Q: My Maltese has been experiencing skin problems since last July. Although we have switched to a vet-prescribed diet, his condition is deteriorating. The anti-histamines that the vet gave previously do not seem to relief him of the itch and he now has sore spots all over his body, even on the toes and tail. Could it be an immunity issue rather than a food allergy? Would feeding him probiotics help?

A: Anti-histamines do not work for skin problems in dogs and humans except for the first 24 to 48 hours. That is why steroids are more appropriate but only in small doses. Your dog may be suffering from congenital problems typical of many toy breeds, especially those from puppy mills, farms, and or Australian imports.  It is an immune or hormonal issue called endocrine-immune dysfunction which affects the dog’s ability to handle stress. This is caused by the dog’s dysfunctional adrenal glands and its inability to neutralise inflammation caused by a stress trigger.

You can get more information about this common condition from the book Pets at Risks by Dr. Pletcher (DVM).

Under normal conditions, the adrenal gland produces ‘cortisol’ and ‘nor-adrenaline’.  Nor-adrenaline is important in helping the animal to escape or fight during a confrontational situation. Cortisol is excreted by the adrenal gland during a stressful situation and it neutralises generalised inflammation as well. The inability to neutralise inflammation will pre-dispose the dog to allergic reactions to ingested food and environmental allergens.  This is also seen in people with chronic stress.  But in humans, with a normal adrenal gland, when the stress is removed, the allergies eventually clear up. In the case of endocrine-immune dysfunction, allergies get worse with time.  Treating just the skin is only short term solution and can be frustrating for both owner and pet.

Ideally, your canine needs to be checked for thyroid deficiency as production of thyroid hormones will fall with chronic unresolved inflammation and allergies.

The second thing to look out for is if your pet has been sterilised for a while as it also makes endocrine-immune dysfunction a more difficult condition to treat. This is because sex hormones are linked with thyroid adrenal gland hormones and every other hormone in the body.

Treatment should therefore be aimed at balancing all the hormones (thyroid, sex hormone, cortisol) with the supplementation (not replacement) of small amount of these.

Next, request for allergy tests in order to identify and exclude allergens (especially foods) that may be adding to the inflammation. The most relevant, quick and effective tool is bioresonance allergy testing.  It is approximately 70 to 80 percent accurate and can be used as an important guide in choosing the right food to feed your dog. Lastly, use an appropriate shampoo, prescribed by a veterinarian according to the absence or presence of secondary fungal and bacterial infection. Veterinarians may also choose to give appropriate medication at this time.