As the days grow warmer and the flowers begin to bloom, spring ushers in the much-dreaded allergy season. The increased pollen and environmental allergens can affect not only humans but also our beloved dogs, leading to uncomfortable skin rashes and red bumps.
For those who prefer a holistic approach to health and wellness, this article delves into a range of natural, plant-based remedies to soothe and alleviate your dog’s skin irritations. Drawing insights from both Western and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspectives, I will explore the underlying causes of these skin issues and provide practical guidance on how to effectively apply herbal remedies to help your furry friend find relief during allergy season
Environmental Rashes on Dogs
When a dog develops a rash with lots of little red bumps, it indicates that there is some sort of inflammation or irritation occurring in the skin. The skin, being the largest organ and the first line of defense against external threats, can react to various triggers. Here are some of the key biological processes that may be involved in the development of such a rash:
- Inflammation: In response to an irritant or allergen, the immune system releases chemicals like histamine, which can cause the blood vessels in the skin to dilate and become leaky. This leads to redness, swelling, and sometimes itching.
- Cellular infiltration: In addition to blood vessel changes, the immune system may also recruit white blood cells to the affected area to help combat any potential threat. This can lead to the formation of small red bumps (papules) or even pus-filled bumps (pustules).
- Irritation and damage to skin cells: Direct contact with an irritant or allergen can cause damage to the skin cells, leading to irritation and inflammation.
- Mast cell degranulation: Mast cells, which are immune cells found in the skin, release granules containing histamine and other chemicals upon contact with an allergen or irritant. These chemicals contribute to the itching, redness, and swelling associated with a rash.
There are various reasons why a dog may develop a rash with small red bumps. Some common causes include:
- Allergic reactions (e.g., to food, medications, insect bites, or environmental allergens)
- Flea or tick bites
- Bacterial or fungal infections
- Contact dermatitis (e.g., from exposure to irritants like soap, shampoo, or plants)
- Autoimmune disorders
- Hormonal imbalances
Here is an explanation of what happens at a cellular level:
- Trigger: An irritant, allergen, or pathogen comes into contact with the dog’s skin, triggering an immune response. In the case of an allergen, the immune system mistakenly identifies it as a threat and activates a defense mechanism.
- Immune response: The immune system releases chemical mediators such as histamine, prostaglandins, and cytokines. These chemical messengers recruit immune cells like macrophages, neutrophils, and lymphocytes to the affected area.
- Vasodilation: Histamine and other chemical mediators cause the blood vessels in the affected area to dilate (widen). This increases blood flow to the site, resulting in the characteristic redness and warmth associated with inflammation.
- Increased permeability: The blood vessels also become more permeable, allowing fluid and immune cells to leak out of the vessels and into the surrounding tissue. This leads to swelling and the formation of red bumps, known as papules or pustules, depending on whether they contain pus.
- Cellular infiltration: Immune cells like neutrophils, macrophages, and lymphocytes infiltrate the affected area to combat the irritant or pathogen. They release enzymes, antimicrobial proteins, and reactive oxygen species to destroy the irritant or pathogen.
- Skin cell proliferation: In response to the inflammation and immune cell infiltration, skin cells (keratinocytes) in the affected area may proliferate, thicken, or change their structure, which can lead to changes in the skin’s appearance, such as scaling or flaking.
- Itchiness: The release of histamine and other chemical mediators can directly stimulate nerve endings in the skin, leading to the sensation of itchiness. Scratching can further damage the skin, prolonging the inflammatory response and potentially leading to secondary infections.
Rashes From a Chinese Medicine Perspective
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) takes a different approach to understanding and treating skin conditions like rashes and red bumps in dogs. TCM focuses on balancing the body’s energy, known as Qi, and maintaining harmony among the fundamental elements (Yin and Yang) and organ systems. When an imbalance occurs, it can lead to various health issues, including skin problems.
From a TCM perspective, a rash with little red bumps on a dog’s skin could be caused by several factors:
- Heat: TCM believes that excessive heat in the body can cause skin irritation and inflammation. The rash and red bumps could be a manifestation of this internal heat. Heat can be categorized into several types, such as Wind-Heat, Damp-Heat, and Blood Heat.
- Blood Stasis: In TCM, blood stasis refers to stagnation or slowing down of blood circulation. This can lead to a buildup of toxins in the body, which can manifest as skin issues, including rashes and red bumps.
- Dampness: Dampness is another TCM concept that may contribute to skin problems. It represents an accumulation of fluids and can result from internal imbalances or environmental factors, such as living in a damp environment. Dampness can combine with heat to create Damp-Heat, which may manifest as a rash with red bumps.
- Qi Stagnation: Qi is the vital energy that flows throughout the body, and stagnation occurs when it becomes blocked or disrupted. This can lead to imbalances and, in some cases, skin issues like rashes and red bumps.
- Organ System Imbalances: TCM believes that the health of the skin is closely linked to the balance and function of various organ systems, particularly the liver, kidneys, and lungs. Imbalances in these organ systems can lead to skin problems.
In the case of environmental allergies where the allergen is a bug or a plant, it’s typically a heat pattern. From the list below I love spilanthes or nettle tea applied to a cotton ball or paper towel and then to the affected area.
Plant-Based Remedies for Dog Rashes
To provide comfort and relief to irritated skin with red bumps, several natural plant-based substances can be used topically. These remedies often have anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and soothing properties that can alleviate symptoms associated with rashes. Some effective plant-based substances include:
- Aloe Vera:
- Use pure aloe vera gel extracted from the leaves of the plant.
- Apply directly to the affected area.
- Avoid using products with added fragrances or alcohol, which can be irritating.
- Use a calendula cream or ointment.
- Apply directly to the affected area according to the product’s instructions.
- Avoid using on open wounds or broken skin without consulting a veterinarian.
- Brew chamomile tea, allow it to cool, and apply with a clean cloth or cotton ball.
- Alternatively, use chamomile-infused creams or oils.
- Avoid using if your dog has a known allergy to plants in the daisy family.
- Make a poultice using ground oatmeal and water, or give your dog an oatmeal bath.
- Apply the poultice to the affected area or soak your dog in the oatmeal bath.
- Ensure the water is not too hot to prevent further irritation.
- Witch Hazel:
- Use pure, alcohol-free witch hazel.
- Apply with a cotton ball to the affected area.
- Avoid using near the eyes, nose, or mouth, and on open wounds or broken skin.
- Coconut oil:
- Use unrefined, cold-pressed coconut oil.
- Apply a thin layer to the affected area.
- Be cautious with dogs prone to oily skin or skin infections, as coconut oil can be comedogenic.
- Green tea:
- Brew green tea, allow it to cool, and apply with a clean cloth or cotton ball.
- Alternatively, make a compress by soaking a clean cloth in the cooled tea and applying it directly to the irritated skin.
- Lavender essential oil:
- Dilute with a carrier oil (e.g., coconut or almond oil) using a 0.5%-1% dilution ratio (3-6 drops of essential oil per ounce of carrier oil).
- Apply the diluted mixture to the affected area.
- Avoid using on puppies, pregnant dogs, or dogs with certain health conditions like liver or kidney problems. Consult a veterinarian before use.
- Nettle tea:
- Brew strong nettle tea, allow it to cool, and apply with a clean cloth or cotton ball.
- Alternatively, make a compress by soaking a clean cloth in the cooled tea and applying it directly to the irritated skin.
- I’m a fan of using nettle and you can read more about that in this article.
- Spilanthes tea:
- Brew strong Spilanthes tea, allow it to cool, and apply with a clean cloth or cotton ball.
- Alternatively, make a compress by soaking a clean cloth in the cooled tea and applying it directly to the irritated skin. I had a skin rash located on the back of my knee and when I applied cooled spilanthes tea the sensation of “itch” went away immediately. I’ve also used it on my dogs and it’s provided them itch relief after they got rashy from a hike in the fields.
More About Spilanthes
Spilanthes is a newer itch solution to me. I’ve used it on myself (made a tea and applied it topically) and found it alleviated the itch symptoms immediately.
Spilanthes, also known as Acmella oleracea, is a plant belonging to the Asteraceae family, commonly known as the toothache plant or paracress. Spilanthes has been used in traditional medicine for its analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties, primarily in the treatment of toothaches and oral health problems. The main active compound in spilanthes is spilanthol, a lipophilic alkylamide that contributes to its therapeutic effects.
The biochemical pathway leading to the synthesis of spilanthol involves several steps. It starts with the conversion of basic building blocks like amino acids and fatty acids into precursor molecules. Through a series of enzymatic reactions, these precursor molecules are then converted into spilanthol. The exact pathway may vary among different plant species and even among different strains of the same species.
When applied topically, spilanthol can have several beneficial effects in alleviating pain and inflammation, which can be explained through the following mechanisms:
- Ion channel modulation: Spilanthol is known to modulate ion channels, specifically targeting the transient receptor potential vanilloid 1 (TRPV1) channel. The TRPV1 channel is responsible for transmitting pain signals to the central nervous system. By blocking the activation of these channels, spilanthol can effectively reduce the sensation of pain.
- Anti-inflammatory effects: Spilanthol has also been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties by inhibiting the production of pro-inflammatory mediators, such as cytokines and prostaglandins. This can help in reducing swelling, redness, and pain associated with inflammation.
- Local anesthetic action: Spilanthol exhibits local anesthetic effects by inhibiting the conduction of nerve impulses. This leads to a temporary numbing sensation, providing relief from pain.
- Antimicrobial activity: Spilanthol demonstrates antimicrobial activity against various pathogens, including bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. This can help in preventing and treating infections, which may contribute to the alleviation of pain and inflammation.
You can buy Spilanthenes at Mountain Rose Herbs.
Note: Some links in this article are affiliate links (Amazon Associates or other programs I participate in). At no charge to you, as an affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Don’t Forget The Milk Thistle
Concurrent to any of the remedies above, milk thistle can be fed at the onset of when itchy symptoms present themselves.
I prefer to buy the human supplement and I rotate the brands and split it between my three dogs. Milk thistle contains silymarin and it helps the liver and body deal with the histamine response to mild allergy triggers.
Limit feeding milk thistle for three weeks at a time. Take a break for at least a week or two and then start back up if needed.
The Three-Day Rule
If the rash is a manifestation of a superficial or exterior pattern you can normally try these home herbal remedies.
Herbal remedies can be highly effective in providing relief for superficial rashes and skin irritations in dogs, as they often possess anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and soothing properties. These natural treatments can help to alleviate symptoms and support the healing process.
However, it is crucial to closely monitor your dog’s condition and consult with a veterinarian if the rash does not improve in three days or worsens over time. It may not be that the symptoms go away but even if there is minor improvement of symptoms over three days then you know you are on the right track.
Professional guidance can help ensure the most appropriate treatment is provided and that any underlying issues or imbalances are properly addressed, contributing to the overall well-being of your dog.
I hope you found this information useful. Wishing you and your dog well!
Bakondi E, Singh SB, Hajnády Z, Nagy-Pénzes M, Regdon Z, Kovács K, Hegedűs C, Madácsy T, Maléth J, Hegyi P, Demény MÁ, Nagy T, Kéki S, Szabó É, Virág L. Spilanthol Inhibits Inflammatory Transcription Factors and iNOS Expression in Macrophages and Exerts Anti-inflammatory Effects in Dermatitis and Pancreatitis. Int J Mol Sci. 2019 Sep 3;20(17):4308. doi: 10.3390/ijms20174308. PMID: 31484391; PMCID: PMC6747447.
Wu, L. C., Fan, N. C., Lin, M. H., Chu, I. R., Huang, S. J., Hu, C. Y., & Han, S. Y. (2008). Anti-inflammatory effect of spilanthol from Spilanthes acmella on murine macrophage by down-regulating LPS-induced inflammatory mediators. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry, 56(7), 2341-2349.
Hannah Zulueta obtained her Certificate in Canine Nutrition from CASI Institute. She is also studying for her Doctorate in Acupuncture, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Herbalism from the esteemed Pacific College of Health and Medicine.
She resides in San Diego with her three dogs, Maggie, Orbit, and Mr. Higgins.