Help for dogs with itchy skin.
Margery writes “The vet wants to put my dog on Apoquel, 16 mg tabs, taken daily, in order to relieve symptoms of itchy skin. This would be a life-long medication. Is there any herbal treatment I can use for this?
Given that we do not comment on specific situations or drugs, you should try to determine the root cause of the problem. However, to learn more about Apoquel, please visit the following site: (https://www.apoqueldogs.com/apoquel_pi.pdf.) Some things to think about whenever a health issue arises are the following:
Has the dog developed a food allergy (such as grains, milk, eggs, cheese, chicken)?
Has the dog developed a skin allergy to any soaps, dyes, fleas, or grass?
What is the nutritive value of the predominant component of the dog’s diet?
Determining the cause and trying to eliminate it, is the single most important step you can take so take your time to determine what might be causing your dog’s skin issues.
Next, we can focus on herbs for skin health; along with the form they can be taken. The two classes of herbs I will focus on are alteratives and adaptogens. The recommended amounts of herb intake vary greatly so in general, consider your dog’s weight and understand the usual recommended human dosage is based on a 150 lb. person. Therefore, if your dog weighs 15 lbs., only give 1/10 the human dose.
Alteratives have an action that affects the epidermis (skin) which includes mucus membranes. They can alter the body’s metabolism so that tissues can best deal with a range of functions from nutrition to elimination.
Here, I would recommend nettle leaf (Urtica dioica), burdock root (Arctium lappa), cleavers (Galium aparine) and figwort (Scrophularia nodosa). Dried nettles can be incorporated into the dog’s dry dog food, or if you’re brave enough to pick it fresh, it can be cooked without losing its medicinal value; think of it as a ‘dark leafy green’ vegetable; its nutritional qualities are not lost in long cooking times (see recipe below). Burdock root may be appealing to your dog to chew on or boiled like carrots into the food this can be found in local Asian grocery stores under the name Gobo. The best forms for delivery of cleavers and/or figwort are as tinctures.
Adaptogens are uniquely effective at restoring and maintaining balance. Historically, “adaptogen” is a term describing a class of herbs that are a nontoxic substance especially a plant extract that is held to increase the body's ability to resist the damaging effects of stress and promote or restore normal physiological functioning.
Different adaptogenic herbs have affinities for different organs. In this case, I would recommend ahswagandha (Withania somnifera), shatavari (Asparagus racemosus), reishi mushroom (Ganaderma lucidum) or a blend of medicinal mushrooms (for example, Organic Seven Treasures Mushroom). My preference is to go the food-medicine route, the powdered medicinal mushrooms that includes reishi, all benefit from long cooking times in water to best release their phytonutrients (see recipe below). The adaptogens listed above can be delivered as capsules, tinctures or in powder form sprinkled on the dog’s food.
For a topical approach I recommend herb infused oils or bathing lesions in brewed teas. Oils from single herbs can be combined in equal amounts of wound healing herbs such calendula, St. John’s Wort and plantain. These you can make yourself or purchase from a reputable supplier such as Mountain Rose Herbs. However, use care as greasing up your dog may cause you more trouble in cleaning and can be messy.
So, how do we get enough therapeutic herb into their bodies? All these recommendations are a challenge in getting dogs to consume them so here is one approach to getting both alteratives and adaptogens into your dog's diet.
Recipe for skin health.
Makes about 8 cups of food.
Bring to a boil then simmer for 1 hour: 1-2 qt. water
1 lb. meat
¼ cup powdered mushroom blend
¼ cup dried nettles (or ½ cup fresh nettles)
1 cup pearl barley
Cool, remove bones and chop meat into bite-size pieces. Add 3 Tbsp. of brewer’s yeast and blend well. Store in clean containers refrigerated or frozen. Add this to dry food as a supplement for your dog, 1 cup a day for every 20 lb of body weight.
Do not add pork, milk, salt, onions or garlic to this homemade dog food. If using chicken, be very careful that all bones are removed; I use thighs with skin as this is an inexpensive darker meat providing high collagen (joint protein) and only 1 bone per piece.