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Skin And Coat

Pruritis (medical-ese for itchy skin due to any number of underlying causes) can be the bane of a dog’s existence. It’s not pleasant for owners to deal with either, and trying to find the cure is a frustration for many vets. There are plenty of possibilities like mites, flea bites, seborrhea, allergies, et al. Ruling out a number of things is a very important step, and once your veterinarian has done that, you may be left with dietary measures alone. In that case, there are a few things things that can help you to help your dog.

Try an elimination diet (1-2 simple foods your dog has never eaten before – preferably a home-made diet, so you can control all ingredients and avoid herbs and other things the dog can react to). Commercial diets can backfire, and one of the reasons is that the meat you think you're feeding may not actually be what you think it is. Read about the finding here. Unless the dog becomes worse, feed the elimination diet for 8-12 weeks before deciding it’s a winner, or failure. The immune system can take this long to calm down even after the food culprit has been eliminated, so rushing the process won’t help.

Food isn’t always the problem. Veterinary research has shown that combinations of fish oil and evening primrose oil can relieve seborrhea, pruritis, allergic itching, as well as other skin and coat disorders. Oils that provide EPA or combinations of EPA, DHA, and GLA are needed to show significant improvements of these conditions.  Vegetable oils such as olive, sesame and soybean are so ineffective for these conditions that they are used as placebos. (Bond R, Lloyd D. A double-blind comparison of olive oil and a combination of evening primrose oil and fish oil in the management of canine atopy. Vet Rec 1992;131:558-60.)

An open, uncontrolled study at Cornell University showed that a limited ingredient (Iams lamb and rice ) diet was fed to 18 atopic dogs with pruritis and multiple diagnosed allergies. The  diet controlled n-6 to n-3 fatty acids at 5.5:1, about four times lower than their normal diet. Eight dogs responded to the diet, and pruritis was controlled within 7 to 21 days. Symptoms returned 3 to 14 days after they were taken off the special diet but abated again when the diet was reinstated for six weeks. Limited success to be sure, but  due solely to dietary changes. Had fish oil - purity tested wild salmon oil - been added and the trial had been longer, it’s quite possible that results would have been even better.

In a controlled study of 16 dogs with pruritis, conducted at the University of Florida, Gainesville, 11 of 16 owners reported significant improvement in their dogs’ coats with high-dose (1 ml/4.55 kg body weight) fish oil. Clinically, pruritis decreased 38 percent and hair loss 45 percent.

Research seems to have concluded that dogs need a very large amount of oil (5-10 times what people need) to arrive at clinical improvement. I’ve seen suggestion of 16 TBS. per day, which isn’t likely to be tolerated much less safe for many dogs. In my experience, a better plan is to change the diet to something novel, and add oils as adjunct therapy. My best results have come via an elimination diet that’s balanced as soon as the trial proves successful combined with extra B vitamins, wild salmon oil and primrose oil. Coconut oil can be helpful to some dogs, but doesn’t offer the same benefits, so substituting it won’t help the healing at various levels of skin layers.