Topical Therapies For Dogs With Allergies: Shampoos, Sprays, and Wipes
By Rachele Baker, DVM – Dogs with allergies to environmental allergens (atopy) tend to have recurrent skin problems. The inflamed skin and itchiness associated with atopic dermatitis causes dogs to scratch, bite, chew, or lick the affected areas. They may concentrate on a particular location such as their abdomen (belly area) or they may scratch all over. There is nothing more frustrating for a pet parent than having a dog that is constantly scratching and chewing themselves.
Dogs with allergies are more prone to bacterial and yeast skin infections. Healthy skin prevents penetration by bacteria, allergens, and toxins. Abnormalities in the barrier function of the skin are seen in both dogs and humans with atopic dermatitis. A defective skin barrier allows allergens to be absorbed directly through the skin.
Topical therapies for dogs with allergies can be very effective because treatment is being delivered directly to the skin. Topical therapies such as shampoos, sprays, and wipes can remove allergens from the skin, decrease skin inflammation and itchiness, help to resolve bacterial and yeast skin infections, decrease recurrence of skin infections, moisturize and soothe the skin, and help to repair the defective skin barrier.
Topical therapies for dogs with allergies may be used as the sole treatment for skin infections or itchiness or may be used in combination with other treatments such as oral medications. Another benefit of topical therapies is that many topical therapies have a low risk of adverse side effects.
Topical therapies for bacterial and yeast skin infections
The most common microorganism that causes skin infections in dogs is a bacteria called Staphylococcus. Topical therapies that kill Staphylococcus bacteria are very useful in the treatment of skin infections in dogs.
Two of the most effective products for treating bacterial and yeast skin infections in dogs are chlorhexidine and miconazole. Chlorhexidine and/or miconazole are found in a number of topical products including shampoos, sprays, and wipes.
Chlorhexidine is antibacterial and is effective against most of the common bacteria that cause skin infections. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus is not resistant to chlorhexidine. In some cases, bathing with chlorhexidine shampoo can be used in place of oral antibiotics to treat bacterial skin infections.
Miconazole is a topical antifungal agent. Although it is primarily used for fungal (yeast) skin infections, it also has some antibacterial effects including effects against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus.
When miconazole and chlorhexidine are combined in equal concentrations in topical products, they are synergistic against fungal and bacterial microorganisms.
Vetericyn is a broad spectrum antimicrobial product that uses oxychlorine compounds similar to those naturally produced by neutrophils (cells of the immune system) to kill bacteria and yeast. The active ingredient in Vetericyn is an oxychlorine compound called hypochlorous acid.
Vetericyn is not an antibiotic and there is no known way for bacteria or yeast to develop resistance to Vetericyn. Vetericyn may be useful in treating skin infections caused by methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus bacteria.
Topical therapies to help repair the defective skin barrier and soothe the skin
Shampoos and sprays that include ingredients such as ceramides and phytosphingosine can help to heal the defective skin barrier in dogs with atopic dermatitis.
Dogs with atopic dermatitis have decreased levels of ceramides in their skin. Topical ceramides can help to repair the defective skin barrier and therefore help to prevent penetration of allergens through the skin. Ceramides have been added to some of the shampoos and sprays in the Dechra line of products such as DermAllay Oatmeal Shampoo.
Phytosphingosine is found in many of the Douxo line of products. Phytosphingosine promotes synthesis of ceramides in the skin and can help to repair the skin barrier. Phytosphingosine has antibacterial and antifungal activity and is also anti-inflammatory so it helps to soothe itchy skin.
Directions For Use Of Shampoos, Sprays, and Wipes For Dogs With Allergies
Frequent bathing is recommended for dogs with allergies. Dogs should be bathed at least twice a week initially and then every one to two weeks thereafter. After shampooing, a leave-on rinse or spray can be applied to increase residual activity. Sprays, rinses, or wipes can also be used between shampoos.
It is important to leave medicated shampoos on the skin for ten to fifteen minutes to give the active ingredients time to be effective. It is recommended to use tepid or cool water when bathing a dog with inflamed or itchy skin. Overly warm or hot water can be very uncomfortable on inflamed skin.
For information on specific shampoos, sprays, and wipes that I recommend, please see my page High Quality Shampoos, Sprays, and Wipes for Dogs With Allergies.