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By far the greatest challenge to a veterinary homeopath is the management of canine eczema or atopic dermatitis (AD) which occurs when a dog develops a sensitivity to environmental allergens that pose no threat to the majority of individuals.
You will know when something is amiss with your furry friend when he starts to scratch for no apparent reason. He’s had his bath and is not sick, but those beautiful brown eyes are miserable. Soon after, the unsightly eczema will raise its ugly head in the form of red, inflamed skin and even oozing sores.
In my own referral practice more than 60% of my dog patients present with recurrent skin disorders. These are family pets in major distress due to this severe condition. Signs are initially seasonal, but deteriorate and occur year round. The tragedy is that those dogs affected by chronic irreversible dermatitis will pay the ultimate price by being euthanised — therefore we need to take action as soon as possible to avoid painful goodbyes. This involves a knowledge of the causes of canine eczema and how to both prevent and treat it.
According to a study1 performed by the International Committee on Allergic Diseases of Animals (ICADA) in 2010, initiating factors for AD include increased exposure to environment allergens (especially house dust mites and pollens), the ingestion of food ingredients, and flea or other insect bites. Flare ups normally occur only if the dog is hypersensitive to these different allergens, and if the allergen load is sufficiently high. Inflammation and scratching exacerbate the condition.
Many skin diseases are significantly affected, for better or worse, by a change in the animal’s environment. Please do not, however, dig up your lawn until absolutely convinced that the grass is indeed the culprit!
The role of nutrition
Nutrition is extremely important and has to be acceptable to owner and dog in terms of availability, economics, good presentation, low odour and handling ability. With a new puppy, however, the caring owner must be aware of the little one’s potential susceptibility to lurking colourants, preservatives and sugars for palatability — all of which are far removed from the raw meat and partially digested vegetable matter that small, new body is designed to handle.
If we do have to feed packaged feeds, the more expensive brands are less likely to be associated with problems.
In dogs, as in humans, food allergies can manifest with clinical signs of AD, hives and other syndromes.2
The current gold standard for the diagnosis of food allergy involves the exclusion of certain food products for at least eight weeks until scratching has ceased. If required, the original food may be reintroduced whereupon any tendency to scratching indicates where the problem lies.
Parasites and the immune system
All dogs carry mange mites3 and pregnant bitches pass these on to the foetus. Whether or not the pups will develop a reaction depends on the strength of their immune system at birth and how they will adapt to life in general. In perfect health a balance exists between dis-ease and health. In the puppy period of 8 to 16 weeks, pimples, hair loss and scratching are often of significance. In the majority of cases any reaction or manifestation as dis-ease is transient, requiring no treatment, just patience.
Many owners panic at this stage and request treatment. Mites may or may not be diagnosed on skin scrapings and this may initiate various treatments that now disturb that much-needed balance in dermal order. An overkill of organo-phosphorus dips, shampoos and pour-on products of immense toxicity, designed to kill the parasites, are administered along with anti-inflammatories and antibiotics.
There may be an initial improvement followed by a cycle of recurrence, requiring further treatment which ironically may create a chronic phase of intractable dermatitis in the poor puppy. In the natural order of things we may see a subsequent deterioration in real health as the deranged immune system attempts to self correct, including ultimately the development of more chronic and insidious disorders such as abnormalities in bone formation and inflammation of the kidneys.
Never tire of hearing about the immune system. It should be mentioned in every article on health, as this is where the fundamental problem exists.
Remember again the like-cures-like principle of homeopathy and consider how cortisone and histamine in potentised form can, with other remedies such as Arsenicum album, offer the possibility of relief and even a permanent cure when an approach against specific antigens is considered.
There are a number of interesting aspects to consider in the management of skin disease, including the pH status of canine skin, its frequent contact with an unnatural, clinically clean environment, the constant presence of parasites, allergic and sensitivity conditions, the ability of a happily scratching dog to self-destruct, and the almost universal practice of juvenile neutering.
Our animal friends, neutered as babies, are almost totally deficient in the many benefits that sex hormones bring. This can contribute to the skin’s quality and condition and contributes significantly to skin disease. Extensive field work has clearly established the value of homoeopathic sex hormones in the balancing of the neutered female system in the struggle against skin disorders and urinary incontinence.
Before intensive therapy with recommended drugs is considered it is worth modulating the immune response. Remedies such as Echinacea angustifolia, Eleutherococcus senticosus and Acidum phosphoricum will support the immune response, while Antimonium crudum, Thuja, and Castor equi will contribute to healthy skin formation.
Nutritional supplements containing colostrum4 also play a significant role. This naturally occurring substance is still in Cinderella land, and yet so much scientific evaluation has clearly indicated how valuable it is in many disease situations. It has powerful anti-inflammatory, anti-parasitic and immune modulatory effects.
This approach often results in a gradual improvement in pruritis, odour and skin texture within three weeks, although full hair cover may take up to three months.
Puppies treated in this manner always recover.
Be your best friend’s best friend. Avoid causes for AD where you can and if your dog does develop eczema, learn to recognise the early symptoms in order to manage the condition as soon as possible. And remember, homoeopathy works, naturally!
REV DR ALEX NIVEN, BVMS, MRCVS, SAVC.
He has a Veterinary Medicine and Surgery degree and is a Deacon in the Roman Catholic church. He is a member of the South African Veterinary Council and the South African Veterinary Association. He completed a classical human homeopathy course for medical practitioners in Johannesburg and, following extensive success of clinical homeopathy with animals, formulated a range of homeopathic animal products under the Eco-Vet label.
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