By Lynne Miller
Dry, itchy skin is a nuisance for dogs, and pet parents are sniffing around for natural supplements for this common and vexing problem.
Treating pruritus, or itching, can be difficult since any number of things can cause it. Food allergies, seasonal allergies, fleas, ticks, mites, and skin infections are just a few of the culprits. To complicate things further, more than one thing could be making your pooch itchy. If you notice lesions on your dog’s skin or the itching is out of control, make an appointment with your veterinarian.
And before you buy any supplement, veterinarians recommend taking a close look at your dog’s diet.
Ideally, dogs should eat a diet that’s relatively high in protein and low in processed carbohydrates, says Dr. Michael Dym, a homeopathic veterinarian based in Royal Palm Beach, Fla.
“Before supplements, we must cut down on inflammation which often starts in the gut,” Dym says. For dogs that eat typical commercial pet food, “you can add every supplement known to man and it won’t stop the itching.”
Read the label closely on your pet’s food, advises Dr. Patrick Mahaney, a Los Angeles-based holistic veterinarian. Look for food that lists meat, poultry or fish as the first ingredient, and avoid food with ingredients labeled as “byproduct” and “meal,” with the exception of flaxseed meal.
“It comes down to the quality of the ingredients,” Mahaney says. “Generally, the patients I work with are so much healthier from a skin perspective if they’re eating whole foods.”
You might feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of natural products promising relief from chronic itching. Here are a few common supplements recommended by veterinarians.
The Omega-3 fats found in fish oil help reduce inflammation, which can lessen the intensity of many allergies. According to the VCA Animal Hospitals’ website, these fats can also be used to treat skin disorders such as seborrhea or seborrheic dermatitis, which occurs when the sebaceous glands of the skin produce an excessive amount of sebum, an oily/waxy material.
Omega-3s also reduce reactions to pollen and other common triggers found in the environment, Dym notes.
Fish oil can complement medicinal treatments for itching, such as oclacitinib tablets, says Dr. Lenny Silverman, a traditional veterinarian with a practice in Brooklyn, N.Y.
“We have some clients who use fish oil on a regular basis,” Silverman says.
Look for the purest form of fish oil with low flavor and low odor, ideally manufactured by a company that tests for radiation, Mahaney says. You can pierce the capsule and add the liquid directly to your dog’s moist food.
Make sure to balance the essential fatty acids in your pet’s diet.
“Most premium pet foods contain a lot of Omega-6 fats so you need more Omega-3 supplements to balance it properly,” says Dr. Jean Dodds of Garden Grove, Calif. Dodds, noting that Omega-6 fats can cause inflammation, recommends dogs get five times more Omega-3s than Omega-6s in their diet.
Too much fish oil can also have adverse effects. Consult your veterinarian before you start supplementing.
Coconut oil can improve many skin conditions including itchiness and dryness. It also can reduce allergic reactions.
You can apply coconut oil directly to your dog’s coat, dry, cracked pads, cuts and sores.
Dym likes to add a little coconut oil to food. Add coconut oil slowly to your pet’s diet, about a quarter teaspoon per every 10 pounds of body weight.
“Coconut oil is high in fat,” Dodds notes. “If you put too much in food, your dog can get diarrhea.”
Because of its fat content, coconut oil also may not be a good choice for overweight dogs, according to The Drake Center for Veterinary Care. Coconut oil also should not be fed to dogs with pancreatitis.
Digestive enzyme supplements are used for treating a variety of health problems including itchy skin. One brand that Dym likes combines four plant-derived enzymes in a powder. The product aids digestion by breaking down protein, starch, fat and fiber.
Dym recommends sprinkling the powder directly onto your pet’s food at each meal. Ask your veterinarian for a recommended amount.
Sometimes referred to as “Nature’s Benadryl” by veterinarians, quercetin can help dogs suffering from environmental allergies. Quercetin is a flavonoid, a plant-based compound with antioxidant, antihistamine and anti-inflammatory properties, Dym notes.
For best results, he recommends using quercetin with bromelain, an enzyme extracted from pineapple, and papain, an enzyme derived from papaya. Quercetin is available in pills and capsules. Ask your veterinarian for a recommended dosage.
Used to treat a number of ailments in dogs, yucca extract may be an option for dog owners who want to avoid putting their pet on steroid medications.
“It’s a wonderful alternative to cortisone,” Dym says. “It’s almost a natural cortisone in a plant.”
Yucca comes in capsules and a liquid formulation. Since it has a bitter taste, make sure to dilute the liquid with water or mix it well into your dog’s food. Follow all product guidelines and work with your veterinarian on dosage and application tips if you’re considering adding a yucca supplement to your dog’s diet.
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