Dog Got Skin Problems? Cortisone, The Sometimes Helpful Drug I Love To Hate

Skin problems can make you and your pet miserable.

Skin problems can make you and your pet miserable.

One of the most common reasons you'll find yourself at your veterinarian's office, especially if you have a dog who's eating a less than stellar diet or fighting a flea outbreak in the neighborhood, will be to deal with skin problems.

Again, let me start with a qualifier.  There are times when your veterinarian will have no other choice than to inject your dog with Cortisone and send you home with a two week course of tablets to help a dog that is driving him and your family mad with his scratching. 

If your pet has reached the stage where he's developed a hot spot. has hair loss or is keeping himself and everyone else up at night with non-stop attempts to relieve the irritation, needs have musts and cortisol will probably be the only option for short term relief.  

The problems begin when after two weeks of relative "relief", if you don't count the increased thirst & accidents in the house from increased urination, silent damage to liver and kidneys and this food for thought from a popular down under veterinarian/blogger:

I often wonder if owners are pre-warned about the significant side effects that cortisone can cause their much loved pets. Just like in people, cortisone leads to increased eating, drinking and retention of water. In dogs, it can also unleash aggression. The risk with cortisone is increased with prolonged and repeated dosing and can even cause iatrogenic cushings or diabetes which are serious medical conditions. Dr Rayya T-Malaeb DVM

In short, while Cortisone might be effective and even necessary for short-term relief, if you don't take steps to deal with the underlying causes of your dog's incessant scratching and digging, you'll find yourself returning again and again for more injections and more tablets and that short-term relief will cause untold long-term damage to your dog.

Here's a short list of possible causes along with some helpful suggestions if you find yourself the owner of a miserable itchy dog:

  • Food allergies. Remember my tirade against corn listed above? Corn is often the culprit behind food allergies and the resultant cascade of skin problems that plague dogs that are fed a diet containing it. Chicken can be another allergen for many dogs because of the processing and low quality chicken by-products in many foods.

  • Try Probiotics. Many owners of dogs with food allergies have found that probiotics can be helpful. I've seen really amazing results with adding about 15 Billion CFU's daily to dog diets.

  • Using the wrong shampoo on your dog. Dog's are surprisingly sensitive when it comes to their skin.

Canine skin is thinner and much more sensitive than human skin. Dogs should be bathed only with shampoos made specifically for pets. Shampoos and other topical products for people can be irritating to canine skin and should be avoided. Merck Veterinary Manual

Using people shampoo or worse still, dish detergent on your good dog will strip the delicate protective layer of oils on the surface of his skin and quickly open the door to dermatitis and a host of other problems.

  • Not enough healthy fat or EFA's in the diet. Check your dog's coat, is it shiny or dull and lifeless? Often the addition of quality sources of EFA's (essential fatty acids) can go a long way in helping repair damaged coat and help restore luster to those canine locks (just in case you are one of those unfortunate owners who've been using Dawn to wash your poor dog).

  • Extra Virgin Coconut oil is one of my favorites, a teaspoon a day for a 30 pound dog can do wonders. It can help regrow coat and nourish skin, all an important part of the healing process.

  • Fleas and flea bite dermatitis. It only takes the bite of one flea to set some poor dogs off into a digging & chewing frenzy. Worse still, even when you've eliminated the fleas on your pet (naturally PLEASE), he can continue to feel the effects set in place by his sensitivity to the saliva of that first wretched flea. There are other avenues of relief to your suffering pet besides cortisone but the first order of business is to eliminate those bites in the first place and thus stop the cascade before it can begin.