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Atopic Dermatitis


Atopy is the most common cause of pruritis in the canine. Atopic dermatitis is most commonly caused by allergy to pollens and fungal spores. Skin infection is often secondary to atopy, contributed to by biting and licking the skin as well as inflammation breaking down natural barriers on the skin. Infection commonly involves both bacteria and Malassezia. Natural treatments include desensitization, decreasing inflammatory reactions, and attacking the infections.






Skin allergies can be controlled in most cases; but not cured without identifying and eliminating the specific allergen behind the allergy. Antihistamines, corticosteroids, and immune suppressants can offer relief to your affected dog. However, corticosteroids are potent drugs with severe side effects when used long-term. These side effects can include:



  1. Increased drinking and increased urination
  2. Weight gain
  3. Loss of muscle (even though they weigh more)
  4. Osteoporosis (weakened bones);
  5. Adrenal gland dysfunction (leading to a hormonal imbalance and possible development of Addison’s Disease or Cushing’s Disease);
  6. Liver dysfunction;
  7. Thinning of the skin; and
  8. Predisposition to secondary infections throughout the body;

Steroids are also immune suppressants; so their long-term use can lead to new issues directly related to the immune system. The immune system is also critical in helping the dog effectively fight atopic dermatitis; so the long-term use of steroids can actually be counterproductive in the long-term, overall health of the beloved pet. Any use of corticosteroids or other immune suppressants should only be used under strict guidance for short periods of time. 


Many vets are now recognizing the need for holistic allergy treatment instead of the possibly ineffective or dangerous long-term use of corticosteroids. See below under “Integrative Medicine” for holistic supplement treatment alternatives.

Allergy shots can provide long-term allergy control (also called hyposensitization or immunotherapy). Once the responsible allergen(s) have been identified, the allergic dog is given injections of small, but increasing doses of the allergy-causing substance at varying intervals for up to 12 months to desensitize the canine against that allergen. Lifelong response may take up to 12 months of treatment. Note: Some dogs may require periodic allergy shots during times of the year when allergens are heavy. 


Providing relief from the constant itching is paramount for the allergic dog to avoid potential mutilation and secondary infections in any open wounds or hot spots caused by the constant licking or scratching. Below are some suggestions that can offer immediate relief from atopic dermatitis:


» When the dog comes in from outside, wipe their fur down with a damp towel to help remove any and all pollen or allergens that may linger on their coat. Use a fresh towel each time. Rinsing the dog off with cool fresh water can also help remove the allergens.


» Us a prescribed antihistamine to control the itching and scratching. Antihistamines can be used with relative safety in dogs. However, like in people, a potential side effect is sedation. It might be necessary to try several different antihistamines before finding the right one. The correct dose depends on the dog’s current body weight. Examples of antihistamines commonly used for dogs include: Tavist, Benadryl, Chlortrimeton, Atarax and Seldane.


» Topical anesthetic preparations can help treat and relieve local areas of itching.


» Rehydrating and medicated shampoos can help provide temporary relief by rehydrating the skin and treating any potential bacterial infection.


» Cool baths, with or without colloidal oatmeal or Epsom salts, can also provide some temporary relief from intense itching.

» Caution should be used with anti-itching sprays and ointments because they may contain potentially harmful substances.


» For household allergens, the best prevention is avoidance:


1.Use a dehumidifier to reduce any household molds and dehydrate mites.


2.Place activated charcoal on top of the exposed dirt in house plants to combat molds as well.


3.Run an air cleaner with a HEPA filter to control dusts and pollens.


4.Air conditioning can also reduce circulating amounts of airborne allergens from the outside.


» A key component to effectively treating skin allergies is proper nutrition. Many commercial pet foods are actually substandard in substance and include chemical preservatives such as BHT, BHA and ethoxyquin. These preservatives, as well as artificial dyes and flavors, can all contribute to sensitive skin problems and an overactive immune system unable to cope with potential allergens.


By choosing a diet that is free of artificial and poor quality ingredients, this alone may create a huge difference in the dog’s allergy symptoms. Feed the allergic canine only a high-quality dog food without artificial flavors, colors, preservatives, or grain-based products such as corn gluten meal. Just like people, dogs can negatively react to the gluten found in wheat which can cause all sorts of health problems especially when it comes to the skin.


Integrative Medicine


» Omega-3 and GLA essential fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish oils (especially krill and salmon) and GLA is derived from plants such as evening primrose. These fatty acids have been shown to:


1.Reduce the amount and effects of histamines released during an allergic response. Omega-3 fatty acids can specifically help dampen the immune response to allergens, particularly inhaled allergens such as pollen.


2.Reduce inflammation. While Omega-3 and GLA act as natural anti-inflammatory agents, they are not as effective in reducing itching once an allergy has developed.


3.Omega-3 fatty acids can also increase the effectiveness of other traditional allergy treatments, such as antihistamines.


» Antioxidant vitamins A, C and E; Zinc, NAC, Thymus and herbs Echinacea  and Astragalus Root are all known to help the immune system fight bacterial and viral infections; they also reduce inflammation associated with allergic reactions.


» Reishi Mushrooms also work well as an anti-inflammatory and antihistamine agent to relieve allergy symptoms.


Atopic Dermatitis
(Reference: Veterinarians’ Desk Reference)

(Live Link)


Species affected: Canines.

Background: Often becomes secondarily infected by bacterial, fungal or parasitic organisms.


Symptoms: Hair loss, exudate, especially in the form of seborrhea, thickened and damaged skin. Odor and pruritis, which may be intense, become noticeable and there may be an associated otitis as well. Initially pruritis is often concentrated in the feet in dogs, and often accompanied by conjunctivitis.


Diagnostics: A complete diagnosis must include very complete history to determine all the causal factors as well as ruling out other chronic diseases.


Special Notes: Can be a frustrating condition to treat, and can require multiple therapies and a long recovery time.


Principles for Supplementation: Treatment is aimed at restoring health for any concurrent conditions as well as treating the inflammation in the skin.







Buffered C Powder12

Dogs: 10 mg/lb bid

Stimulates phagocytic effect of leukocytes, nitrate scavenger, aids in synthesis of collagen and carnitine. For atopy, more effective if given TID. Can dose up to bowel tolerance.


1 per 15 lb

Supports skin and coat for dogs and cats with food or environmental sensitivities and for those pets with seasonal allergies.


1 capsule per 20 lb bid or 1 scoop per 20 lb bid

Helps achieve normal moisture content of skin.

Hua She Jie Yang Wan25

Dogs: 2-4 pills, bid or tid

Clears heat, relieves toxins, drains dampness, extinguishes wind, nourishes qi and blood, helps stop itching.

Omega PlusVET12

Dogs: 2 gelcaps/25 lb sid

EFAs help moisten the skin, provide anti-inflammatory effects, and the GLA has particular affinity for atopic dermatitis.

Resinall-K Liquid23

Apply topically on all hot spots, bid

Antibacterial, antifungal, antipruritic. Can also be taken internally.

Small Animal

Dogs: 2 capsules/ 25 lb sid


Super EPAVET12

Dogs: 2 gelcaps/ 25 lb sid


Vitamin C with

Dogs: ½ capsule/ 25 lb sid


Yu Ping Fan San25

Dogs: 2-4 pills bid or tid

Tonifies Qi and stabilizes the exterior.

Zinc Citrate12

Dogs: ½ capsule/25 lb bid (up to 1 capsule, bid if needed)

Essential for growth, immune system as a cofactor of superoxide dismutase. Excess zinc is toxic and can cause copper deficiency.


To help you quickly find the right Integrative Medicine formulas and manufacturers to help treat your dogs, cats and horses, please refer to the Veterinarians’ Desk Reference
(Click Here)


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