Skin conditions in dogs are the No. 1 reason for veterinarian visits. The dog might be scratching or exhibit very dry skin with flaking, hair loss, hot spots, an inflamed red appearance, scabs, warts or any combination of these symptoms. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to figure out the cause of the problem. Some causes include dry food, skin parasites, suppressed diseases and bacterial infections.
Allergies account for 10 to 15 percent of all canine dermatitis conditions. These allergies can be attributed to diet or things in the environment, such as grasses, trees, weeds, dust mites, fleas, mites and insect bites. A veterinarian can help sort through the various causes and provide specific treatments, usually with costly drugs that may take months to work.
Regardless of the cause, one common symptom of these various conditions is dry skin, as a result of water loss from the outer layer. Unfortunately, the most common treatments do not focus on preventing water loss from the skin. Medicated shampoos that hydrate the skin can help, but they are less than desirable from a time and effort standpoint, and they might not be tolerated well by the dog. A better goal would be to maintain moisture content before skin conditions occur and as part of treatment.
Moist dog food is generally considered part of the answer when trying to heal skin conditions. Moist dog food can help bring back skin moisture that the dog needs. But simply adding water to dry food is not enough, because this does not address why the water is being lost and what keeps the skin hydrated. Fortunately, a new understanding of dog skin has led to the development of an oral product that helps prevent water loss from occurring in the first place.
The skin serves an essential role as a barrier to the outside world while maintaining moisture in the skin itself. The lipid component of skin is very important to its barrier function. Ceramides, the main components of skin lipid, play a critical role in the prevention of moisture loss. Providing ceramides orally can help maintain the lipid layer and prevent water loss in times of skin stress. This new understanding is leading to new products that help maintain skin health before stress occurs and can be given in conjunction with treatments.
Recent studies suggest that decreased amounts of ceramides occur in the skin of dogs with a condition known as canine atopic dermatitis. With decreased ceramides, the skin has impaired barrier functions, resulting in moisture loss, inflammation and rashes. The skin can also become more sensitive to things that are not normally a problem that can lead to dermatitis. Instead of just trying to control the inflammation that occurs with dermatitis, new approaches include therapies that are aimed at skin barrier repair.
Using this new understanding of skin health, Vets Plus, Inc., has recently developed a patent-pending product. While the ceramide formulation itself is very complicated, the formula is very easy to administer to dogs orally in the soft-chew supplement format. This new approach has been shown to reduce the effects of dermatitis in clinical cases. For example, dogs that were diagnosed with dermatitis were given ceramide chew supplements for eight weeks. Within four weeks, redness was visibly reduced and hair started to grow back in areas that had previously been hairless. By the end of the trial, great improvement had been noted, and the dogs were well on their way to recovery. These chews provided a simple, convenient alternative to traditional costly drugs.
Dan DuBourdieu is research director at Vets Plus, Inc., a leading manufacturer of private-label supplements and treats for pets. He holds several patents for innovative nutritional product formulations and has published in numerous peer-reviewed journals.