Q: Sometimes, my cat gets patchy, crusty red rashes on her belly that are extremely itchy. The vets aren’t too worried as it doesn’t happen all the time and they usually give her steroid cream or tablets. I know it’s usually in small doses, but it still worries me. Are there any alternatives to steroids?

A: There are many possible causes of patchy, crusty rashes, such as bacterial, fungal or allergic reactions, and there are certainly many alternatives to steroids. However, their onset of action may be slower than steroids. Hence, such lesions usually take longer to respond to them.

A good antibacterial and anti-fungal shampoo with anti-itch properties will help to reduce the infections and ease the itch. Similarly, a topical skin antiseptic can be used daily on the affected areas. Acupuncture is also effective in helping the skin to overcome inflammation, infection and itch. It works by promoting good blood flow, which brings nutrients and agents of the immune system to combat the infection while draining away toxins from the affected areas. It stimulates and revitalises the immune system, which aids the body’s ability to combat pathogens. Acupuncture also helps to repair and heal the affected areas, thereby reducing inflammation and itchiness.

Traditional Chinese medicine can help to boost the skin’s immunity, reduce the effects of allergic reactions, and improve the skin’s ability to heal, which in turn prevents or ameliorates future episodes of skin issues. There are specific prescription herbal formulations or single herbs that can be used concurrently that help to hasten the recovery of skin lesions. These herbs should be given only upon examination of the patient in order to prescribe the correct formulations for the specific conditions. Examples of these are san miao san, fang feng dan and sheng di huang.

A well-balanced diet rich is also vital in maintaining healthy skin and recovery of infected, inflamed and/or damaged tissues. Wholesome foods such as boiled egg, lean meat, and cooked fish may be included. Supplements such as multivitamins, minerals, vitamin C and fish oils may be added as well.