Dr. Patty Khuly’s blog this morning was terrific! She has personally been dealing with a very itchy skin eruption, probably what most of us would call hives or “heat rash.” I am totally sympathetic…last summer I developed a series of severe itchy rashes, I think from some bug or other that apparently lives in my lawn. O Misery, thy name is Itch!

Her pruritis (med-speak for itch) not only drove her crazy, but also drove her to look into the problem more deeply. After all, skin problems are one of the most common–and annoying–pet health problems. She focused mainly on on topical treatments; systemic treatment is usually steroids, and because of their long-term side effects, it’s best to reserve them for either a very short course (just to get the itch under control), or for the most desperate cases.

Dr. Khuly referred to an article in the veterinary journal Clinician’s Brief. Topical therapy is a growing field, having been largely ignored till now, due to pets’ alleged propensity to eat anything we put on their skin.

Here’s the current crop of topical therapies cited by Dr. Khuly:

  • Colloidal oatmeal soaks or poultices, though limited in their efficacy, will almost always help soothe skin that’s inflamed for any reason.
  • Topical anesthetic ingredients, such as pramoxine or lidocaine, are undeniably effective, at least for short stints.
  • Topical antihistamines don’t seem to work so well, while topical glucocorticoids (cortisone-like drugs, like triamcinolone) are rarely ineffective.
  • Lime-sulfur dips are all-organic, but way gross and truly smelly. Still, once applied, they reliably offer significant itch relief.
  • Phytosphingosine is the new kid on the block, but it bears watching to see whether it’ll pan out as the topical powerhouse it’s currently billed as.
  • Shampoos undeniably serve to limit the bacterial and yeast component inherent to any inflammatory skin disease. Bathing itchy pets every one to seven days is considered a mainstay of most itch therapy, regardless of your other approaches.

To the last point, Dr. Shawn Messonnier (Pet Care Naturally), well-known holistic veterinarian, author, radio host, and all-around good guy, recommends daily bathing for extremely itchy pets (or every 2-3 days in less severe cases). He finds that this is truly necessary for many pets whose skin is so irritated that it is secreting sebum and other compounds 24/7; keeping the skin clean provides a lot of relief. (Click here to read a very helpful article on his website.)

Another topical treatment may be essential fatty acids with essential oils. Now, I usually don’t recommend topical essential oils for pets, especially cats, due to the potential toxicity via skin absorption. However, a study was just published this week about a veterinary product called Dermoscent, which contains: “Hemp seed and neem seed oils provide a high concentration of essential fatty acids with an optimal omega 6 to 3 ratio of 4:1. These vegetable oils combined with ten essential oils (rosemary, lavender, melaleuca, cedar, oregano, clove, camphor, wintergreen, peppermint, curcuma) along with vitamin E, are scientifically blended in this patented formula designed to replenish the hydrolipidic film, hydrate the skin, and help reduce shedding and control odor.” The study results were impressive for both dogs and cats, and several of my colleagues are using it successfully. It is a “spot-on” product that’s used weekly. Because it contains oils that, over time, may be toxic to cats, please use under veterinary supervision only (even though you can buy it on Amazon and many other places online. It is not FDA approved in the U.S.).

Of course, getting to the cause of the itch is crucial, because any topical treatment is only going to mask the symptoms (and, holistically speaking, drive the disease deeper). Allergies (especially flea bite allergies, atopy (inhalant allergies), and food allergies) are common causes of itch in pets, but there are many others. However, even if your cat (or dog) is not allergic to something in the food, highly processed foods that are full of additives (e.g., dry food) can often contribute to itchiness; and getting your pet on a clean, simple diet (such as homemade or raw) will help the body heal overall. Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory and extremely helpful for skin conditions. Homeopathy, homotoxicology, and Traditional Chinese Medicine (acupuncture and Chinese herbs) are the alternative therapies most likely to be effective.

For more information :

Skin & Coat Problems in Cats

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