, but I also prescribe a regular bathing regimen for them.
The secret to healthy skin is frequent bathing. How frequent? While it depends upon the disease, is not unusual for my clients to bathe their pets every one to two days for a few weeks and then one to two times a week to maintain healthy skin. I always instruct my clients to use an organic shampoo devoid of artificial ingredients that could harm the skin or dry the skin and hair. I regularly recommend one of the shampoos that I developed in my line of USDA certified organic pet shampoos called Dr. Shawn's Pet Organics
While I'm obviously biased towards the shampoos, I know they contain the best ingredients available to heal damaged skin and maintain a healthy skin and coat in my patients. Frequently bathing their pets with the shampoos will allow quick healing without the use of expensive and potentially toxic conventional medications in most pets.
My holistic vet when I lived in Washington State, Dr. Lemon, recommended that I rinse my dog in cool, distilled water. Hot water will aggravate the itchiness.
I haven’t seen a lot of allergies in cats, though many do have thyroid issues. Here are some books that will give you more information about allergies in dogs.
Guide to Skin and Haircoat Problems in Dogs, Lowell Ackerman DVM