Scratching that Winter Itch
By Dr. Margaret Meier, DVM, CVSMT
During this time of year as we gather together to share the warmth of our homes with family and friends we are grateful for the glow of a warm fire or the forced air heat that keeps us toasty warm. This warmth, however, combined with the frequent trips in and out, leaves our skin dry and us reaching for the moisturizing lotion. Our pets end up with dry itchy skin just like us, but how can we help them? We field this question and others such as: Does our pet have psoriasis or some other serious skin condition? Can it be from fleas with the weather so cold? What shampoo should I have my groomer use? Is there any supplement that can help? What can we do so we can sleep at night…this scratching is driving us crazy!
Parasites, such as fleas and mange,truly can also be the cause of the itch even in the winter months, especially this year with the mild winter we have been experiencing so far. The best place to check your pet for fleas is on the back near the base of the tail. Fleas like to hang out here because it is hard for our pets to reach them there. If you notice what looks to be dirt on the skin, this could be feces from the fleas.Take some of the “dirt” you see and place it on a white paper towel that has been dampened with water. If it is truly dirt, it will just remain as a black dot on the paper towel. If it has been left on your pet by fleas,the black dirt like material will begin to dissolve into a reddish brown color on the towel. I recommend consulting your veterinarian for the best flea and tick product for your individual pet.
There are many things we can do at home as well to help prevent the dry itchy skin of winter in our pets. Supplementing our pets’ diet with essential fatty acids, especially omega 3s, has been proven to help keep the skin healthy, which in turn helps stop the itching. With cats and dogs, the best way to supplement this is with fish oil. It is important to remember, however, that not all fish oil products are created equally, and we recommend those that use Nordic processing to extrude the oil over others that use extraction techniques. With our horses and other herbivore friends such as rabbits, flax seed ground to expose the oil provides these essential fatty acids best in their diets. Many commercial diets available today have added amounts of these as well, but the levels are often not high enough to help this time of year.
Oatmeal shampoo and cream rinses applied directly to the skin can also help with dry itchy skin. You can even make your own oat-milk spray at home by taking 1 cup of old fashioned oats and soaking them overnight in 4 cups of water at room temperature. In the morning, strain the liquid through cheese cloth and use a mister bottle to spray the dry itchy areas. This can provide some much needed relief.
Until we encounter a problem with our skin, we take for granted that it is the largest surface area organ in the body. Even on a physiological level, the skin is not considered a high priority as it only receives about 7 percent of the volume of blood sent out to the body each time the heart beats. If your pet is experiencing more than just an occasional dry flake when you brush him or he, consulting your veterinarian might be in order. Skin conditions are the number one reason people take their pets to the veterinarian according to VPI Pet Insurance. Pets can experience some of the same serious skin conditions that we do, such as primary seborrhea (dandruff), pyoderma (bacterial and/or fungal skin infection), and even auto-immune diseases (although these are more rare). If your pet is itching at an area that has a color change to the skin, is moist, or has an odor to it, your veterinarian will help you determine the best course of action to remedy the situation.
Dr. Meier obtained her certification in veterinary spinal manipulative therapy at the Healing Oasis Wellness Center in Sturtevant, WI. In 2007 she was certified by the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association in animal chiropractic, and in 2012, Dr. Meier was also certified by the International Veterinary Chiropractic Association. Dr. Meier also uses other non-traditional modalities such as Reiki and other energy work to help her veterinary patients heal; she has begun her acupuncture training through the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society, and is looking forward to being certified in veterinary acupuncture this fall.