Atopic Dermatitis: Can you Improve your dog's skin barrier?
Although it’s obvious that skin is the barrier between the dog and its environment, it’s become more common to look at the coat as a measure of health, or nutritional adequacy. A beautiful coat may be one aspect, but the skin barrier is critical. Ultimately the coat may suffer from the dog scratching constantly when that barrier is in trouble.
Atopic dermatitis is a common allergic skin disease that needs to be identified by a veterinarian. Chronic inflammation caused by reactions to dust mites, pollens, human dander, mold spores and pretty much anything else you can think of that’s air borne causes misery for the dog and frustration for the dog parent. Improving the skin barrier has an important place for these cases.
Let’s not kid ourselves. Genetics play a huge role here, and it’s not easy to turn things around – but not impossible either. In the perfect world breeders would know which dogs have allergies and not breed them, but some breeding dogs really aren’t showing any signs of a problem, yet offspring do. Throwback to a dog from multiple generations ago? That’s possible!
What can we do for the dog that’s in front of us?
1. Breeders have the option to choose their mating dogs carefully and start a diet that’s focused on the skin barrier for several generations – long before breeding a dog.
2. Pet parents can start focusing on diet right away.
Integrity of the skin barrier has been a targeted goal for us when working with specific cases for many years. Key factors include proper hydration, a focus on essential fatty acids – not just omega 3 – and ratios, ceramides (waxy lipid molecules), antioxidants and phytonutrients. An important point is what we often avoid in these diets. Fermented foods are usually not fed since they are very high in histamines.
- The first step is an anti-inflammatory home-prepared diet balanced to NRC with additional B vitamins.
- Providing phytonutrients is typical of our diets, but we are especially focused on them in cases of atopic dermatitis. We want to be sure we’re not feeding foods that can be part of oral allergy syndrome, but we want to provide sulforaphane if possible because it reduces oxidative stress and inflammation. Broccoli is an excellent source of sulforaphane. Dogs that are allergic to mugwort may be poor candidates for this, so we choose collards which are also a source of sulforaphane.
- Ceramides help retain moisture. You may have heard of them in ads for skin care products, and even dog shampoos. A ceramide is a naturally occurring lipid molecule that’s part of skin structure within the membrane of cells on the surface layer of the skin. Think of them as part of the mortar that holds skin cells together. Less ceramide translates to a poor skin barrier. Application of products that include ceramides onto the skin has a direct impact, but nutrition plays a role as well. Diets that are rich in properly balanced essential fatty acids can protect the skin, and sweet potato, is a good source of ceramides.
- Skin healing starts at the basal cell layer which is the deepest/innermost layer. You’re unlikely to see lightening fast results with a dietary protocol, but you can see dramatic ones that last. The key is to bring relief to the dog as you go about dietary changes. A dog that continues to scratch and irritate the skin can develop a bacterial infection which causes even more itchiness, or a fungal (yeast overgrowth is common in these cases) infection. The skin can’t heal if it’s under constant attack, so never worry about needing to treat the dog with a veterinary prescription, antihistamine or whatever can bring relief. You can speed up the benefit of dietary measures when you start from a place of calmer skin.