Goals of Treating Eczema
Eczema refers to a clinical syndrome that accompanies superficial skin irritation and inflammation of the outer layers of the skin, regardless of the cause. It is frequently itchy, painful and otherwise uncomfortable for affected animals. The goals of treating superficial skin lesions are to minimize the dog’s discomfort, reduce epidermal inflammation, eliminate secondary bacterial, viral, yeast or fungal infections, remove the underlying cause of the condition from the dog’s environment and provide medical and supportive therapy to minimize any immune-mediated reaction.
Most cases of eczema in dogs require a multifocal treatment approach, using more than one medication or regimen. The first step in treatment is to identify and eliminate the underlying cause of the condition, if at all possible. For some owners, this is as easy as ensuring that fleas, mites, lice and ticks are removed from the dog’s environment. In other cases, the search for the cause of the condition is much more difficult. Some owners will need to consult with their veterinarian and use elimination diet trials to identify possible food allergens. Hypersensitivity testing may be necessary to identify contact or inhalant irritants, such as environmental chemicals, fertilizers, perfumes, carpet cleaners, deodorants and other household products.
When the cause of eczema cannot readily be isolated, the attending veterinarian may prescribe a regimen of oral and/or topical anti-inflammatory medications to at least temporarily relieve the dog’s symptoms. These may include steroids or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
One key therapeutic goal for eczema - regardless of the cause - is to soothe the skin irritation and help the skin to heal. Medicated shampoos with ingredients such as oatmeal and essential oils can help reduce bacterial and fungal presence on the skin surface and can calm inflammation and itchiness. Oral or topical antibiotics may be prescribed if a secondary bacterial infection develops. Antihistamines can also be used for severe cases of itching; these may be oral or topical as well.
Dogs with eczema have a guarded to very good prognosis, depending upon whether the cause of the condition can be identified and successfully removed from the dog’s diet or environment.