Supplements for skin problems in dogs and cats

Nutracueticals and good nutrition help ease the inflammation caused by skin problems in animals. 

For a lot of dogs and cats, summer means an increase in skin problems and allergies. Others suffer from these issues all year round, thanks to flea dermatitis, food intolerances and other conditions. Whatever the cause of your companion’s skin problems, the itchiness and inflammation can make his life miserable.

This article will concentrate on supplements that can help him feel better. Be sure to work with a holistic or integrative veterinarian for the correct dosages to meet your particular animal’s requirements.

Underlying pain can trigger skin problems

You may not realize it, but skin conditions such as lick granulomas in dogs, and overgrooming with subsequent hair loss and miliary dermatitis in cats, are often a sign of chronic pain or discomfort in underlying tissues. If the skin condition is on a lower leg or lower part of the body, the underlying problem is often pain in the back or a joint in the upper part of the leg, or even on the opposite leg. Tail pain is usually manifested as overgrooming at the site itself.

Nutritional supplements that decrease pain and/or inflammation are often helpful for these cases.

  • DLPA (dl-phenylalanine) is especially helpful for back and joint pain.
  • Vitamin E (d-alpha tocopherol).
  • Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is also helpful. Because of the role vitamin
  • C plays in regenerating vitamin E back to its antioxidant form, I recommend they always be used together. Vitamins E and C are also useful for pemphigus.
  • Curcumin phytosome – the phytosome form is absorbed 29 times better than the regular form, allowing pharmacologically active levels of curcumin in the body.

Food allergies or intolerance

Improving nutrition in general will help most health problems. In the case of food allergies or intolerance, whenever a food causes an intestinal breach, larger molecules that would not normally enter the circulatory system are absorbed. If they can be pre-digested, however, the allergenic load is decreased. Both plant-based and animal-based (pancreatic) enzymes can be used. It’s best to begin with plant-based enzymes; in a severely allergic animal, pancreatic enzymes are the most likely to cause an allergic reaction, are more expensive, and are often not as well accepted.

To decrease inflammation in an allergic animal, it may help to change the meat source to pasture-finished. Grass-finished meat has higher levels of Omega-3 fatty acids, lower fat content, more beta carotene, and less E. coli and salmonella than grain-finished meat. The fatty acid content and profile more closely match that of wild game. Natural or organic meat is not necessarily grassfinished, and may still undergo a final feeding of grain for a month or two. Venison that is commercially raised, using grain to finish the carcass, also has a fatty acid profile that is closer to feedlot-fed beef than to grass-fed beef or wild venison.

Plant sterols are immune-modulating chemicals that decrease inflammation while enhancing immunity.

Soothing general inflammation

Essentially all dermatological problems, from flea allergies to food intolerance, cause inflammation of the skin. Many supplements help directly with this inflammation.

  • Antioxidants decrease inflammation, so vitamins C and E can help. Reported results using vitamin E have been mixed, but this may be because it was not used with vitamin C. Without C to restore its action, the pro-oxidant form accumulates and gradually starts inducing more inflammation.
  • Vitamin A can be used topically for feline acne and acanthosis nigricans. Published reports of vitamin A toxicity involve large amounts consumed over a relatively short time (e.g., 100,000 IU per day for a cat for six months), and it takes years on an all-liver diet to see the effects. Long term ingestion of relatively lower doses can still be toxic, however. If an animal is already getting fish oil as a supplement, ask your vet to calculate the total amount of vitamin A ingested before increasing the dose. Note that we’re not talking about beta carotene. Some product labels list vitamin A, but underneath in small print they’ll say “in the form of beta carotene”. Beta carotene does not have the same effect that vitamin A does, and pure beta carotene as a supplement has been linked with an increased incidence of three types of lung cancer in humans. There are no reports of this for mixed carotenoids.
  • Zinc is also helpful for acanthosis nigricans; for any hyperkeratotic lesions, especially involving foot pads and nails; bacterial and yeast infections; and general dermatitis. Excess calcium and copper can interfere with zinc uptake.
  • Fatty acids can be a two-edged sword. We used to see a good response to skin problems by using Omega-6 fatty acids, but most pet food companies now include enough. Excess Omega-6s can increase inflammation, so supplements may compound the problem. Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory over a broad spectrum of tissues, so it is often preferable to use a supplement that only includes Omega-3s. Flax oil (one source of Omega-3s) cannot be processed by cats into an active form, so fi sh oil is the preferable source. Dogs only convert about 10%, and it is only converted to EPA. Algal oils only contain DHA (although there are algae that produce EPA), and are expensive. A dose of 50 to 250 mg/kg/day of Omega-3 fatty acids is a starting point for decreasing inflammation. The best Omega-6:3 ratio for this purpose has been found to be 1.5:1. Older research indicating a ratio of 5:1 never explored a lower ratio.
  • Plant sterols are immune-modulating chemicals that decrease inflammation while enhancing immunity.
  • Anxiety and stress contribute to symptoms and unwanted behavior in dermatitis. Several nutritional supplements can decrease these issues. One is l-theanine. As well, l-tryptophan is back on the market and is an excellent anxiolytic. Melatonin, given half an hour before bedtime, is also helpful.
  • Iodine is helpful against candidiasis. Kelp is an excellent source of both iodine and microminerals. Microminerals are often overlooked; they go beyond trace minerals and mimic those found in the sea. They have been leached out of farmland and, except on organic farms, are never replaced. Food grade diatomaceous earth and mineral deposits such as bentonite and montmorillonite are also sources of microminerals.
  • A concoction of half aloe vera juice and half strong black tea, mixed together and kept in the refrigerator, can be applied as often as needed (at least twice a day) to hot spots or any other areas that are moist and inflamed, and to areas with a strong yeast smell. The tannic acid in the tea has an astringent effect, and aloe vera helps decrease inflammation and speed healing. It will turn white fur brown, however, so be warned.

To decrease inflammation in an allergic animal, it may help to change the meat source to pasture-finished.

Using these nutritional and supplemental aids along with Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine, homeopathy, chiropractic and other modalities to correct the underlying imbalances causing your dog or cat’s skin problems will prevent future issues. They’ll alleviate symptoms and support the skin while the deeper cures are developing.

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A graduate of veterinary medicine at the University of California, Davis, Dr. Nancy Scanlan has used nutraceuticals since 1969. She became certified in acupuncture by IVAS in 1987 and followed up with education in chiropractic, Chinese herbs, Western herbs, and homotoxicology. This led to 16 years as the only holistic practitioner in a 7-person practice. After retiring from practice, Dr. Scanlan served as executive director of the AHVMA for 3 years before stepping into her current role as executive director of the AHVM Foundation. Dr. Scanlan is a consultant, author of a text on complementary medicine for veterinary technicians, and writer and lecturer about complementary and alternative veterinary medicine. She is currently enrolled in a masters degree program on integrative cancer treatment at the University of South Florida’s medical school.