I like a lot of things about veterinary medicine. Working with animals, helping sweet souls who need comfort, and also the challenge that comes with figuring out a tough case. Usually I feel that I am inside a mystery novel or one of those CSI television shows. You have to be an investigator - keeping on your toes and "feeling out" which questions to ask next.
Skin conditions, allergies, ear infections, and all things "skin" - intrigued me throughout my veterinary training. I have always said it was because they were usually such frustrating and chronic cases. I have worked in veterinary clinics since I was 12 years old. I witnessed those animals who came in every month for a recheck on a condition that never seemed to get any better, conditions that would come back as soon as medications were stopped, and saw massive amounts of side effects and complaints from owners regarding steroid use. Frustration and suffering are the two best words that can describe how dermatology appeared to be.
It wasn't that the vets I worked with were not "good" vets. They were some of the best in our state at that time (although I also worked with my share of the worst of the worst). But, I do think that vets become frustrated and just content to sit on one way of doing things. They may be a bit burned out, and so continuing education regarding one of their least favorite topics - ear infections, allergies, and skin infections - are definitely at the bottom of their to-do list. I don't really know why some vets get stagnant. For me, as soon as there is a case I can't figure out - I am passionately driven to find an answer. I will consult online with vets from all around the world, attend additional veterinary training, or sometimes if need be - refer the case to a specialist. Even when a specialist takes over my case - you can bet I learn every nook and cranny of what they tested and how they treated.
When I arrived in vet school - I found the "recipe" to figuring out tough cases to be wonderfully intriguing. Ask the right questions. Do the right testing. Try the right treatments. Follow up with the case. And try, try again if you were not successful. I even became known as "the student that could get cats to eat". I know that sounds odd - but for a cat - eating is one of the most important things they can do to heal. If a cat stops eating - we often have a whole new set of health issues to deal with, above and beyond the issue that caused them to stop eating in the first place. I think it is basic power of observation - and maybe a sprinkling of empathy and intuition. I would offer a cat 8 different types of food - dry, wet, warm, cold, chunky, smooth, this flavor, that flavor, baby food, cat food...you name it - I offered a smorgasbord of feline delights. I could tell if a cat felt hungry, but turned away due to nausea at smelling the food. I could tell those who wanted the food warmed up to their "Goldie Locks" temperature. I would notice the type of dish they liked the food served in. Some liked a flat plate, some liked a dish, some liked it held up to their nose on a tongue depressor. My hospital cage cards read like this "PLEASE feed only chicken baby food, fresh from the jar, at room temperature, in a flat paper dish, not touching any other food items." I know it sounded silly, but for a nauseated cat, having a food item that instigated nausea within the cage with them - could turn them away from even yummy food. But, I digress.. (I do that a lot).
I suppose it was this drive to arrive at an answer (in that case what or why a cat would want to eat), that made me fascinated with the fact that my veterinary professors actually seemed to have answers for dermatology cases! Imagine that! I had gone through my life with the apparent understanding that ear infections or allergies were just normal and expected for some dogs, and that we were just going to be in a trap of chronically treating to keep them comfortable. It was just the way it was. Then, along comes a dermatologist who said that if we actually diagnosed what was causing the infection, treated it with the right medication, for the right amount of time, and actually treated it until it was well and truly gone (usually not the normal 2 week stint), and addressed any underlying cause for the infection to be there...WAIT FOR IT...we could actually GET RID of the infection. Once and for all!
As foreign of a concept as that was, it worked! A magical door opened of being able to fix problems that were thought to be unfixable. I was addicted. Dermatology became a bit of a passion for me. I could help to eliminate issues that chronically devastated the lives and comfort of many animals. They joy that is found in helping to repair a dog who has struggled with itching, "allergies", and ear infections for years - is really a bit indescribable. It just feels plain old awesome! I even considered completing an internship and residency in dermatology after graduation...but getting into the heart of the work force called to me instead.
What I have learned about all skin and ear issues is easy I believe - but can be profound if your veterinarian has not learned them or attempted to master the concept. There is a little bit of a different slant for each species - so I'll break it down for the most common scenarios.
Cats. Most cats will have itching, over-grooming, scabs, and so forth as their presentation to the dermatology world. First and foremost, is the need to make sure that fleas are not an issue. Not even one single bite! And...NO...you don't have to see a flea for there to be a flea problem. Cats are such efficient groomers, that they are unlikely to leave a flea on their body. We were taught that 85% of all skin issues in cats is related to fleas - so if you like to gamble - you better place your odds with a flea issue (even if it is just one bite) - than with other problems.
With cats - I do not believe in psychotropic alopecia. Or, basically over-grooming because your cat is stressed or "nuts". I just don't believe that any cat starts this behavior from stress alone. Sure, the stress of the irritation of the underlying cause IS stressful, as well is an itch that you just can't satisfy - but being caused solely due to personality - I don't buy it. Once we figure out the underlying issue, correct it, and resolve secondary infections (this can include bacteria and/or yeast) - amazingly the over-grooming disappears.
Ear infections in cats are rarely infections at all - at least not how we see them in dogs. Cats with brown icky itchy ears - usually have ear mites - where this condition is not as common in dogs. An ear smear by your veterinarian should be able to quickly reveal if there are ear mites in the ears or not. Occasionally there will be secondary yeast and/or bacteria in the ear as well - but again, this is less likely to be the primary condition. Many times, if there are no ear mites but still a brown waxy debris in the ear - our ear smear reveals a "sterile" irritation. In these cases, most often I find that it is a food related issue. The cat is experiencing hot, itchy ears, with an accumulation of wax due to an improper diet selection. The diet may contain grains, corn, soy, wheat, egg, or dairy that does not agree with the cat. And, as we have found with our Sphynx cat, even sometimes a fish based diet does not do well for him. If he is on the wrong protein source - he will accumulate a lot more ear debris and create greasy skin. On the right diet, my Sphynx doesn't need a bath or his ears cleaned.
Ringworm is also a bit more common in cats. It is a fungal infection of the skin and fur - and can be transmitted to humans and other animals. A culture can be performed with your veterinarian to confirm the existence of this fungal infection, and most treatments are fairly straight forward. I tend to lean toward oral anti-fungal treatment, and avoid weird smelling dips and other toxic topical treatments. I will use KittyBoost as a basic cat treatment, and also for spot treatment of Ringworm when in areas that are not too delicate. YeastyBeasty RTU can also be used for spot treatments of more stubborn Ringworm - but I tend to rely on this only if the KittyBoost has not worked for me. YeastyBeasty NEAT can also be added to shampoos for an anti-fungal wash - as described on the YeastyBeasty page.
Dogs. Sweet, sweet dogs. Definitely dealt the wrong end of the dermatology stick. Where do I begin. First up, the biggest mistake I see with any dermatology issue, is not evaluating the diet to find out if it is part of the problem. I definitely eliminate corn, soy, wheat, egg, and dairy from any diet - even if raw, holistic, organic, home made, or the best diet on the face of the earth. You can read more about what I term the Foundation of Health HERE. After diet, here is what I find most commonly.
Ear infections - are often not diagnosed properly (yes, you need to do an ear smear EVERY time your dog has an infection, a new infection, or at every single recheck exam...), are not treated with the right substance, and are not treated nearly long enough to completely eliminate the infection. Many infections will look much better after 2 weeks of treatment - however the infection is still hanging out deep inside of the canal. Just waiting to make a resurgence. Many times, I believe that most dogs didn't "catch another ear infection" - but simply they never, ever completely got rid of their first one. animalEO Canine Ear Spray has worked very well for us for dogs with stubborn or resistant infections - as you can read HERE. My basic advice, is that you need to continue to treat an ear infection until an ear smear says that it is completely gone. This can mean months of treatment - but you never stop until an ear smear is "clean".
Allergies and itching - this is where I come off the top ropes. The sheer number of miserable dogs in this world, that clearly do not have allergies is staggering to me. What do they have, you ask? They have secondary infections that were never, ever addressed or treated. Sometimes they have been partially treated - usually with antibiotics such as Cephalexin for staph. But rarely when I ask, has the animal been treated systemically (this usually means with an oral pill) for yeast. Sometimes the issues can pile up and be a bit confusing. The dog pictured above clearly has demodex mange (a mite). However, this dog is sure to also have secondary bacterial and yeast infections. A vet may commonly treat the bacterial component, but many times I find, they are not even aware of the concomitant yeast infection.
A dog's skin does not have to look like a battle field to have yeast, however. Sometimes, the simplest licking or chewing of the feet is all that is noticed. And some owners may not even see these actions - but the reddish brown saliva stained areas on the dog, give away the dog's hidden past time. As soon as I consult on a case for a dog with itching or skin issues, I want to find out if yeast was ever treated. And, just because you have treated it once - does not mean that it will automatically stay away. A new infection can be right around the corner, faking you into believing in seasonal allergies and the like. Also - I usually find that many dogs were never treated long enough for the yeast infection to completely resolve, and this can be true for bacterial infections as well. With the great many dogs who are put on steroids for excessive itchiness - I am so shocked that a round of oral Ketoconazole is not promoted more often. For me, it is clearly more effective, doesn't carry massive side effects, and actually addresses the problem at hand - instead of just relieving symptoms. Steroids actually make infections worse. Sure, we may eliminate a ton of inflammation and itching - but we also suppress the immune system. So although we make headway with less itching - we also remove the body's own defense against the infection. Leaving it to come back even worse in the future.
I cannot tell you the countless number of dogs, who once treated with oral Ketoconazole (sometimes for 3 or more months), no longer have "allergies" or other skin issues. Yeast is truly the greatest missed and miserable - dermatologic issue I know of. I have been shocked to hear of vets who will dole out steroids like a Pez Dispenser - be reluctant to prescribe Ketoconazole to a patient. REALLY?! What are you afraid of? Fixing the animal? Heaven forbid! I can guarantee you that I have never personally witnessed an adverse patient reaction to the use of Ketoconazole - however I have certainly seen tons of harm come from the use of steroids. So, please do not be afraid to use a traditional medication - like Ketoconazole - to finally repair some of your dog's issue!
I'll also say here - that it does not matter to me if testing confirms a skin yeast infection or not. I have sometimes found yeast on tape preps and the like - and sometimes not. The cases that I most expect to find yeast, are often the ones I find a big fat nothing on. But - treatment with Ketoconazole clearly makes the condition massively better. So I am totally fine with diagnosis via "response to treatment". If your veterinarian is reluctant to do a trial treatment with oral Ketoconazole (yes I do find the oral course is necessary, not just topical shampoos, creams, etc...) - I do suggest that it is time for you to find a new vet.
I'll quickly input on YeastyBeasty RTU here, since I just said how important oral treatment is. YeastyBeasty RTU was definitely designed and created for these yeasty and itchy animals. Because we can be treating a case with Ketoconazole for months at a time - clearly we will not be rid of the infection and symptoms overnight. The use of YeastyBeasty RTU topically is a great addition to our treatment regimen, bringing much more soothing comfort immediately, eliminating "the beasties", as well as supporting the immune system to work more efficiently. Sure, there are those occasional dogs who have a pretty minor yeast dermatitis - and for those the use of YeastyBeasty RTU alone - is usually adequate. It is for those dogs who have been itching severely, or who have been itching for a really long time - that I recommend using both topical applications of YeastyBeasty RTU along with an oral course of Ketoconazole. The more severe the issue - the more the oral Ketoconazole is needed. But, in general, I will always be using the YeastyBeasty RTU topically as well - as I find much more comfort and a shorter course of meds to be needed.
Bathing Dogs. For those dogs such as the demodex case, with wide spread inflammation or for those with really irritated feet, infected skin folds, or greasy nasty skin...an essential oil bath can be a wonderful addition. I will generally add YeastyBeasty NEAT to a natural shampoo base, as described on the product page, as needed.
Water-Misting. YeastyBeasty NEAT can also be added to a glass misting bottle - and a light spritz can be sprayed over affected areas. A water mist is especially helpful for peri-anal yeast infections. YeastyBeasty RTU is already diluted to a proper and effective dilution rate for direct application (right from the bottle - "Ready To Use") to the skin - so adding this to a water-mist is unlikely to provide adequate amounts of essential oil contact with the skin.
Horses & Large Animals. These animals can get a variety of skin issues that may have a yeast or fungal component. Scratches, Ringworm, Rain Rot, etc...can all have a bit of a YeastyBeasty need. Just as described for dogs - shampoos, washes, water mists, or even topical applications of YeastyBeasty RTU can be used to support the resolution of these issues.
I created YeastyBeasty because of my passion for correcting dermatology woes. But, as you can hopefully tell - I feel it is really important to address all of the issues that affect an itchy, infected animal. YeastyBeasty can be used alone, and is incredibly effective - but just remember that if you have a severely affected animal or one with a very chronic condition - then exploring a diet overhaul as well as completing a course of oral Ketoconazole and Cephalexin (for dogs) - is really important to the comfort and complete recovery of the animal.
What is YeastyBeasty RTU? A combination of all of the most helpful and favorite essential oils that have helped me to fight yeast, ringworm, and other dermatology foes. The RTU version is diluted perfectly to what I saw the majority of my patients respond to, and tolerate easily. Unlike my routine advice to avoid application of essential oils to feet and foot pads, YeastyBeasty RTU was created with the knowledge that the feet - especially the skin between the foot pads - were going to need this mixture applied to them. By combining various essential oils to the proper ratios and concentrations - this blend is soothing, yet extremely powerful at supporting the elimination of yeast and itchy skin. As the RTU version is diluted in Fractionated Coconut Oil - FCO - it can be a bit moisturizing to the skin. So, occasionally for moist lesions or for areas that need more of a drying effect - we may opt to not use YeastyBeasty RTU. Clinically, I have been happy to try a few applications of YeastyBeasty RTU, say to a skin fold dermatitis, and monitor how the condition progresses. Many times it is far better, and we can continue. However, if it ever appears that the skin is too moist, or not healing - then we will change to using a wash or water-mist application of YeastyBeasty NEAT. Skin Spray Base used as a water-mist is another option for more delicate areas that have dermatitis - such as skin folds on the face. You can read more about this on its product page.
YeastyBeasty NEAT is an undiluted version of essential oils. Rarely if ever, would this be applied alone to an animal - the main exception being an extremely stubborn area of ringworm or fungal infection on a cow, horse, or other large animal. I mainly use YeastyBeasty NEAT to add to shampoos or to create a water-mist for spritzing - especially when I don't want to add moisture to an area. YeastyBeasty RTU can be added to shampoos or water-misted - but because it is already diluted for topical application directly from the bottle - you would need to add a lot more of it to your intended recipe - and it would be less likely to achieve effective results.
YeastyBeasty NEAT can also be used by experienced aromatherapists when they desire a known concentration or dilution of the essential oil blend. I will generally not walk the average consumer through the process of diluting YeastyBeasty NEAT however, as I find it is better for most to "not go there". Mistakes on dilution happen all the time - and unless you are experienced (those who would not need further direction), I simply recommend that you use the YeastyBeasty RTU.
For the most part - the majority of you will have dogs - and should be using the YeastyBeasty RTU version. So, let's discuss this use a bit more. One of the more common scenarios is the dog that licks and chews feet, arms, anal regions, etc... For these situations - YeastyBeasty RTU can be massaged into the areas of concern right out of the bottle. I will usually put a few drops in my hand, then dip my finger into the puddle. I'll repeat dipping and rubbing into the area multiple times, and usually 3-10 drops total might be rubbed onto just one itchy foot. Applying to all four feet is just fine, and many of these dogs might have 4 itchy feet, an itchy anus, a "crocodile" neck, and a few other locations of concern. YeastyBeasty RTU is designed to be able to apply to areas of need, as needed. One of my dogs got a bit of a yeast infection in the crook of his elbow when an unsuspected diet change occurred to our regular brand of food. He licked and licked at it, creating the telltale red saliva stains. I applied YeastyBeasty RTU once to twice a day for a few weeks - and we noticed that he was greatly comforted by it. Quickly the urge to lick went away (and yes, it is totally okay for them to lick off all of the essential oils), and the blend also encouraged the removal of the saliva staining too! If the dog licks the blend off immediately, I may try to apply it and then take my dog for a walk or do some sort of "stay" training where they are not allowed to lick it off too soon. Not that it is harmful to ingest - I just want to allow the blend to penetrate the skin tissues before being licked off.
Other applications for YeastyBeasty RTU is to rub or drip onto lick granulomas, massage into irritated armpits, and sometimes even to wipe into skin folds. Almost any location can support an application - but be cautious near the eyes. If additional moisture from the Fractionated Coconut Oil within the RTU version is too moisturizing for a location (say a skin fold) - then I will avoid using it in that location. For dogs who completely will not allow the Canine Ear Spray to be sprayed into their ears, YeastyBeast RTU is an alternative that can be massaged into the ear instead. Because it is properly diluted, and because the canine ear canal is so deep, long, and turns - there is little concern for the essential oils in this blend to cause irritation to the ear drum. However, as with any ear treatment, a veterinary exam should be performed and you should work with your veterinarian to establish a base line diagnosis and to continue to evaluate the response of the infection to the remedy being used - whether natural or traditional.
Remember that you can find some great help and assistance with recommendations in our animalEO Facebook group by CLICKING HERE and requesting to join! We have an admin team called the "Pack" - who have additional training with me in the "art of animalEO". And while not vets, and they still will have varying opinions - I trust them to give reliable and safe information - or to find out the true answer if they don't know. I can't thank them enough for their continued help and support with animalEO and the animalEO Facebook group! Simply wonderful helpers!
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And remember, I only recommend the use of what I term, "veterinary grade essential oils" for use with animals (or humans for that matter). The use of essential oils that have not been evaluated and proven safe for use in animals, is not recommended, and may prove dangerous for your animals. Through research, case studies, and retrospective studies - I am documenting the difference in qualities of essential oils in my veterinary hospital - and we are continually striving to provide more information to everyone who desires to use essential oils for their animals.
Until Next Time!
Melissa Shelton DVM
Disclaimer: This information was provided for educational purposes only, and has not been evaluated by the FDA. It is not intended to diagnose, prescribe for, or treat any illness. If you or your animal have a health concern, you are encouraged to seek the counsel of a health care professional who is knowledgeable in your area of interest.