Biotic Skin – nutritional support for dogs suffering skin sensitivities and allergies

Blog Health Nutrition

The overwhelming majority of dogs suffering skin sensitivities do so because of a compromised gut microbiome. Some 2,400 years ago the Greek physician Hippocrates, often described as the father of modern medicine, is quoted as saying, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”. It has only been in the last decade or so that researchers have come to fully understand and appreciate the wisdom of his message, and understand why food is so important to health and wellbeing.

In simple terms, the gut of a healthy dog is inhabited by around a thousand different species of bacteria, viruses, fungi and archaea. Together, this massive population makes up the gut microbiome which is responsible for a wide range of tasks including aiding the breakdown and digestion of food, the manufacture of some essential nutrients, plus general housekeeping and maintenance duties. But the actual life of a bug in the gut of a dog is not as peaceful and harmonious as the above description suggests. The microbiome population exists in a highly competitive and hostile environment, with each species engaging in a constant turf war to maintain their position within the hierarchy.

Many factors conspire to disrupt the population balance of the microbiome. Stress, pollutants and medications such as antibiotics and parasite control all have a disruptive effect, but by far the largest influencing factor is the food the dog eats. As Hippocrates so wisely pointed out, food should be medicine for the body, but the overwhelming use of highly processed ingredients, inappropriate ingredients or simply inappropriate ingredient ratios, has resulted in an explosion in the number of dogs suffering the effects of a compromised gut microbiome.

When some or all of these negative factors are present in the dog’s life, distortions occur to the microbial population. As a result, some species thrive and colonise greater areas of the gut, whilst others weaken and are ultimately excluded due to the increased competition and lack of appropriate food. This leads to a reduction in the diversity of the gut population, a condition known as “dysbiosis” (dis-by-o-sis). As population diversity reduces, the dog’s immune system incorrectly interprets the reduction as an attack by pathogenic organisms and hence moves to a war footing. This creates heat (inflammation), stress and an increased activity in the production of cytokines (small mobile proteins) to attack and eliminate the perceived invaders. It is this response that we commonly called a sensitivity, a food allergy or an environmental allergy. Worse still, the increased stress actually adds to the species decline in the gut, thus leading to an ever-worsening condition, otherwise known as a “closed loop response” for the dog. It is not uncommon to see relatively young adults progressively deteriorate from what started as a simple grass allergy in the spring, to a full-blown problem condition whereby the dog ends up virtually allergic to the world in total.

One of the more disturbing aspects of dysbiosis is the apparent increasing incidence of the problem in pups and adolescent dogs. In this situation we often find the pup’s microbiome has never fully developed, sometimes as a result of poor diet design, but more often in younger pups as a result of inheriting their mother’s compromised microbiome. It has been well established that the newborn receives the basis of their microbiome from the mother.

LifeWise BIOTIC Skin is a specialised food that is specifically formulated to promote growth and diversity within the gut microbiome. This microbial development is enhanced by the inclusion of appropriate food ingredients in specific ratios. This ensures all microbes have an equal chance of receiving the nutrients they require thus allowing a gradual reversal of the dysbiosis until such time as a state of eubiosis (you-by-o-sis: complete and balanced population) is achieved.

Achieving eubiosis can be a very slow task depending on the depth of dysbiosis. As you can imagine, the longer the dysbiotic state exists, the greater the decline in microbial diversity and the more extreme the inappropriate immune response becomes. One way of understanding the process is to view the gradual decline in microbial diversity as a slow, downward spiral. Understandably, to reverse the condition is to replace that downward spiral with an upward spiral that slowly brings the gut diversity back to a healthy state. The time interval for this repair can be as short as three or four weeks, or as long as eighteen months, depending on the severity of the initial condition.

In severe cases, the starting point is often veterinary intervention with the use of cortisone or a cytokine suppressant such as Cytopoint or Apoquel. This calms the immune system temporarily which provides stress relief for the dog, and stress relief from the constant itching immediately improves the dog’s ability to absorb nutrients from the food, thus assisting in the repair process. A really useful addition to this, is the use of this food in conjunction with a quality probiotic supplement. Probiotics also act as a stress reliever as well as a digestive efficiency enhancer, which in turn allows an even greater uptake of nutrients by the dog, which is essential if the inappropriate immune system response is to be calmed.

Whether or not veterinary intervention is required, the process remains the same. Simply slowly transition from the existing diet by exchanging 10% of the daily food allowance with the BIOTIC Skin food to which a probiotic supplement such as Purple Boost, or Synbiotic 180S (from Vetafarm), is added. It is best to always transition slowly as there is a good chance the gut of the dog is also significantly damaged along with the itchy skin, and keeping a close eye on the consistency of your dog’s stools will give you the best indication as to how well the transition is progressing. Should stool consistency deteriorate, either go back a step in the transition, or stay at the current step until things settle down. Only ever proceed at a speed by which the body can handle, regardless of how long the process takes.

The general observation in the recovery from severe sensitivities is a slow reduction in the amount and intensity of the reddened skin, and a reasonably rapid reduction in the itching and scratching. BIOTIC Skin is a complete and balanced food which may be fed continuously as the only source of nutrition for your dog. If you have any doubts as to the suitability of this food as a nutritional aid, please consult your veterinarian prior to use.

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