Dogs and Cats Get Eczema Too:  Feline and Canine Atopic Dermatitis also on the Rise — How to Make a Healthier Home for Pets

Dogs and Cats Get Eczema Too: Feline and Canine Atopic Dermatitis also on the Rise — How to Make a Healthier Home for Pets

Using for dogs and cats with atopic dermatitis:

Scratching Dog

Image courtesy of anankkml /

Atopic dermatitis is not just a growing problem for people, more and more household pets are suffering as well. Horses can be affected, too. I will deal with this topic a little more in my book, but I felt like I had to write at least something now.  Because dealing with this issue for dogs, cats, and horses is far easier than it is for babies, animals cannot help themselves by telling us how they feel, and these environmental aspects of the problem are addressable and not their fault.

Households that try these environmental strategies may also find that in addition to helping skin, the animals may themselves end up less allergic, and be less allergenic to people.

As I point out on the website, these are my own ideas, they are novel;  I am not a health professional and I am certainly not a vet.  The ideas are the result of “citizen science”, consistent with the body of available mainstream research but have not themselves yet been the subject of such research.  The information is supposed to augment the relationship between health professional and patient, not supplant it.  I always strongly suggest people keep their health professionals in the loop, and that’s not just a liability disclaimer, it’s because it’s important.  Your doctor or vet or naturopath knows you, your child, your pet, and if anything else is at issue or something goes wrong, they know what to do to keep you safe.  Having a trusting, working relationship with a good health care provider is like gold.

As I also point out on my website, it’s necessary to read through the information before making any changes, and especially before making assumptions.  People often incorrectly think they know what the site is about, and either take the wrong or inadequate measures, or dismiss it out of hand.

For example, many people believe that because there is a genetic component to the susceptibility, that the problem cannot be primarily environmental in origin.  There are actually fundamental reasons under the circumstances that the problem CAN’T be primarily genetic even when there is a strong genetic component, which I will discuss in the book.  People — and pets — with the atopy, those WITH the genetic susceptibility, are the most likely to be HELPED by these environmental measures.

The fundamental problem for cats and dogs is this:

*The dust in people’s homes, which cats and dogs are more directly affected by even than people, is full of substances that significantly impact the permeability of their skin.  The increased permeability leads to excessive water loss, dry skin, and more allergens crossing the skin barrier.  The disrupted skin is also more susceptible to bacterial and fungal infections, and not just because of the broken skin, but because the substances inactivate important proteins.  These substances also increase healing time of membranes.  Solving this problem involves changing what is in the dust, which is very doable, not having a dust-free home which is impossible.

*The surfaces dogs and cats spend most of theirs days lying on are coated with these same substances, which can be absorbed from contact.

*Many of these substances are in the fertilizer and poison products sprayed around peoples grass and homes outside as well, which dogs and cats also spend a lot of time in contact with.

*Most commercial cat litters are full of these substances.  When a cat grooms herself, she not only ingests them, she also dissolves these substances into the dander, making the dander even more allergenic than otherwise.  When a cat walks around the house, these substances are tracked around the house and added to the dust of the home.

*Most products used to wash dogs, even “natural” ones, contain these substances, and residues left in their coats (and there are ALWAYS residues) cause the same problems described above.

boy and dog

Image courtesy of Ashley Cox /

Trying the strategies from the website does not have to be a lot of work.  Please be aware that the site is geared to people with infants who have the most permeable skin and greatest susceptibilities, and who need to see the fastest, most dramatic results.  To help animals, you don’t have to sweat the small stuff, just be aware of what measures will have the greatest benefit and impact.

A few things to remember:

*Please only make changes AFTER reading and understanding the website.  Begin with the slideshow overview to understand.  It is 45 minutes long, only 6 slides.  My apologies to everyone, I originally made it for a crowdfunding for the book, I am not a media person, and the video puts even ME to sleep (sorry!).  It is still the most up-to-date summary and worth beginning with:

*Helping a cat or dog with AD is not as difficult as helping an infant human — the whole house has to get on board, but you won’t have to sweat the small stuff (like makeup or deodorant) — however, the same principles apply.

*Keep your vet in the loop. Treat as recommended by your vet, especially for bacterial or fungal problems that may have developed, as well as flea control.  Where treatment product choices are possible, choose only products that don’t contain detergents as defined on the website.  DON’T MAKE ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT WHAT THAT MEANS! (People are almost always wrong when they assume.)

*Treating fungal problems is more of an art, and can sometimes require long-term application.  Treatment fungal problems initially can cause Jarisch-Herxheimer responses, known as “die-off” reactions, which seem to make things worse.  This disruption in the membrane can actually make things worse and stymie results, plus it’s just uncomfortable for the pet patient, so effective antifungal treatment may involve both using a steroid temporarily with the antifungal, followed by longer-term antifungal therapy.  To minimize die-off for a known fungal problem, sometimes it’s necessary to back off the treatment and begin very, very slowly, with very small amounts ramped up to full strength, and to treat for a very long time.  Switch treatments if one no longer seems to work.

*Getting a good well-filtered vacuum is an essential step.


Image courtesy of artur84 /

*If you have carpeting, especially old carpeting, consider removing it and replacing it with some kind of non-allergic surface like hardwood flooring or Marmoleum/natural lineoleum, perhaps with area rugs as necessary (washed only with non-detergent products).  A friend clued me in to a way to find Marmoleum cheaper:  Talk to the local supplier and ask if you can add square footage to the next really large order they get (provided you like the material).  We know someone who got really high quality Marmoleum for the price of cheap vinyl that way.  Natural linoleum is not as easy to install and it’s better to have an experienced pro do this.

*Can you wash out the cover of your pet’s bed or bedding?  Follow the website strategies for superwashing.  If you have hard water, it may take more washing than suggested.  Use one or two washes with just 2 cups of white vinegar in the wash.

*Remember that the dust in your home is mostly made up of your skin cells, hair, and lint, and that your pet spends most of their day in it.  Marketing is powerful —  even if there are better ones out there, people can be very strongly and irrationally attached to their personal care products (especially since there can be worse ones out there).  You’re just changing what you use in order to help your pet, and it does not have to be a compromise, you can find things you like as much or better, but you may find some you like less in the process.  Don’t give up!

*For most good products, the biggest influence on whether new products work well and produce lovely results, in my experience, is not the products themselves but the hardness of the water.  It will be more difficult to find acceptable products for people with hard water.

*If you don’t have time to superwash the laundry, you can take a lower-key approach that may take longer and produce results more slowly over time, but is far less work.  First, switch to a very benign detergent like Planet (the only syndet I feel comfortable recommending) for a few weeks.  Then switch to just using baking soda and/or vinegar in the laundry for a few more weeks.  Then switch to true soap in the laundry, but wash each load twice.  Once with soap, and then once with just water.  Be sure to follow all the directions about washing out the dryer of previous detergent residues, and be sure to clean out all the detergenty lint in the laundry room.

*For cats, investigate non-clumping cat litters, like cedar chips.  Unfortunately, the clumping litters are the ones with significant amounts of detergents or clays that are very hydrophilic and could theoretically cause the same problems.

*Take a look at the ingredients of the products you use in your yard and patio — detergents are very commonly used in all kinds of products like fertilizers and poisons because they reduce surface tension and spread products more evenly.  example link

dog in bowl

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic /

*In the case of benefiting just the animals, you also don’t have to switch your dishwashing products, but I recommend doing so anyway as a healthy step for the benefit of everyone’s mucous membranes.  Our digestive systems make up a goodly portion of our bodies’ immune systems.  If you don’t take this step, do at least buy non-detergent soaps to wash the water bowls and toys of pets with AD.

*You can’t necessarily use bathing to control exposures of animals as you can children, but you probably won’t need to.  But still, use baths judiciously relative to exposures, as “eczema removal time”, such as when the dog (or cat, IF appropriate) is scratching from spending time in the yard.

*With pet fur, it’s also probably impractical to moisturize.  People who use the site strategies usually find over time that they no longer need to anyway.  Absent these abnormal environmental influences, a pet’s skin should not need moisturizing.  As with humans, the creamy absorbing moisturizers can backfire and cause more water loss later (see blog posts about dry skin).

*Most vet sites recommend to control other environmental allergens like mold and dust mites.  I will write more about this contributor to dermatitis for people, too, soon.

*Remember that even people who do not get eczema themselves usually benefit from these steps in the health of their skin and other membranes.  it may not be apparent at the beginning, but a few months into this, pay attention to your own skin — you may find it’s better than you ever remember.  If not, you should find better products, because they exist!

*Although all members of a household usually benefits from the strategies, it’s normal for pets to have eczema but not the humans, or vice versa, or for both to have it.  (The reason for that should be evident from reading the site and blog.)

*I know how difficult it can be to change products.  Marketing is very powerful, even when people are aware of it.  I remember what that’s like, but now feel much happier with most of the best products I’ve found.  That said, dogs and cats are likely to see some results even if there is a “holdout” in the household.  If you try the site strategies for your pets with eczema, please let me know how it goes.

I have listed some pet products on my Amazon astore, which is there for people’s convenience, but there are other products out there, and the site discusses how to evaluate them.  When people purchase through those links, I receive a small percentage without increasing the buyer’s price (usually on the order of $15/month, not significant, but I need to say so in case it makes a difference to people one way or another).  The link is:

Use a search engine to learn about “canine atopic dermatitis” — although I don’t necessarily agree with various sites about what to do about it, it’s clear that it’s a growing problem.

If you are helped by these strategies, please consider returning to the website donations page and making a donation — most people don’t (and that’s okay, that’s obviously not why I do this!), but they do help.  People are often willing to pay far more for treatments that don’t work, so if this has been worthwhile to you, please consider a donation, it does help.  Thanks!
A.J. Lumsdaine



The role of surfactant in asthma

I’ve gotten much feedback over the years that the changes described in do more than help eliminate eczema for certain people, they help reduce or eliminate asthma, even in atopic family members who do not have eczema.  I’m not going to do too much analysis here, I’m going to let this article speak for itself:  The role of surfactant in asthma .  I haven’t yet looked for more recent research, but I feel like I’ve hit a gold mine.

We humans make surfactant essential for the proper function of our airway lining.  What happens when stronger, artificial surfactants are introduced with other inhaled substances, such as dust?

Listen to this:  “…sputum samples from patients with asthma have a low surface activity.”

And, “Interestingly, a washing procedure [of the airways ] with saline … restored surfactant function.”

I’m not drawing conclusions, but this is very, very interesting.

Detergents in Everything

When I said detergents are in everything these days, I guess I didn’t know the half of it.

The Whole Foods web site lists “ingredients that are commonly found as inactive ingredients, or excipients, in dietary supplements.”  Sodium lauryl sulfate is listed as an “emulsifier; also used to aid in the making of tablets.”  It’s also listed as GRAS (generally recognized as safe, though a lot of dermatology patients would beg to differ).  Does this mean supplements, especially tablets, are a potentially hidden source of detergents?

What about over-the-counter and prescription medications?  I just found SLS listed in the “inert ingredients” of Doryx, an important delayed-release formulation of doxycycline.  Here I’m guessing the SLS is necessary for the time release.  If so, the benefits might outweigh the consequences.  Tetracyclines aren’t generally given to children anyway.

But if the posters to this article are correct, SLS is in such common medications as aspirin, ibuprofen, and Zyrtec, which are given to children.   Poster #5 found SLS in one generic formulation of Zyrtec but not another.  It probably pays to ask the pharmacist for a detailed manufacturer’s insert to identify inert ingredients of prescribed medications.  Taking the medication prescribed by one’s doctor is the more important consideration, but often there is a choice of formulations, and different pharmacies often have very different options.

Check out this EPA document:   “Sodium lauryl sulfate is used as a flea and tick repellant in one registered pesticide product — a flea and tick shampoo for cats and dogs.  Sodium lauryl sulfate also is a widely used component of many non-pesticidal consumer products currently marketed in the United States, including shampoos and fruit juices.”

Fruit juices?! I had assumed the eczema from some processed juices had been from washing the fruit in food-grade detergents.  Now I wonder about SLS as an additive!

The document above is from 1993, so the assessment may have changed since then (though I doubt it).

It continues:

“Sodium lauryl sulfate is a detergent-like substance that employs a non-toxic mode of action in controlling fleas and ticks on household pets. The potential for dermal and/or inhalation exposure exists to people applying the registered pet shampoo product. However, this exposure is not considered significant and does not create a health risk concern. Published reports suggest that sodium lauryl sulfate has low acute mammalian toxicity and no known chronic effects. EPA has no reports of adverse effects resulting from its use. Both exposure and health risks to people using the product are expected to be low.

EPA also believes that since the pesticide is used only on pets, negligible exposure to the environment and to nontarget organisms will result. The Agency concludes that the registered product and use of sodium lauryl sulfate should not result in unreasonable adverse effects to human health or the environment.

Yet one more source of detergent for Solveeczema users to watch out for — reading the labels of flea collars, too.  However, since the collars are used externally, I wonder if they even have to list the “inert” ingredients?  If pet owners had problems, would it seem like an allergy to the pet?

On that score, here’s an interesting paper from a veterinary journal:  Influence of inert ingredients in pesticide formulations on dermal absorption of carbaryl by RE Baynes and JE Riviere (PMID 9492931), Feb 1998.

“The SLS also enhanced [the carbamate insecticide] absorption, especially at low solvent concentrations.”  and in conclusion , “Inert ingredients can modulate percutaneous absorption of toxicologically important pesticides…”

And lastly, a paper from Environmental Health Perspectives from 2006 (PMID 17185266):   “By statute or regulation in the United States and elsewhere, pesticide ingredients are divided into two categories: active and inert (sometimes referred to as other ingredients, adjuvants, or coformulants). Despite their name, inert ingredients may be biologically or chemically active and are labeled inert only because of their function in the formulated product. Most of the tests required to register a pesticide are performed with the active ingredient alone, not the full pesticide formulation. Inert ingredients are generally not identified on product labels and are often claimed to be confidential business information.”  (emphases mine)

Update on Sunscreens

With summer approaching, it’s time to take another look at sunscreens.

The products list on is notably short on sunscreens.  We had good luck with Mustela’s Moderate Sun Protection Stick (SPF 20), but a company spokesperson told me last week that the product has been long discontinued and they have no remaining stock.

That’s a shame, since it was not only a great sunscreen — it didn’t seem to wear off even after hours in the sun and water, and it seemed to have better protection than the advertised SPF 20 — it was also the only Mustela product on the Environmental Working Group’s 17 most safe and effective sunscreen products.  (Scroll down the page to see the list and a link to a more comprehensive list of products and the EWG’s evaluation of them.  You can also search for products to see their ranking and list of ingredients via a box on the right of the page.)

I used the EWG’s list to try out a few of the sunscreens, and found them to be fine for my son.  We liked Badger Unscented SPF 30 Sunscreen, Loving Naturals SPF 30+, and Keys-Soap Solar RX SPF 30+ the best.

Mustela sent me a sample of the product they make to replace their discontinued sunstick, their SPF 50 Sun Cream for Sensitive Areas.  It also proved to be fine.  (It scores a 3 on the EWG’s rating system, 0 being safest and 10 being most problematic.)

We have tried California Baby stick sunscreens, and based on the ingredients, they too should be fine per the issues on Solveeczema.  They rank well on the EWG’s list of safe and effective sunscreens.  Note:  the California Baby stick sunscreen we tried gave my son a rash, but it couldn’t be because of the active ingredients, it must be an individual allergy.  A friend whose preschooler has this detergent problem worse than my son and follows the Solveeczema guidelines quite effectively to keep his skin clear, uses the California Baby stick sunscreens without problems.

Per, barrier-type sunscreens (such as with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) are  a better bet than those that absorb.

Luckily, per the EWG’s evaluations, the majority of sunscreens on their safest ingredients list also seem to be zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide based.  As with other products, it’s always good to try a small patch for sensitivity first.  (All sunscreens contain other ingredients; always be aware of the potential for allergy to other ingredients, especially in the sun and water.)

Have a safe and fun summer!

Persistence of Detergent Residues

I think this research paper by Horiuchi Utako from Gunma University in Japan speaks for itself — the translation of the abstract isn’t perfect, but the meaning is perfectly clear:

1)  A lot of detergent remains in clothing even after excessive rinsing.

2)  A significant amount of those residues can migrate onto other surfaces that come into contact with the clothing, including skin.

The abstract is short and is well worth reading.  The interesting conclusion to Solveeczema users:  “wash the diapers for the babies with hypersensitivity using soaps in stead of synthetic detergents.”

The paper appears to have been published in 1983.