We seem to have gotten Buttercup's allergies largely under control by changing her food but since the cold, dry winter rolled in she seems to have dry itchy skin. It's not red or raw but when I rub her itchy parts (face, hindquarter, back) to keep her from scratching, I notice fine flakes of skin fall.
This got me wondering about whether any effective, natural ingredient-based doggie skin lotions exist. Ran across this compelling article that suggests repairing the skin barrier immune function in dogs with atopic dermatitis can effectively prevent and even sometimes treat yeast and bacterial skin infections.
The article suggests using frequent chlorhexidine-based baths to remove bacteria, yeast, and allergens like pollen & mold followed by leave-on lipid/fatty acid solutions to repair the skin barrier. Similar approach works for humans with atopic dermatitis. Does anyone have any experience using this approach or these kinds of products?
Anecdotally, after reading the article I plopped Buttercup in the tub and gave her a good rinse, wet washcloth rub-down, and another thorough rinse & rub with just warm water. She wasn't stinky or oily so I opted not to use her medicated wash. Since the bath she no longer seems itchy at all.
I copied the article below in case the link doesn't work long-term. The article notes that the approach is labor-intensive, but it seems most of us here already devote quite a bit of time to caring for our bullies and we've got our bath process down pat so that the longest part is waiting for her medicated wash to sit for 10-minutes.
The 'killer app' for canine itching and skin infections
By Christie Keith, Special to SF Gate
Published 4:00 am, Thursday, January 20, 2011
The latest medical breakthrough for dogs with chronic skin allergies and infections is low-cost, safe and effective. It may even help solve one of the biggest health crises facing not just our pets but people, too, the rise of drug-resistant bacteria. What is this miracle of modern veterinary medicine? A bath.
If you have a dog with itching, infected or irritated skin, you're not alone. Veterinary Pet Insurance, the nation's largest pet health insurance provider, reports that skin conditions are the top three reasons dog owners head for the veterinarian's office.
Treatment of chronic skin problems in dogs, especially itching, has never been easy, involving allergy desensitization shots, dangerous immune-suppressing steroids and powerful antibiotic and anti-fungal medications.
But even with aggressive treatments like these, many dogs' symptoms can only be partially controlled.
As if that wasn't bad enough, the antibiotics once relied on to clear up both human and animal infections are becoming increasingly less effective against "superbugs" like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus pseudintermedius
(MRSP, formerly known as MRSI -- same bug, new acronym), which makes dogs miserable but almost never causes problems for people, and its well-known human counterpart, MRSA. The more frequently antibiotics are prescribed for infections, including canine skin infections, the more bacteria develop resistance to those drugs.
This causes problems not just for dogs, but for all species including people, as those genes for drug resistance are passed from one bacterium to another and become widespread.
Hang on, you might say. My dog doesn't have skin infections. He has allergies that make him itch all the time. Why should I care about bacteria, resistant or not?
Although a dog can have a bacterial skin infection without having allergies, the reverse is not true. It turns out that dogs with skin allergies -- a condition called "atopic dermatitis" -- have a weakness in their skin's immune function, known as a "barrier defect."
In normal dogs, the skin's barrier keeps water inside the body and substances like bacteria, yeast and pollens out. In dogs with a barrier defect, those substances "leak" into the deeper layers of the skin. Because the body perceives them as invaders, the immune system revs itself up to destroy them, bringing local inflammation to the area as part of the immune response.
That inflammation causes the itching, redness and irritation we know as an allergic reaction. Most dogs react to the discomfort by chewing and scratching their skin, which further damages the barrier, allowing more bacteria and yeast to penetrate into the deeper layers of the skin, triggering more irritation, itching and inflammation.
It gets worse: Dogs can eventually become allergic to the bacteria and yeast themselves, triggering an escalating cycle of infection, itching, chewing and licking that leaves the dogs hairless and in pain, and the owners broke from constant, often fruitless, visits to the veterinarian.
Those skin infections have always been treated with antibiotics, and until a few years ago, that approach helped break the cycle by relieving pain, irritation, and infection, and even reducing itching by eliminating bacteria that were causing an allergic reaction in the dog. But today, more and more canine skin infections are caused by resistant strains of staph, against which the antibiotics that used to control them are powerless.
The difficulty of treating dogs with skin disease in an age of drug-resistant infections drew more than 200 veterinarians to hear Dr. Valerie A. Fadok, a board-certified veterinary dermatologist speaking at this week's North American Veterinary Conference in Orlando, Fla.
In a series of lectures, Fadok tackled the topics of canine atopic dermatitis, drug-resistant staph infections, and the dawning hope that therapies targeted at repairing the defective skin barrier might hold answers to these hard-to-treat conditions.
Unlike many of the new developments typically announced at both human and veterinary medical conferences, Fadok's good news was a treatment that costs very little. These tough cases, she says, respond well to frequent bathing and the use of between-bath topical rinses and "leave-on" solutions that are thought to repair a dog's skin barrier
"When we look at samples taken from a dog's skin under a microscope, we see all kinds of things," she said. "That includes molds, pollens, and bacteria."
Frequent bathing washes these substances away, which in turn reduces the infection and allergic reactions, as well as the chewing and licking that can make the problem worse.
Following up the baths with rinses and "leave-on" solutions containing ingredients designed to restore the skin's natural defenses can accelerate the healing process and, if continued, reduce or eliminate itching and future infections in dogs with atopic dermatitis.
Dogs with atopic dermatitis whose bacterial infections are under control should be bathed once or twice a week, but for dogs with resistant staph skin infections, Fadok recommends daily bathing. Dog owners should use shampoos containing chlorhexidine, an antiseptic, followed by rinses and leave-on solutions with specific fatty acids thought to restore the skin's barrier function.
In her Houston dermatology practice, Fadok used this treatment on 12 dogs with drug resistant staph infections. After four weeks, the animals were cured of their skin infections, without the use of antibiotics.
"It's labor-intensive for the owners, and not all of them can do it," she said. "But it works."
It's also better for the dog than drugs that not only have serious side effects but often don't even work anymore, she added.
Want another reason to choose suds over drugs? Bathing your dog instead of giving him antibiotics for his allergies and skin infections can not only reduce the spread of more drug-resistant bacteria, it may also help already-resistant bacteria lose that resistance.
If that's a little hard to understand, think about it this way: Bacteria acquire genes that help them resist antibiotics in order to keep themselves from dying when under attack from those bacteria. If the attack ends, the bacteria may gradually lose the bit of genetic material that protects them from that antibiotic. This can only happen, however, if you're not giving antibiotics to that dog.
Many pet owners believe that bathing will dry out a dog's skin if he has atopy and/or resistant skin infections, making itching and infections worse.
"That's a widespread misconception, and I wish it wasn't still out there," said board-certified veterinary dermatologist Dr. John Plant. "We know that bathing removes allergens and infectious agents (bacteria, yeast), and helps restore epidermal function in (atopic) humans. Can it do the same in dogs? It's a bit unclear, but I've observed it helps a lot with my atopic patients. Some can even be controlled that way alone."
More research is needed, but what we know now suggests rinses and leave-on solutions do help restore the skin's barrier function in dogs.
"Electron microscopy shows that the barrier looks better after they're used, even if we're not sure of the clinical benefit of long-term therapy," Plant said.
That's not to say that bathing and rinsing will fix everything. Dogs may still need antibiotics for some infections, and anti-fungal drugs, too, are sometimes necessary.
The most severely affected dogs may even continue to need drugs that suppress the immune system and put them at risk of serious side effects.
But if you're one of the many unlucky dog owners struggling with skin allergies and infections in your pet, it may be time to give your dog a bath.
Just be aware that one size does not fit all dogs when it comes to the products you use. Some contain different types of antiseptic, while others use various forms of fatty acids, or lipids. Some are sold only through veterinarians, and some are available over-the-counter. Since the issue of drug resistance is so critical, and the suffering of dogs with atopic dermatitis can be so severe, be sure to work with a veterinarian or, if possible, a veterinary dermatologist, when selecting the right product for your dog's individual needs.