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Newsletter - January 2010

The News At Home

One of the joys of living with dogs is that they can make you forget you’re an adult. Take Morley, for instance. The other day, Tori was in one of those “zoomie” moods that dogs get into when they’re wet. She bolted indoors after having roamed the backyard for a while and started running around the house at full throttle. Seemingly unable to calm down, she ran to Morley and play bowed once before racing off again. Without hesitation, Morley stopped what he was doing and began running in circles around the house. I was sitting in a corner, calmly watching my very adult husband and his 15 pound dog chasing each other like fools. It wasn’t long before Morley was out of breath and stopped, while Tori smiled (yes, dogs do indeed smile - I don’t care what anyone says!) and wagged her tail joyously. We laughed, Tori jumped to sit on our laps, and all seemed right with the world. Living in the moment is something we wouldn’t remember to do if not for Tori.

Fact of The Month

The Cause of Itchy Skin Needs to be Indentified

Many of the emails I receive are from dog owners concerned about their dog scratching and licking themselves obsessively. In fact, our Tori was doing this for quite some time before we saw a dermatologist who thus far seems to have helped her more than we ever imagined possible. Treatment for Tori includes special shampoos twice weekly, a solution for her ears, and treating a urinary tract infection. Her case also involves dietary changes to address calcium oxalate crystals in urine, although we aren’t yet sure if this is a primary problem. Tori takes prednisone to help address two medical conditions that would make her life intolerable otherwise. In fact, she would be dead without it. As important as this medication is to her quality of life, it does come with side effects, and what I’ve described above are only some of them. She is not alone. Dogs suffer with skin problems for many reasons, and while we can try to feed the problems away, it’s best to identify the cause. 

Diet does indeed play an important role in skin health, but the first step is to understand the bigger picture. Two examples stand above others. One involves a young West Highland White Terrier who was deemed by his owners to have allergies and dry skin. They were certain of food and environmental allergies because the dog had been scratching for several months and he was now almost bald. The dry skin was obvious. Neither dietary changes nor the addition of fish oil helped resolve the situation. This comes as no surprise since the dog had mites, and probably had them since he was a puppy, but was only diagnosed a few weeks earlier. Feeding away mites is impossible, of course, so no amount of oils or variety of foods would have helped.

Another case that comes to mind is that of a very thin GSD in a shelter. She had been underfed for months and was scratching like mad. In her case, the problem was a fatty acid deficiency, and likely, a mineral deficiency as well. Insufficient food translates to insufficient amounts of vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids. On the other hand, a dog that’s fed plenty of food will not be thin, but if the diet is not balanced, the same deficiencies can exist, so the skin (and the rest of the dog) will pay a price.

If your dog has ongoing skin problems, I strongly urge you to visit a good dermatologist. Certainly, changing the diet to novel ingredients is a good step (dogs can be allergic to the foods you think should be healthy), and the dog may very well need to be supplemented with essential fatty acids, but consider the diet as a whole. If feeding a home-prepared diet, don’t assume that simply feeding a variety of foods will create a balanced diet. Zinc, copper, vitamin A, B vitamins and more must be provided in the correct amounts if you hope to resolve skin problems. Use the NRC guidelines for the nutrient requirements of dogs to be sure you’re feeding a balanced diet. When working with these cases, I often start by adding acidophilus and l-glutamine to the diet. These supplements support the gastrointestinal tract. By feeding them, we hope to support healthy GI function including absorption of nutrients that can help the skin as well as the rest of the dog.

In Tori’s case, prednisone is the likely culprit of her skin problems, but that doesn’t mean we shrug it off and accept any outcome. Regardless of the underlying cause of your dog’s skin issues, there are things you can do to help. Be certain that the diet is balanced and includes foods the dog tolerates. Use supplements that are pure and wholesome. Support the GI tract. Keep the dog well hydrated. If you don’t seem to be getting anywhere, see a good dermatologist and get a diagnosis. With that in hand, your roadmap to success is almost certain.

Happy New Year, everyone!


“I'd rather have an inch of a dog than miles of pedigree.’ -- Dana Bruett



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