Pet Corner: Pet Skin Problems

Heal your pet's skin irritations with these herbal remedies.

| May/June 1998

Herbs can help treat your pet’s hot spots

Before I began practicing holistic medicine, our golden retriever, Rufus, suffered through several miserable summers, itching and scratching a spot of raw skin known as a “hot spot” on his foreleg.

Cortisone treatments gave Rufus only temporary relief, so I decided to explore alternative methods. With my new medicinal herb book in hand, I learned that preparations of calendula (Calendula officinalis) are effective in treating open skin wounds. I made some calendula tea and, using a plant spritzer, sprayed it on his hot spot. The first dose brought an immediate sigh of relief from Rufus, and for three or four hours he was itch-free. I sprayed the hot spot with calendula several times that day, and Rufus had the first good night’s sleep he’d had in weeks. By morning, I could see pink healing tissue, and in a week the lesion no longer itched and was nearly healed.

Unfortunately, not all hot spots are this easy to treat. In fact, hot spots top my list of frustrating cases because it’s difficult to pinpoint their cause. They can be caused by bacterial or fungal infections; ­nutritional, hormonal and/or immune system imbalances; spinal nerve impingement; ­heredity; and a myriad of other causes. The secret to treatment seems to be a good dose of patience and determination to keep trying various remedies until you find the one that addresses your pet’s specific needs. And, although I have yet to find one herb or herbal formula that will by itself miraculously cure such a skin problem, herbs can be effective when used along with other therapies, including nutrition counseling, acupuncture, homeopathy, and chiropractic adjustments.

Step One: Diagnosis

Effective treatment depends on a good diagnosis. Find a veterinarian who goes beyond the quick fix of a cortisone shot and flea collar and gives your pet a complete dermatologic workup, including skin scrapings and cultures, blood tests, and, when necessary, biopsies. Once you have an idea of what may be causing the problem, you can determine an effective treatment plan. Keep in mind that if your pet’s skin problems are caused by parasites (fleas, ticks, or mange mites), you will almost certainly need more than herbal treatments to get rid of the bugs.

Working from the Outside

For the localized red, raw, and itchy area, I use calendula. Sometimes, I combine it with other skin-conditioning herbs, including aloe, chamomile, mullein, or plantain. Fresh calendula, good for treating cuts, scratches, and abrasions, also speeds wound healing through its anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal activity. It also contains an effective pain-relieving compound called salicylic acid.

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