Please note: This is a DRAFT version and all links/references and photos are not yet added in. My suggestions below are lacking full discussion that I’d like to eventually include, but several members were seeking out this basic information and had an urgent need to get started. Please check back as this will be updated.
ITCHY PETS: A MICROBIOLOGICAL APPROACH
There are many ways to address one of the most common health complaints, itching and chronic skin problems, in our animals today. This blog post focuses on a single, yet significant, factor and topic of current focus with a lot of exciting new research: the microbiome. There are a growing number of things that we know can positively or negatively influence your animal’s microbiome, and there are a number of specific microbes and many related or supportive options available to us that we can use to help manage or treat itchy skin problems in pets. You may have picked-up on the buzz about probiotic topical solutions for itchy pets recently popularized after a Nov 2020 study showed a significant improvement in dogs with mild cases of atopic dermatitis (itching) using a European product (not available in the US) of a topical probiotic solution while also ingesting a supplement version of the same ingredients and containing two species of probiotics, L. rhamnosus + L. reuteri. There was a great discussion online about this, followed by this very nice presentation by Rodney Habib featuring DIY Probiotic Itchy Pet Spray recipes.
ok, now…FIRST THINGS FIRST 🙂
PLEASE DO NOT OVERLOOK FOUNDATIONAL SIGNIFICANT LIFESTYLE FACTORS (otherwise known as SFRAW’s ASPECTS OF A HEALTHY PET LIFESTYLE): For starters, it is important before you skip ahead to spending time and money on any topical recipes or supplements, to review the following Natural Rearing daily husbandry practices that create a foundation for resistance to illnesses, healing and recovery. Below, I have listed those that will have the greatest impact on your animal’s chronic skin/itching issues as it relates to the microbiome.
In my experience, 50% of the animals I have worked with experiencing chronic skin/itching problems can completely or dramatically resolve their skin/itching issues by implementing the following “STEPS 1-7” lifestyle changes alone.
Please do not overlook the foundational importance of your animal’s daily lifestyle habits which may either help or harm. Skipping over following these daily/lifestyle habits for optimal health may be maintaining or contributing to your animal’s chronic imbalances/issues or may even be preventing them from achieving wellness or being able to live in a balanced state.
- DIET & WATER QUALITY Feed a properly constructed menu/diet of fresh home-cooked or raw foods using a variety of well-sourced ingredients without added synthesized or isolated vitamins or minerals (only from whole foods). Access to clean, filtered water or natural water source that is safe to drink.
- VACCINES Reduce or eliminate vaccinations after establishing successful inoculation via titer results for Rabies, which is legally required (Distemper and Parvo are not required legally, but are considered “core”)
- TOXINS Completely eliminate all topical or internal chemical flea/tick/heartworm medications; reduce exposure to chemicals used in your pet’s environment, including the car, the garden, and cleaning and household products.
- **EXERCISE** Daily/frequent exercise that is vigorous enough that it will contract and “pump” their muscles, elevate their heart rate (for short periods), move lymph fluid through their whole body, stretch and strengthen their muscles/connective tissues/bones, and use all of their senses (especially smell). Exercise that also provides exposure to nature; sunshine/rain and direct contact with dirt/sand/natural soils, is vitally important. Let them explore in nature for at least 2 hours/day, if possible.
- If your animal is frail, in pain or young, do not go for long hikes/walks/runs or participate in activities or movement that involves stairs or jumping. For these populations of animals (including puppies before their growth plates close/maturity – more here) it is healthier and safer to not walk long distances but to walk slowly (yes, just mozy/meander along, making frequent stops) or to even stay put in a nice place in nature for an hour or more period of time where they can rest on the ground/sunbathe, and get up to stretch, explore/play and sniff at leisure. For young and old animals, it’s less about the physical need to “burn-off energy” through vigorous play/exercise (very much required of mature and young adults) and more about gentle movements balanced with rest, and engaging the mind and senses, while in nature.
- GROUNDING/EARTHING, FOREST BATHING & OCEAN WALKS Daily “paws on the ground” direct contact with the natural earth, trees (especially Redwood trees) and nature is incredibly healing and important for your animals. Plant-derived essential oils and negatively-charged ions have healing benefits and are abundant in forest air. Simply walking in a wooded area/forest near trees has an immediate impact on our body’s ‘microbial diversity’ and causes beneficial change to our microbiome. Exposure to negative ions in the forest air, and in the air after a rainstorm, at the beach near the crashing waves and near waterfalls can change the chemistry on our bodies reduce stress and improve mood, both which can help your animal’s skin/itching issues.
- If you have an indoor kitty, consider bringing them on leashed/harnessed adventure walks outdoors daily, but ONLY if you live somewhere where this would be safe to doso. Urban or highly populated areas are not usually safe for this type of activity. DO NOT continue/attempt leashed adventures outdoors if it is stressful to your cat. Even better and safer? We strongly encourage everyone to invest in building a catio or cat enclosure outside for cats with 24/7 or daily free access. Getting outside important for all animals, but allowing cats to roam free is not safe or responsible.
- If your animals do not get to go outside/spend time having direct “paw-to-soil” contact to the earth every single day – an earthing or grounding mat is something to consider. This can help with adrenal issues, dementia and anxiety quite a bit, too. However, simply spending time outdoors, with paws touching natural surfaces (contact with the earth/natural substrates – not concrete, decks, or patios) every day is the best – and way cheaper! — solution, whenever possible.
- STRESS Reduce stress by having fun and play/doing activities together! Allow them to safely and freely explore their environment; enjoy play and social time with other animals/friends; go, see and do things. Give lots of love and allow for plenty of uninterrupted periods of “downtime” for adequate rest/recovery (see below). Reducing or minimizing stress and increasing joy/pleasure goes a long way to making them healthy overall and that includes skin/gut issues like itching: stress management builds a strong immune system with improved resistance to infections and many diseases.
- LIGHT EXPOSURE & ELECTRONICS Exposure to natural & artificial lights and exposure/proximity to electronic devices (EMFs) can have a big impact on you and your animal’s health, resistance to disease, hormones and biology. Fluorescent lighting and blue/cool spectrum lighting (artificial indoor lighting, lights and EMFs emitted by cell phones, televisions, etc) can cause dysregulation/disruptions to their natural circadian rhythms and cause hormonal, sleep and immune disorders in animals. While the role light and proximity to electronic devices plays in our animal’s health is not typically considered, the relationship between exposure to blue lighting after dark, EMFs, hormones and melatonin production likely has an impact on your animal’s skin issues. In addition, our companion animals are sensitive to the high pitched sound fluorescent bulbs make. What to do?
- Swap out fluorescent bulbs with incandescent (warm not cool), low light “vintage” bulbs, or just use natural light as much as possible, indoors. I like the Himalayan Salt Lamps for early am and pm lighting – this is safer than candlelight, but has a similar calming effect.
- Ideally, you and your animals will eliminate or reduce exposure to all blue/artificial lighting two to three hours before bed each day.
- If possible, create a seperate room, closet (without an electricity outlets is perfect!) or other space in your home/living area that is completely free from all electronic devices and artificial lighting where you can set-up a bed, crate or other comfortable resting place (perhaps with a grounding mat and Himalayan Salt Lamp) where your animal can retreat to after the sun goes down each day.
- To start off each day, the ideal would be to get 20-30 minutes of direct outdoor exposure to natural daylight at least at dawn/sunrise and, ideally, also the same at dusk/sunset every day. If you can’t do both, the sunrise/morning sunrise light has the biggest impact, as well as having outdoor and natural light exposure throughout the daylight hours for as much as possible. We realize that this may not always be practical to do depending on where you live or your schedule, so you may want to look into therapeutic UV lighting used for Seasonal Mood Disorders, or other healing light devices such as the Joovv or others. Just like us, animals can benefit from the right type of lighting exposure when they do not get to go outside for that early morning direct exposure to natural sunshine, daily. Because light can have dramatic influences on hormones and the immune system, lack of exposure may be causing disruptions to your animals’ sleep/activity cycle (when the body goes into a state of repair/restore) as well as immune function and even the microbiome.
Exposure to EMFs from electronics and artificial lighting may be a “maintaining cause” related to your animal’s skin ailments. Do what you can for this – I know it may not be an easy fix, but certainly worth exploring and doing what you can, when you can.
consistently Taking baby steps towards the ideal or your goals IS MEANINGFUL OVER THE LONG-TERM; making EACH OF THESE small changes really does matter!
VETERINARY SUPPORT: Consider working with a qualified professional classical homeopath or Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner before attempting the suggestions below. In my experience, alternative approaches to treating chronic diseases such as itching and skin conditions are more effective than the available conventional or allopathic treatments, and they come with the added bonus of not causing additional life-threatening/serious diseases or additional harm or destruction to your animal’s body.
Beware of “Fauxlistic” Veterinarians: Finding a qualified truly holistically minded veterinarian can be very challenging. Unfortunately, very few veterinarians that advertise the use of alternative modalities qualify in practice or reality. To learn more about what to look for in a genuinely holistically minded veterinarian, please read this. We do have referrals for those interested – just ask!
NOW, ON TO THE SUGGESTED DIY TOPICAL SOLUTIONS & SUPPLEMENT PROTOCOL
OUR DIY TOPICAL SOLUTION: Kasie’s Apothecary by SFRAW (formerly Rara Avis) DIY Version of Itchy Dog Spritz Recipe
- 2 cups boiling/filtered water to prepare a strong infusion of 1 Tbs each Organic Green Tea, Organic Neem Powder & Organic Rose Petals – strain before combining the liquid infusion with:
- ¼ cup Raw, Unfiltered, Organic Apple Cider Vinegar or Alcohol-free Organic Witch Hazel
- ¼ cup Aloe Vera Juice (preservative free & organic)
- 2 Tbs each: German Chamomile or here and Lavender Hydrosols or here (organic)
- ½ Tbs. Mattole Valley or Ancestral Supplements Colostrum (*only* if dairy is well-tolerated)
- 2 large scoops each: L. rhamnosus + L. reuteri probiotic species
- 6 drops Crab Apple Flower Essence
INSTRUCTIONS: Prepare, measure and mix the listed ingredients all together in a glass or ceramic container. Apply to your dog or cat’s skin daily or as needed, focusing on balding or trouble areas.
Do not use these solutions on open sores. If sores are present, it is VERY important to clip the hair away from any areas on the skin that have abrasions or sores. Then, do the following treatment twice daily:
- clean sores/abrasions using a dilute Betadine rinse/scrub (use like a soap with warm water)
- gently pat dry with a clean cotton towel
- then, prepare in a glass or ceramic container and apply the following solution to aid in healing the skin/sores:
- 1 cup boiling/filtered water to prepare a strong infusion of 1 Tbs. Calendula Flowers (organic) – strain before combining the liquid infusion with:
- ½ cup Aloe Vera Juice (preservative free & organic)
- 6 drops Rescue Remedy
- 1-3 pellets of the homeopathic remedy Calendula, allow pellet(s) to dissolve in the solution then agitate or vigorously stir to activate the remedy/solution just before applying to the wounds.
Alternatively, you may choose to apply either NEUGIER grooming lotion, or a high-quality Colloidal Silver (we recommend: Sunfood Super Nano Silver) instead of the aloe/calendula solution. We recommend using colloidal silver topically only. Please do not use colloidal silver internally as it may have a negative impact on the microflora, as well as having other possible unwanted side-effects. Both of these are for external use only, are shelf stable and do not need to be refrigerated. Once the sores are completely healed, then you can switch over to using one of the first three solutions (above).
HANDLING: Store your prepared topical solutions in a glass or ceramic container, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
HOW TO USE: Apply 1-2x/day using a sprayer, sponge, cotton balls or ketchup/squirt bottle to get down onto the skin.
Alternatively, you can simply dilute our raw pasture-raised local goat milk kefir or unfiltered, raw, organic apple cider vinegar and apply these topically as a “final rise” after bathing, spray onto skin, or use on a cotton ball to wipe out ears or wipe around mouth/eyes or dip paws into, daily. If one of these seems to help, then it would be beneficial to add your choice between these options to the daily diet (feed internally, simply splash/sprinkle a little bit onto each meal). Deciding to use either the kefir or ACV externally/internally should be determined by your animal’s tolerance, reaction and preference for one or the other – use what works best for your individual animal. Let them participate in their healing by guiding you to the remedies they prefer and like best!
SHAMPOOING: The only shampoo we recommend currently is NEUGIER. Please follow their suggested grooming/bathing protocols and application schedule.
TESTING THE MICROBIOME: As mentioned in the above video by Rodney Habib, we also recommend running an AnimalBiome test on your dog or cat’s stool to learn about the current status of your animal’s gut microbiome. Ideally, you would run this test before beginning the below supplement protocol and follow-up after some time on the protocol, to verify that we’re moving in the right direction for making significant and beneficial changes in this regard. The test report will provide information that can help determine if prebiotics are needed and if there are issues with lack of diversity and richness in your animal’s gut microbiome.
MY CURRENT SUPPLEMENT PROTOCOL FOR ITCHY DOGS/CATS: Below please find my suggested THREE pronged supplementation protocol to follow while using the topical remedies above. Use the protocol every single day for minimum of 3-6 months.
NOTE ON LENGTH OF THIS TREATMENT/EXPECTATIONS: Patience and persistence is required. While some lucky folks may notice a fairly immediate improvement in their animal’s symptoms as early as 1-3 days after starting this protocol, it is not common. It’s much more common to experience noticeable improvements within 3-6 weeks, with final recovery for MOST animals taking 2 months to 3 years. If your animal ingested oral antibiotics in the past for any reason, research and clinical experience with human subjects has shown that it can take an average of 24-months (2-years) to repair the damage done to the microbiome after just a single course/dose of antibiotics; this is true especially for Flagyl (Metronidazole). If your animal has struggled with skin issues chronically, please expect to allow for an estimate of at least 1-month of healing/recovery for every year of chronic symptoms that have been experienced. For example, for an animal that has struggled with itching or skin issues on/off for 5 years, you should expect to allow an average of 5 months for rebalancing, healing and restorative treatments before experiencing significant results.
- PREBIOTIC – fiber and/or resistant starch of choice. Many options here!
TIP: Often the ideal selection for your animal is the same fiber supplement or food that works best for YOU. If you have used any of these with good results, that will probably be a great fiber to use for your animal, too! Otherwise, try one at a time to determine which one works best for your animal. There is no right or wrong here – individual tolerances and reactions vary significantly. Try a few different ones and then settle on what they like and works best.
- Organic Psyllium Husk powder– as directed on label
- Raw Organic Carob powder – 1-2 tsp per pound of food
- Sunfood Organic Beetroot powder – 1-2 tsp per pound of food
- Laird’s Activate Prebiotic Daily Greens – ½-1 tsp per pound of food
- Garden of Life Formulated Organic Fiber Unflavored – ½-1 tsp per pound of food
- SFRAW Healthy Powder – as directed on label
- Bulletproof InnerFuel (Acacia, Partially Hydrolyzed Guar Gum/Sunfiber®, Larch Arabinogalactan) – as directed on label
- Klaire Labs Biotagen (Inulin, Beta-Glucan, Larch Arabinogalactan) – as directed on label
- Bob’s Red Mill Unmodified Potato Starch or Let’s Do…Organic Green Banana Flour – ½-1 tsp per lb of food
- SFRAW Veggie Mix/Vitality Blend – 15 oz for every 10-lbs of food, or less than this
- Organic Fresh Dandelion Greens or Asparagus (raw, finely pureed in food processor) – 1-2 tsp per lb of food
- Organic Fresh Garlic (raw, peel and mince, then *allow to rest 10 minutes* before adding to food) – 1/8 tsp per pound of food
- Peel, cook well (boiled or steamed), mash and then *store for 24-hours in the refrigerator* before feeding (retrogradation). Retrogradation is an essential step to convert these foods into a Resistant Starch. Do not feed any of these foods freshly cooked or raw and do not exceed the suggested amount – remember you’re feeding the good bacteria in your animal’s gut, not your animal directly. Choose: Green Banana, Chicory Root, Jerusalem Artichoke, Yuca, Taro, Plantain, White Potato – 1-2 tsp per pound of food
- Starter’s Herbs (Peppermint, Slippery Elm, Dandelion Root/Leaf, Milk Thistle, Ginger, Fennel) – as suggested on label
- Species appropriate options (feathers & fur, ideally attached to skin and raw): Venison hide/skin, Rabbit hide/skin, Rabbit Heads, ALL prey-model foods – fur/hide to be fed in moderate amounts, or fur/feathers as naturally provided on the whole prey animal, 1-3 times per week
- Green Tripe from wild foraging or truly pasture-raised ruminants for the fiber provided in the gut/stomach chamber – daily or 3x/week, not to exceed 30% of your animal’s total menu
2) PROBIOTICS – one from each category given every day, ideally you will feed three different ones concurrently. If you can only manage two categories, use the s. boulardii plus one from the other categories:
- s. boulardii (yeast)
- MegaSporeBiotic or Primal Defense (soil)
- Ther-biotic Synbiotic, SFRAW’s raw goat milk kefir, d-Lactate Free probiotic, Genestra HMF Multi Strain Powder, L. rhamnosus + L. reuteri – use both of these together (lactobacillus/lacto-bifido non-spore forming)
- AnimalBiome Doggy or Kitty Gut Restoration capsules (raw fed only)
DOSING for probiotics (for everything but the kefir) per day: start with ½-1 capsule or small scoop given 1x daily, based on the size of your animal. If well tolerated, increase the amount to 2-4 capsules or scoops or more, as needed by your animal. Once per day is ideal. May be given with or before food. Some animals require a significant dose while others can only handle a small dose, especially in the beginning.
Kefir dosing per day
Pet Wt: Serving:
< 20 lb. 2 oz.
20-40 lb. 4 oz.
40-60 lb. 6 oz.
60-80 lb. 8 oz.
80 lb. > 10 oz.
WHAT ABOUT ANTIBIOTICS? If your animal is on prescription antibiotics currently, it is important to give probiotics throughout the entirety of their antibiotic treatment period starting with their first dose of antibiotics. We suggest giving probiotics precisely 10-minutes AFTER every dose of antibiotic given. If they are taking antibiotic(s) twice a day (BID) you should give the probiotics (especially s. boulardii) 10-minutes after each dose of antibiotic.
3) CELLULAR REPAIR – choose one:
For lactose intolerant animals, choose L-Glutamine instead (doesn’t have the immune regulating/supportive benefits provided by colostrum, but can help heal the leaky gut by restoring tight junctions) – as suggested on label. Or, try Leaky Gut Revive® (L-Glutamine, Larch Arabinogalactan, Deglycyrrhizinated Licorice (DGL), Marshmallow Root, Slippery Elm Root, Aloe Vera) – as suggested on label
The below category of supportive supplements should be used concurrently with the above three “core protocol” supplements. These would be best given on a 5-day/week or 3-weeks on/1-week off schedule. While I consider these “non-core” I strongly suggest using them for best results and they can be used long term. They can be added on to the above protocol after the first 1-2 weeks.
“DETOXIFICATION” SUPPORT – choose one:
- Dual Detox – as directed on label with meals (Klaire Labs) best if used in combination with InterFase® Plus – as directed on label, given between meals (Klaire Labs)
- Activated Charcoal – 1-4 caps/day depending on size of animal, give either with food or in-between meals is ok. If on medications, give 2-hours away from any prescription drugs.
- Chlorella – 6-18 tablets per day, in divided doses, depending on the size of animal
For many animals, the addition of a QUERCETIN supplement throughout the protocol can be very helpful. My favorite products currently are: Quercetin-Bromelain Forte , Quercetin 250mg and Quercetin+Nettles . Quercetin is a polyphenolic flavonoid (and also a phytooestrogen) that has an antioxidant effect in vivo. It also stabilizes mast cells that release histamine, the principal mediator of reactions to environmental allergies, and is considered a natural antihistamine. It is often used as an alternative to the antihistamine drug Benadryl (diphenhydramine) without that drug’s common side-effects for most individuals.
The combination with bromelain (a protein-digesting enzyme) worked wonders for my own dog who had a poor reaction to the nettle combination (an nutritious herb used for centuries to balance hormones, benefit the skin and quell allergies), which is the more popular combination that works for so many. You will need to determine which quercetin supplement benefits your own animal. Negative reactions will be noticed quite immediately, while positive benefits can take more time. The suggested period of use for allergic reactions is daily for at least six to eight weeks. For dosing instructions, please go here. Very high doses may cause kidney damage in some individuals.
Certain individuals can experience a reaction to taking quercetin. This reaction may be related to quercetin’s estrogenic properties/effects or might be a reaction to compounds found in plant foods, like polyphenols. Recent research and proponents of the carnivore diet have taken the position that plant polyphenols should be avoided entirely becasue they’re actually toxic to our bodies. They suggest that humans (and animals like dogs and cats) may be harmed by, not benefit from, nor need any, phenols at all. In my experience, I have certainly known and had dogs that experienced negative SKIN and ITCHING reactions (specifically) to adding any plant matter into their diets but why some animals experience this is still yet to be determined. More about my position on the inclusion of veggies can be found here and here.
Quercetin is naturally present in many plants, most abundantly found in onions and grapes, which are both toxic to dogs/cats and one of the reasons why using the supplement form instead is better for our animals. It can also be found in many other plant foods like apples, cherries, and green leafy vegetables (kale), but we suspect that dogs and cats likely cannot convert/utilize the quercetin found in these foods in a significant manner.
The only animal-based food quercetin is found in significant amounts is honey. Raw, unfiltered local honey may be used as a medicinal supplemental food to include in your animal’s protocol. Perhaps the presence of this polyphenol as well as local beneficial microbes is a part of the overall beneficial effects from ingesting local raw unfiltered honey/bee products to help counter the symptoms of seasonal environmental allergies? We have “hyperlocal” San Francisco neighborhood specific, raw, humane, unfiltered honey provided to us by a friend and member, Aaron. His bees are also being raised by founding SFRAW Members, Curt & Amal, with honey collected, out of their garden, which was the *ORIGINAL* SFRAW pickup location/home where we started as a food buyer’s group in 2003!
FLARE UPS, SET-BACKS & REACTIONS: If your animal reacts poorly/has a negative response to any of the above, stop immediately all topicals and supplements to reassess. My first suggestion for adult DOGS experiencing a flare or acute reaction is to do a water-only FAST for a period of 24-hours (up to 3 days) to allow your animal to heal and recover from the acute flare-up. Fasting is safe, free, and easy. It is incredibly healing, and can be very effective at quelling most acute health issues. For kitties and young animals, instead of a full water-only fast, you may choose to do a liquid fast of just raw kefir or cultured raw milk, meat broth or bone broth only (if they enjoy and do well on these foods), or feed half their normal quantity of food with something very lean and light (raw rabbit meat, boneless/skinless chicken or turkey breast, very lean beef, pork or goat meat, eggs or whitefish fillets) for 24-hours. Then, either try a different option as suggested or try the same things again, but only after the symptoms settle down. Whenever reintroducing something after a flare up, try again only starting at a ½ or ¼ the previous dose, building up slowly to a full dose, as tolerated.