A Natural Approach To Treating Your Pets Skin Conditions
The main reason we seek veterinary care for our dogs is to address skin issues. In our quest for solutions and true cures, we often find ourselves in potentially precarious positions.
Here’s why: although the skin is the largest organ of the body, the predominant allopathic treatment approach involves symptom suppression, rather than a search for (and treatment of) the cause of the problem.
These Western veterinarians view the skin (and every body part, for that matter) as a separate system. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, this segregated, rather than integrative perspective typically employs superficial treatment methods that may keep dogs in a perpetual cycle of sickness.
Holistic veterinarians have a converse perspective, and recognise that everything is connected. This outlook views the skin as a complex, integrated, (visible) organ that “talks” to the rest of the body via myriad pathways that include the digestive and immune systems, kidneys, liver, and nervous systems.
First, let’s discuss the basics.
Functions of the Skin
The skin is included in the body’s integumentary system, which is also composed of ear canals, earflaps, fur, nails, and various glands (anal, lymph, sweat and tail). The skin provides a crucial, protective elemental shelter, or barrier.
It keeps bones, connective tissue, internal organs and muscles inside the body, where they belong. This gives dogs their flexible shape. The skin comprises about 12% of your dog’s total body weight, and typically has a pH of 7.4, which can fluctuate a bit due to breed, fur or hair colour, and stress level variations.
The skin stores electrolytes, fats, proteins and some vitamins, and engages in vitamin D synthesis. It also excretes water, salt and organic waste, prevents dehydration, and regulates body temperature.
Structure of The Skin
Approximately 95% of a dog’s skin (minus some hairless breeds) is covered in fur, and is much thinner than a human’s. It consists of three layers: epidermis, dermis and hypodermis.
The first layer, or epidermis, is five layers thick, non-vascular, and contains four types of cells. Keratinocytes manufacture keratin, which waterproofs your dog’s coat.
Melanocytes determine skin and fur/hair color, and protect your dog against damage caused by the sun’s UV rays. Merkel cells are found on your dog’s paw pads, and provide sensory perception. Finally, Langerhans cells contribute to your dog’s immune system health by balancing his microbiome.
The Dermis And The Hypodermis
The next layer of the skin is called the dermis. Basal cells and a type of protein called collagen hold this section together. This enables the dermis to provide a firm foundation for hair growth and connective tissue. The dermis can regulate sensations, including pain, due to its integrative network of blood vessels, lymph glands, nerves and nervous system receptors.
The hypodermis is the last layer of the skin, which fastens itself to internal body systems. The hypodermis protects the rest of the body through flexibility of movement, insulation and shock absorption.
The Standard Of Care: No Individuality
Western veterinary standard of care is defined as a specific set of circumstances, or presentation, for which a set “standard” treatment is administered. The standard of care for most skin issues, both acute and chronic, involves the use of antibiotics, anti-fungals, corticosteroids and immunosuppressants. This approach does not treat your dog as an individual being, or investigate the cause of the presenting condition.
The standard of care is the same for my 10-pound Pug as it is for your 90-pound Husky, regardless of variations in diet, environment, stress level, toxic load or vaccination status.
The allopathic method of presentation eradication through suppression weakens a dog’s perpetually challenged immune system, and creates body-wide congestion, heat and inflammation.
To add insult to injury, repeated use of antibiotics, steroids and vaccines can cause systemic imbalances that result in arthritis, food sensitivities, inflammatory bowel disease, leaky gut syndrome, impaired liver and pancreatic function, auto-immune disease and even cancer.
An Early Waring System: Heed The Call
The skin has its very own brilliantly designed alarm system. It releases toxins, and if we recognize this, we can be alerted to internal imbalances that may be setting the stage for chronic disease states.
This early warning system is really nothing new.
As far back as the early 1800‘s, American herbalist Samuel Thomson taught that disease “radiates from the center to the skin.” Constantine Hering, the father of American homeopathic medicine, knew this, too, and modern-day homeopaths refer to this teaching as “Hering’s Law of Cure.”
Basically, the body is quite logical in nature, and operates with its own set of checks and balances. If we follow this fact, it just makes sense that the body would protect itself by sending toxins to the periphery, as far away as possible from its vulnerable core.
As healers, we can support our dogs’ innate body intelligence by minimising symptoms through herbal palliative care, and resort to symptom suppression only in matters of life and death. Suppression of symptoms reverses direction, and confuses the intelligent immune system because it pushes the imbalance deeper into vital organs, and the nervous and digestive systems.
The Natural Approach To The Treatment Of Skin Conditions
In order for true healing to occur, chronic skin issues require a combination of consistency and time. When the cause of the disease or imbalance is addressed, the body will correct itself. This process can take up to a year or more.
During this time, holistic modalities including diet, flower essences, exercise, exposure to fresh air, chiropractic care and massage may be used in order to support your dog during the healing process.
For example, daily massage increases circulation, delivers nutrients to the skin, disperses oils throughout the dermis, helps move lymph fluids, and excretes toxins. Supplements play a key role in balancing the body and supporting the liver. Be sure to feed your dog fresh food, with the proper amounts of amino acids, probiotics, enzymes, essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals.
As an herbalist, I realize that chronic skin issues can be a source of ongoing frustration for both you and your dog. Herbal medicine can help by giving your dog’s body the catalytic boost it needs in order to adjust and heal itself.
Below is a list of my favorite herbs for chronic skin conditions, many of which I use both topically and internally to quell symptoms and bring about systemic balance or homeostasis.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera): Anti-inflammatory, supports the nervous system; use leaves as a poultice to reduce swelling
Burdock Root (Articum lappa): Anti-inflammatory body cleanser, prebiotic
Calendula (Calendula officinalis): Anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, anti-ulcer, digestive soother, dries weeping skin, supports the liver and lymphatic system
Chickweed (Stellaria media): Anti-inflammatory anti-tumor, lymph stimulant, supports a healthy digestive tract, prebiotic
Cleavers (Gallium aparine): Anti-tumor, anti-ulcer, makes an excellent tonic, supports lymphatic system, removes excess fluid
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale): Anti-allergy, kidney support, liver restorative, nutritive, safe for long-term use
Nettles: (Urtica dioica folia): Anti-inflammatory, excellent remedy for environmentally reactive dogs, kidney support, nutritive, safe for long-term use
Turmeric (Curcuma longa): Anti-inflammatory, corrects systemic imbalance; combine with olive oil, coconut oil or a pinch of black pepper for improved bioavailability
Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus): Humectant, itch relief when used as a poultice or rinse, liver support, small intestine and kidney support; not for long-term use. For best results, use as a single herb, and under the supervision of an herbalist or holistic vet.
In summary, the skin is a reliable indicator of overall health. When treating conditions of the skin, including ears, it is advisable to ensure that your dog’s health practitioner uses a complete, whole-body approach with a focus on causative factors.
If we honor the skin as an integral organ, we can recognise its signals and use its symptoms to help prevent disease before it can take root in the body.
This approach shifts treatments of chronic skin conditions from a suppressive standard of care to a supportive network of treatment that links diet, supplementation, herbal and homeopathic medicine. This demands lots of patience, which can be rewarded with lasting wellness.