This is a story about Cleopatra, an orange-sable pomeranian born in Singapore. Like all pomeranians, she is proud (to the point of arrogant) because she knows that she has a beautiful coat of fur. Sadly in 2015, she started to get a bad case of yeast infections all over her body, which caused her to scratch non-stop from day to night. The lesions were constantly red and peeling, with pustules. She even started to develop a bad smell due to this infection.
Cleopatra in 2014 prior to her skin infection
Naturally, we brought her to the vet. There was nothing firm to diagnose other than the fact that she was down with a yeast and fungal infection which can be caused by anything from the food she is eating to the general cleanliness of our home.
She was prescribed a dose of antibiotics, steroid creams and a medicated pet shampoo.
We went home, eager to get started. The itchiness did reduce, but her skin and fur never seemed to regain its former lustre. Eventually, we succumbed to shaving off her fur to prevent a worsening of her condition.
Not to sound all new-agey and all that, but we noticed a distinct change in her mood whenever she went for her daily walks. Kind of embarrassed and sad? It is as if her fur was her source of confidence, and we had taken it away. But still, she stopped scratching and we were relieved.
PROBLEMS CAME BACK AGAIN
A few months later, she was down again with the same dreadful skin infection, but this time it seemed to have gotten worse. There will be times where she will furiously turn around to bite herself on her back and leg, and as a result, chew off her fur at the same time. It was painful to watch, and we will try to stop her from doing so by resting a cool towel on hot spots but it did nothing to soothe her. We proceeded to do the same thing - brought her to the vet, understood nothing about the cause, fed her medicine and applied topical steroids.
Cleo in 2018 at the middle of her alopecia. See the dark spots and coarse fur?
The next 3 years were kind of a cycle where her skin infections just kept returning following a brief moment of recovery. After every course of antibiotics and religious application of creams, she did recover temporarily, only to have the infection reoccur after just a few months. It was in 2018 where her condition worsened to the point where she started to lose even the fur on the top of her head and nose. (I didn't take photos at this point because it was too heartbreaking)
We brought her to the vet and the verdict was out - she was suffering from a case of Alopecia X.
My beautiful pomeranian was losing almost all of her fur! I was on the verge of tears witnessing this and felt totally helpless.
Middle of 2018, before losing the fur on her head
According to the vets, alopecia is the medical term for baldness, where the dog develops symmetrical coat loss on the trunk as well as darkly pigmented skin in the bald areas. This pattern of baldness is commonly called "endocrine alopecia" as it is common in several types of hormone imbalances (in particular hyperthyroidism). Read more about this here
We were advised to check for underlying medical conditions and consider an allergy test. The vet mentioned that it is costly and may not solve the issue. Other suggestions included feeding her melatonin (this is commonly for sleep disorders but it can apparently help with alopecia too!) and putting her on a monthly injection known as Cytopoint. By the way, we visited 3 different vets to acquire different opinions and all of them came back with the same conclusion - there is no known cause for Cleopatra's condition, and there can be a million causes responsible.
We cannot solve her issue and at best, we can only control the outbreak.
Cleo after one of her many visits to the vet where you can see visible patches of baldness
So we did do a medical test (nothing came up luckily!) and went ahead with the Cytopoint injection which helped her condition tremendously! The itching reduced and her fur even started growing back. The only downer was that she was also placed on a medicated pet shampoo that made her skin so dry that it was scaly and peeling all the time. We compensated for this by applying a pet conditioner that smelt suspiciously good. By this point, we were already bleeding money just paying for all the vet bills!!
We were also conscious about the fact that she was relying on the injection to keep her condition under control. We tried to stretch the amount of time between each injection because of the fear of reliance and also other potentially nasty side effects that we were not aware of. We monitored her and only brought her back to the vet whenever she starts to chew herself up again. The maximum we managed to stretch was for a period of 1.5 months, and it seemed to get shorter every time. Eventually towards the middle of 2019, we got fed up and stopped the injections completely, and tried to manage her symptoms as naturally as possible by attempting to change her diet (she stopped eating until we fed her the usual kibble and cooked chicken so #fail)) and continued with the medicated shampoo. I also started to apply some organic oils on her coat to condition her fur and skin because it was constantly dry and flaky.
ONE FINE DAY
This story has a happy ending as we promised!
Many of you know that we make solid shampoos for hoomans. So one day as I was giving Cleo her shower (I was doing it twice a week), I looked at my own solid shampoo sitting on the shelf and decided to give it a shot. Why not right? And you probably guessed it by now, her condition started to improve. We started to see her itching less, her skin started to look less dry and her fur was becoming softer.
I continued to shower her twice a week, making sure that I always dried her fur completely to avoid any damp spots, and combed her out regularly. After a few weeks, her bald patches started to regrow fur and after 6 months, she was almost back to where she was!
Cleo at the same spot where she was photographed 6 months prior
To cut the story short, this is Cleo a month back, with her fur regrown even softer than before! We cannot declare that she has regained 100% of her fur (her tail is still baldish) but she is a fluffy pomeranian once again!
Happy Cleo today after a year of switching to the pet solid shampoo
WHAT WE HAVE LEARNT FROM THIS EXPERIENCE
It was after the positive results that Cleo experienced that made me deep dive into why the shampoo made such a difference. After researching, I discovered that the pH of dogs was alkaline, which made them more susceptible to bacteria (they do not possess the acid mantle that protects our human skin), and that animals too, need to rebuild their skin barrier to naturally heal. I am no vet, but as a natural skincare formulator, I was greatly motivated to understand the science behind it. Read more about this here
Which leads me to the launch of our Pet Shampoo!
I took a year to launch the pet shampoo, first with the Pilot Test program where we gathered more feedback from the pet owners of 12 cats and dogs just to see if this was just Cleo who benefited, or was I on to something. You can click the link above to find out the results from the test!
Based on our pilot test, 90% of the pet owners reported that the shampoo improved fur texture, and left behind a fresh smelling, easy-to-brush coat. 80% of them reported reduced itching just days after the shower.
I will end this super long account with this - I do not profess to have uncovered the cure for alopecia or all skin infections, but I do know this: Relying on medications and steroid creams is never a long term solution. I know that being on the injections have helped Cleo to manage the outbreak initially, but it was the regular use of a natural and slightly acidic shampoo thereafter that helped to heal her skin barrier and soothe the irritation.
This does not mean that she will not get another infection down the road, but it is comforting to know that there is a more natural solution to help heal her (and hopefully other pets) when the going gets tough again. Oh and one last thing - never ever shave your dog. It damages their fur and doesn't allow for a great regrowth after. Just something I have learnt through my journey.
Please feel free to reach out to me personally if you have any questions. I am only happy to share some tips to help you overcome this difficult time with your beloved pet.