So, it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything – in fact, it’s been a whole year. I’ve decided it’s high time to post something again and, in the spirit of Christmas, I wanted to share some advice with those of you that love your pets as much as I do; advice that could hopefully change the quality of your dog’s life and, in so doing, make your life a little easier too.
Meet Kimbey: my ten-year old Maltese Boomer (50% Maltese, 25% West Highland Terrier and 25% Pure Heaven). (I could go on here about her insanely cute and intelligent personality, all the special little things she does and how crazily in love I am with her, but – if you are reading this – you probably feel exactly the same about your dog, so you ‘get it’).
Kimbey, like most dogs with white or light skin, in her later years developed a chronic kind of skin problem. The technical term for it is ‘atopic dermatitis’ which basically refers to an allergic skin disease. Earlier in this year, the problem became worse and worse and, despite top veterinarian care, it got to a point where I wondered whether she was enjoying life at all anymore. It was heartbreaking and frustrating to the highest degrees: she was scratching non-stop, making herself bleed in certain hot spots, the hair around her eyes and around her bum was falling out leaving her with bald little patches, her skin was excessively oily giving off a bad smell and, the worst part was, she had lost all of her trademark lust for life. She was clearly incredibly frustrated and sad.
The vets, sharing my frustration, told me that this was a very difficult problem to treat seeing as Kimbey is such an allergic dog (we had special lab tests done in the USA to determine all of her allergies, which include grass, many meats, house dust mites, feathers, washing powder etc.) The situation felt almost helpless. The only relief that seemed viable at the time was in the form of cortisone, which, although it brings temporary alleviation of symptoms, suppresses the dog’s immune system and – in the end – can cause all sorts of horrific effects including cancer and a shortening of life span.
So, given the dire situation and a resolute feeling that there must be a solution, I went on a mad research tangent, googled myself silly, tried every single piece of advice out there and even got on the phone to a specialist US veterinarian homeopath (which cost me a pretty penny, but – of course – I was desperate).
I am extremely proud to say that, in the end, with the help of two amazing vets, I managed to swing Kimbey’s ‘impossible’ skin condition around by 180 degrees. Her skin has never looked better, her fur is shiny, soft and smells beautiful, the hair around her eyes and her bum have grown back beautifully, the scratching (which used to wake me up as many as 5 times a night) is virtually gone and she has ALL of her bouncy, mischievous and joyful personality back!
So, here is what worked for little Kimbey (please check with your veterinarian before following this advice, as I am certainly not a qualified vet, I am simply sharing what worked for me, in the hopes that you may reap the same benefits):
1. Breaking The Initial Cycle If the scratching is at a point where the dog is making him/herself bleed and the situation is clearly out of control, you first need to break the cycle. The more the dog scratches, the more histamine is released and the more they feel the incessant urge to scratch. To break Kimbey’s cycle, we had no choice but to administer low levels of cortisone, injected at a dose recommended by our vet. Do not administer cortisone other than through your vet. Your vet might also recommend a tranquilliser of some sorts to get the dog to sleep through the night. I strongly recommend Dr Reena Cotton, Vet Point, Sea Point, Cape Town (http://findplace.co.za/Western-Cape/Cape-Town/Vetpoint-Dr-Reena-Cotton) or Dr Barry Hindmarch, CAMC, Kenilworth, Cape Town. A natural alternative for calming your dog down is Rescue Remedy, available at any pharmacy (but be sure to use the alcohol-free tablet form, not the drops),
2. Washing/Bathing This is a tricky one. Too much bathing can strip the skin of its natural oils and cause an increase in oil production which causes a bad smell. Too little bathing is also problematic as, when the skin gets too dirty, this increases the itchiness and of course also causes a bad smell. We found for Kimbey what worked was one to two times a week. Again, ask your vet about how often you should bathe your dog. Very important: use a calming, natural oatmeal shampoo (completely avoid anything with a fragrance in it) or ask your vet for a medicated anti-itch shampoo (Dr Reena Cotton, Vet Point, Sea Point, Cape Town). Make sure you dry your dog off completely after bathing, using either a hair dryer with cool air or a towel. If your dog has an ear infection too, make sure to wipe the ears out softly with a cotton pad so that they are completely dry. Be sure to get the ear infection under control as well: your vet should be able to recommend ear drops.
3. Avoidance of Allergens This is incredibly important, especially in the beginning phase when your dog’s system is still very weak and needs time to build up some strength again. It’s no use trying to control the allergic reaction if you are not avoiding the allergy-causing substances in the first place. If you can afford it and are willing to spend the money, ask your vet about blood allergy testing (Cape Animal Medical Health Centre, Kenilworth, Cape Town, Dr Barry Hindmarch). You will have to be vigilant, especially at first. For instance, if your dog is allergic to grass, you will have to wipe their paws off with luke warm water when they come inside. Don’t spray perfumes or household sprays near your dog.
4. Pet Clothing This might seem silly and spoiled, but I found this incredibly helpful. Kimbey seems to scratch a lot less when she is wearing one of her little pet t-shirts or tops (make sure it’s a good quality one, though, made of cotton and not synthetic material). I reckon it protects the skin from environmental allergens, but it also puts a barrier between the skin and the dog’s nails and teeth, when it tries to scratch or bite itself. Just make sure, in summer, to use light-weight clothing (you don’t want the skin to heat up). Wash their clothes with a non-chemical laundry detergent.
5. Diet Everyone has and it entitled to their own opinion, but I, personally, do not believe in feeding your dog pellets or dry food. Quite simply, it’s not real food and if you take the time to read up on exactly what’s in it, you will probably be shocked and very quickly discover for yourself why so many people stay far away from it. Of course, feeding your dog real food is costly and time-consuming. For an allergic dog, however, this makes a big difference. The skin is one of the organs your dog’s body uses to try to get rid of toxins. If you clog up that system by feeding your dog undesirable food, of course the already-burdened skin is going to suffer even more. If you are able to obtain blood allergy test results to determine which foods to stay away from, obviously use that as a guide.
What made a tremendous amount of difference to Kimbey’s health was changing her diet to one that consists of vegetables and protein. Personally, I strongly believe in the raw food diet for dogs, as advocated by leading holistic veterinarian Dr Richard Pitcairn. His best-selling book, Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats, is truly fantastic and offers holistic health advice for a whole range of symptoms and illnesses (not only skin-related issues).
I feed Kimbey steamed vegetables (mostly broccoli, cauliflower, pumpkin, butternut and gem squash) with either raw protein (minced lamb or other meat) or cooked fish (cooked in a tiny amount of coconut oil), twice a day. Some people are concerned about parasites in raw meat, but I sprinkle a bit of diatomaceous earth (a natural anti-parasite product, available at most pet stores) on her food and Kimbey has never had a parasite problem. Dogs’ stomachs are a lot stronger than that of humans. If you don’t have time to cook and prepare food for your dog, try Vondi’s Pet Store in Sea Point, Cape Town. They sell ready-made healthy meal options.
Note: some ‘human’ foods are highly toxic to dogs (e.g. xylitol, chocolate, macadamia nuts, avocado, onions, garlic, grapes, raisins, dairy produts etc) so read up on this and avoid giving these to your dog under any circumstances.
5. Supplements We add a small amount of coconut oil to Kimbey’s food (it’s excellent for their general health and for any skin-related disorders) and we also add a special fish oil blend to each meal (specifically formulated to reduce the symptoms of skin diseases) available at Vet Point. In all the research that I came across, fish oil and coconut oil are the two supplements that kept being mentioned for dogs with itchy, scratchy skin. Bear in mind that it could take a few weeks for the effects of these supplements to start showing, but be patient, they will.
6. Anti-histamines Last but definitely not least, we have put Kimbey onto a daily dose of anti-histamines. It took 2-3 weeks to build up in her system and start showing proper results, but – when it did – she became a completely different dog. Check with your veterinarian which anti-histamines and what dosage, is recommended. We use a combination of Allergex and Phenergan, which really has worked wonders. Kimbey was on another antihistamine before and it certainly did not work half as well as this combination. Finding the right antihistamine or antihistamine combination can make all the difference. Again, I cannot stress this enough, do not self-medicate your dog. Speak to your vet (I recommend Dr Reena Cotton, Vet Point, Sea Point, Cape Town).
Since Kimbey’s skin has settled so nicely now, I am going to try wean her off the Allergex and get her started on Allex (a natural Patrick Holford product) since this is probably something she will have to take chronically to keep her skin in check. This is available from Dr Barry Hindmarch, CAMC (link above) or Wellness Warehouse.
7. Homeopathy This is an excellent treatment option as well, if none of the above works for you or if you feel you want to start here. Homeopathy seeks to address the underlying causes of any illness and, in so doing, help the body heal itself. I obtained the details of one of the leading veterinarian homeopaths in the world from Dr Richard Pitcairn himself. Her name is Dr Wendy Jensen and her email address is email@example.com. She practises in the USA but is available for international Skype consultations.
8. Classical Music This seems to be very soothing and comforting to them, especially during the acute phase and if you have a particularly musical dog (Kimbey enjoys singing along to the piano, when I play).
9. Regular Exercise This is a no-brainer and of course helps to maintain the general health of your dog and assist the body in flushing out toxins. It also distracts them for their discomfort a bit.
DISCLAIMER I re-iterate that I am not a qualified vet and my advice is given simply from research and practical experience i.e. what has worked for me and Kimbey. I strongly suggest that, in treating your pet, you seek the advice and supervision of your vet. If the first vet you try is not able to help, go for a second opinion or even a third.
Finally, please don’t get despondent and don’t give up hope. Seeing your furry loved ones suffer from something out of their control, is absolutely heartbreaking. I know. However, when it comes to atopic dermatitis, there are solutions and there most certainly are ways of dealing with it or lessening their and your discomfort.
Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions at all.