The Torment of Pet Itch

dog lying on grass

Ugh! My dog won’t quit licking and itching. Have you ever had to deal with a pet that had a persistent itch or wouldn’t quit licking or grooming? Well, take comfort—you’re not alone. This problem can be unbearably frustrating for owners and, at times, painful for our pets. They’re susceptible to skin infections, parasites, allergies, and many other conditions that are also common in people.

According to PetMD, there are over 160 different skin disorders in dogs. If your pet has one of these skin disorders, it’s important to determine the particular cause of the irritant. Now when I say cause, I don’t mean diagnosis. For example, itchy skin (pruritus) is not a diagnosis, nor is an allergy. Be aware that often you’re treating the symptoms rather than the cause. The veterinarian needs to establish the cause of pruritus both externally and internally.

Let’s take a look at some factors that can cause skin irritants and discuss how to relieve those unwarranted, annoying displays of persistent licking and itching. Veterinarians should consider five main categories of skin and coat abnormalities (dermatitis) when presented with a skin problem:

  1. External Parasites
  2. Behavioral Issues
  3. Pain
  4. Bacterial, Fungal, or Yeast Infections
  5. Food and Environmental Allergies

Although these abnormalities may require dips, shampoos, dietary changes, and/or medications, they have one thing in common: they all present a nutritional deficiency of some kind and require additional dietary supplementation.

For dosages on the protocols mentioned below, please see the Veterinary Clinical Reference Guide.

1. External Parasites

There’s no doubt that the thought of parasites living on our pets is disheartening—and kinda gross. Though there are many different parasites, never fear. This is a very treatable problem.

But why are some pets more affected than others? For example, dogs and cats with immune deficiencies can experience an overgrowth of mite populations (demodicosis). Predisposing causes include a decline of the immune, endocrine, nervous, hepatic, or dermal systems. Because demodicosis can be a “whole body” disease, the most successful treatment involves nutritional support of all these systems. I recommend a low-carb, grain free diet, preferably served moist. High-carb diets with grain are pro-inflammatory, leading to elevated blood glucose levels. Such diets are also immune suppressive. If you feed your pet dry food, moisten it first. This is recommended for the following reasons:

  • Makes food easier to digest
  • Increases fluid intake
  • Reduces the body’s need to provide fluid before food can break down
  • Reduces the kibble’s astringent/inflammatory effect on gastric mucosa

Also consider adding the following Standard Process supplements:

  • Canine or Feline Immune Support offers general immune system support for the liver, kidneys, spleen, thymus, bone marrow, and gut flora.
  • Canine or Feline Enteric Support for general digestive system support. Given that 70 percent of the immune system is along the digestive tract, it plays a huge part in overall immunity.
  • Cal-Amo supports normal cellular pH with a source of chlorides and calcium lactate (system acidifier). Mites prefer a more alkaline environment, which is caused by chronic inflammation. (Note that Cal-Amo should always be given with food.)
  • Dermatrophin PMG for dermal/skin support.

2. Behavioral Issues

Feelings of boredom or anxiety in pets are more common than you think. When pets are regularly left home alone, they can become bored and anxious. We’ve all seen people with anxiety bite their nails or twirl their hair. Well, dogs can have physical responses to psychological upset too. In fact, some dogs develop a condition very similar to human obsessive-compulsive disorder. It can manifest itself in scratching, tail chasing, licking, or chewing behaviors that can cause severe damage to pets and owners alike. And along with stress and anxiety comes adrenal stress. When extended over a long period of time, adrenal stress can lead to many health and behavioral problems. To learn more, make sure you check out my previous blog post on this topic, “Overstressed Pets,” from April 2014.

3. Pain

Before we jump to the conclusion that our pets have a behavioral problem, we must first rule out pain, illness, and/or disease. Animals cannot point to a problem area or tell us what hurts, but many times they will lick the area, if they can reach it, including their forelegs, stomach, or feet. If you see this, make sure you take your pet to the veterinarian for a full assessment. If your pet gets a clean bill of health, the next step is to consider a change in diet, such as going grain free, or activities and discipline exercises to decrease boredom. Also consider supplementation to support the adrenal glands.

4. Bacterial, Fungal, or Yeast Infections

The most common type of skin infection is bacterial (pyoderma). Next comes yeast infections, which are more common in dogs with long floppy ears and water lovers. Fungal infections such as ringworm can occur anywhere in the body and are very contagious to both humans and other pets. These often look like bacterial or yeast infections, but your veterinarian can determine the correct diagnosis by collecting blood samples, skin scrapings, fungal tests, bacterial cultures, and skin biopsies to identify the root cause of the infection. Once this is known, your vet can develop a treatment plan that will prevent a recurrence. When it comes to infections, keep in mind that we’re really dealing with a suppressed immune system that leaves pets unable to fight off infections on their own, so it’s crucial to rebuild and repair the immune system. I recommend Canine/Feline Immune Support along with Canine or Feline Whole Body Support from Standard Process for a full 12 weeks, then reevaluate. Depending on your pet’s age and situation, I may suggest other combinations from the full Standard Process vet line and/or human line. Each case is individual.

5. Food and Environmental Allergies

Leaky gut—what the heck is that? As Mark Anderson of Standard Process notes: “Leaky gut is scurvy of the gastrointestinal tract. A collagen disease where the fabric of the gut is unraveling, affecting the junctions between the villi. This vitamin P deficiency affects the dermal lining and the vascular integrity, creating bowel lesions and allowing proteins into the blood system.” When the body responds to these proteins, it results in an allergic reaction, and that in turn leads to itching and licking! This is why we need to look at the gut first when we address allergies.

Topical skin ointments and antihistamines may keep your pet comfortable for a time, but the true healing comes from inside. For allergies, the number one protocol I recommend is:

  • Daily Canine/Feline Enteric Support to provide nutritional support for all aspects of the digestive system.
  • Canine/Feline Immune Support or Immuplex (3 per day) for general immune system support. Antronex to support liver detoxification and help the liver clear histamine more efficiently (as the histamine causes the itch).

So what do we know about itchy, scratchy pets? With the help of your veterinarian, you can determine the external trigger of the irritant and take steps to relieve the symptoms. But always—I repeat, always—address the cause of deficiency both internally and nutritionally.

Every itchy case has a nutritional component!

Tracie Hoffman, VT

Tracie Hoffman is a veterinary technician with over 20 years of experience. She is able to use her knowledge of conventional veterinary approaches and her expertise in whole food nutrition to create better options for doctors and their staff. Although she is most present with Colorado Standard Process West clients, Tracie offers assistance via phone and email throughout the region. She hosts lunch and learn programs, reviews cases, provides protocols and assists clinics with start-up, client education and advertising. She has also developed a number of complementary veterinary reference aides, available from SPW. If you would like to contact Tracie, please email her at [email protected]

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