Treating skin disease
Knowing where to start this post engenders a similar feeling to that which arises when trying to start to unravel cases of skin disease, or as Hahnemann called it, Psora, or ‘the itch’.
O where to begin to describe the mystery and persistence of skin disease.
Without exception, the greatest caseload of any practicing Veterinarian is skin disease. As our friend Julius Sumner Miller used to say “why is this so?”
It is also another dilemma for me, do I or don’t I share my thoughts and experiences? Having trained and practised conventional veterinary medicine for over twenty years I feel well qualified to share my current understanding of health issues in animals and how I see things differently these days.
Whilst this post will focus on dogs, it also applies to other species.
Skin is the largest organ of the body. As an organ it performs a host of functions that are rarely noticed until something goes wrong. When an animal develops a rash or an itch that persists for days or weeks then we notice.
It is really important to understand why this is happening.
Then we will see more clearly why modern western medicine lets us down big time in managing skin disease and why dermatology has been arguably the fastest growing and perhaps the most lucrative medical practice to emerge in recent times next to oncology.
Skin is a barrier that lets things in and lets them out. When this flow is disrupted then signs and symptoms will erupt.
This will occur if the skin itself is not receiving the nourishment it needs to perform its function and also if there is an impediment to the function itself.
The skin is a living and breathing organ that needs the freedom to function and do its job without unnecessary interferences.
Its needs are simple; nutrition, protection and respect.
Firstly our dogs are not getting the correct nutrition for skin health and secondly they are not being allowed to express toxicity without interference.
It is the skins job to get rid of poisons and toxins that the body needs to expel. It is a major excretory organ that rids the body of harmful buildup.
Taking this a little deeper, these ‘toxins’ can also be emotional or hormonal outlets.
If we do not understand what is happening to their skin it’s off to the vet, invariably resulting in the administration of a cortisone injection and antibiotics. This, in effect, stops the skin doing its job.
Often this stops the symptoms. More often it returns. More often, repeatedly returns.
After weeks or months of intractable and perceived ‘skin disease’ being suppressed by these drugs, it is little wonder that the poor skin starts to become exhausted and fails more, thusly beginning another cycle of worry and concern to the owner and vet alike. Then it is referral to the skin specialist who is used to seeing them in this state and has a whole protocol for continuing ‘the problem’ more often with ‘big gun’ suppressants or desensitisation. Allergic skin disease or immune mediated skin disease, is number one diagnosis.
Like so many other health issues in modern life we have come to accept that disease can only be managed. If we have completely given up on cure then we need to wake up.
We are seeing skin disease in young animals. If a young, vibrant animal is incapable of curing itself then we have to ask what is really going on.
Many of us have seen this pattern emerging and have started to question the authenticity of management of skin disease. It has been many years now that the concept of skin nutrition has been considered important but with the overwhelming dependency on commercial foods, this has only given rise to packaged dry foods with added omega3 and 6 fatty acids and special fish and potato diets. These foods usually work better than other dry foods and have saved many dogs lives, but better still is raw natural feeding regimens that look at a complete return to health. The skin is just the indicator, albeit obvious and hard to ignore.
If your dog is lucky it will have managed to keep symptoms of distress and attempts at detoxification in its skin despite the suppression from the drugs.
These are the chronic skin cases. They are the lucky ones. Less fortunate individuals will have the skin symptoms disappear only to be replaced by deeper disease manifestations because the disease has not truly been removed, just suppressed. These dogs will develop behavioural or nervous diseases and in extreme suppression over time, can develop cancer.
Over two hundred years ago, Hahnemann saw that most chronic disease has a basis in Psora, which translates these days to what has just been described above.
Checklist for your itchy dog
- Remove ectoparasites such as fleas, mites, ticks and biting insects
- Remove grains from the diet (this includes all dry and tin foods, pasta, bread etc)
- Allow detoxification and assist it with chlorella or raw vitamised greens
- Consider immune stress or ill effect from vaccination or surgery and allow time for recovery naturally or use homeopathy.
- Minimize self harm, may need an Elizabethan collar for example
- Check for injury or other cause of itch like foreign bodies or tumours etc
- If skin is dry add flax oil or fish oil to raw meaty bone diet
- Feed a raw meaty bones diet so that chewing can strengthen health
- Check for obvious allergens like grasses or synthetic sleeping mats
- Brush or Groom if necessary so that hair is knot free and healthy
- Bathe if smelly or dirty but not frequently
- Massage is beneficial even if only patting and stroking
- Be patient and allow the course of the disease to unfold clearly if it does not fit any of the above.
It is self trauma from scratching that causes infection and once the skin has been scratched there will be infection arising. Primary causative infections are extremely rare. This secondary infection is usually not a problem if the animal’s immune system is strong and supported nutritionally although the irritation ensuing can be more than they or the owners can bear.
Antibiotics can provide a window of relief in these situations but they are not the cure and usually not necessary except in protracted mismanagement.
It can be very difficult for devoted owners looking for a way forward when other options are running thin. It is often necessary to take the case back and allow full expression of the disease before a new way forward can emerge. This is the biggest challenge. I find this can be very stressful given that so much time, money, energy and effort has already been invested in trying to manage these animals to date and now it seems they are going backwards. It is very easy to lose heart and despair if not adequately prepared.
I advocate natural raw diets as the mainstay of all treatment plans with added nutrients as required. Often an herbal supplement can aid recovery but will often result in a toxic fallout for which we need to be prepared and monitor. Homeopathic remedies can provide the best way forward along with immune strengthening practices like Bowen. The immune system is under as much or more strain as the skin in these cases and it is disruption to the immune system that perpetrates most symptoms of itching and inflammation.
Things will usually look worse before they get better if they have been going on for a while already. There will need to be a turn around of dependency and a re education and strengthening of a near exhausted system.
Veterinarians practicing natural medicine are going up against the odds unless the cases are early ones. As with most natural medicine, we are a ‘last resort’ and as such, generally have to perform miracles to obtain credibility.
If a skin disease in managed holistically from the start it has a much better chance of cure. Many skin diseases can only hope for palliation after months and years of suppressive therapy but we always hope. There are cases that can be turned around at any time but it requires education and preparedness of the owners to a new way of seeing and thinking; plus the indomitable strength of the animal.