One of the most common questions that I see and hear in our canine skin & coat care classes are surrounding the topic of grooming dogs which enter the salon with itchy, dry or pink colored skin due to allergies. It can be seasonal or contact allergies, but these dogs repeatedly come in with uncomfortable skin, and lackluster and unhealthy coat.
We have to remember that we can do all the best we can on the outside of these dogs, but what is causing these symptoms is continuing to well deep inside the pet. In these cases, it is ever so important to try to take the time to educate your pet client owners about allergies, symptoms that you see and possible causes. Most of all, try to recommend them to a vet who specializes in systemic and supportive care practices that really get to the root of the problem. Without a good vet in place and pet owners who will work with, your only method of providing relief for the pet is to use your tools and supplies in your salon that you know will provide the pet the most benefit, some relief, and the least amount of stress during their visits. Sometimes we can only know that we are doing the best we can for the pet and giving some relief even if it visits again with the same symptoms. It is also equally important to try to be kind and helpful to these pet owners; understand that these symptoms at home can be difficult to live with and difficult for a caring pet owner to witness, especially if they have tried multiple methods of helping their pet to no avail. They may be frustrated with the little or no change they see in their pet’s symptoms, and really need some kindness and support to help them move forward in a different direction for their pet if at all possible. Also, possibly try to see that these dogs continue to come to you for grooming care so that you can at least help them a little. Meaning that you want to handle your concerns gently and professionally, and not have them go elsewhere if that can be avoided. Then you’ll know that this pet is still getting at least the relief you can give. After all, it isn’t just about sales or revenues, it is also about using your skill, knowledge and perception in your profession to promote wellness and better life quality for the pets in your care.
In that effect, I want to again remind all readers to always work with their pet owners and grooming clients, and the pet’s vet to help these animals receive the best care that we can; to never diagnose, but to always speak up and suggest your concerns to your clients in hopes that a pet who needs additional care will receive it thanks to your knowledge and care.
There are natural and simple ingredients and products that you as a groomer or stylist can easily have on hand to help provide relief and create a beautiful groom for your clients at each visit. Having these on hand will enable you to give some genuine physical comfort to the pet and to well clean the “canvas” on which you will lay your finished groom.
One of the most simple, whole, and safe products you can have in your bathing rooms is colloidal oatmeal.
Colloidal oatmeal, is also known by its Genus Species name, Avena sativa L.. What colloidal oatmeal does is to help smooth and comfort itchy, scratchy, and dry skin. To get the benefits from the oats, you add this all-natural product to your bath where its soothing effects take over when you relax in the tub. The same effects can be made for your pet clients as well.
Following is an in depth excerpt of work from Alessandra Panoni of the clinical properties, uses & benefits or colloidal oatmeal. Beyond this continues my article on using colloidal oatmeal in our salons.
Oatmeal has been used for centuries as a soothing agent to relieve itch and irritation associated with various xerotic dermatoses. In 1945, a ready to use colloidal oatmeal, produced by finely grinding the oat and boiling it to extract the colloidal material, became available. Today, colloidal oatmeal is available in various dosage forms from powders for the bath to shampoos, shaving gels, and moisturizing creams. Currently, the use of colloidal oatmeal as a skin protectant is regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) according to the Over-The-Counter Final Monograph for Skin Protectant Drug Products issued in June 2003. Its preparation is also standardized by the United States Pharmacopeia.
The many clinical properties of colloidal oatmeal derive from its chemical polymorphism. The high concentration in starches and [beta]-glucan is responsible for the protective and water-holding functions of oat. The presence of different types of phenols confers antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity. Some of the oat phenols are also strong ultraviolet absorbers. The cleansing activity of oat is mostly due to saponins. Its many functional properties make colloidal oatmeal a cleanser, moisturizer, buffer, as well as a soothing and protective anti-inflammatory agent.
History of Oatmeal
Enzymes, such as lipase, lipoxygenase, and superoxide dismutase, have also been found in oats. (23,24) Because oat grains are rich in lipids with a high content in unsaturated fatty acids, they contain various compounds with antioxidant activity to protect the lipids from oxidation. (25) This activity is mostly derived by the presence of phenolic esters. (25,26) The oat plant at various growth stages has been found to contain a large number of phenolic compounds including all major classes: benzoic and cinnamic acids, quinones, flavones, flavonols, chalcones, flavanones, anthocyanidines, and aminophenolics. (25) The most important antioxidant phenols in oat flour are the glyceryl esters of hydroxycinnamic, ferulic, p-coumaric, and caffeic acids. (27)
Oats also contain flavonoids (phenolic structure) with strong absorption of ultraviolet A (UVA) in the 320 to 370 nm range. (25) Other phenolic esters, called avenacins (structurally belonging to saponins), have also been isolated. (25) These have a large lipophilic region and a short chain of sugar residues, which interact with nonlipid components. Because of this structure saponins have a soap-like action. (28) Lastly, oats contain a variety of minerals and vitamins. (29) Among these, vitamin E, present mostly as [alpha]-tocopherol, is the most clinically relevant. (23,27)
Because of its chemical polymorphism, colloidal oatmeal presents many functional and dermatological clinical properties such as cleansing, buffering, moisturizing, protecting, soothing, anti-irritant, and antioxidant. As a skin protectant, colloidal oatmeal is regulated by the FDA as an over the counter drug, and can be included in tub baths at a minimum concentration of 0.007% if alone, or at a minimum concentration of 0.003% when combined with mineral oil (30%-35%). (15) The monograph defines a skin protectant as a "drug product that temporarily protects injured or exposed skin or mucous membrane surfaces from harmful or annoying stimuli, and may help provide relief to such surfaces." (15)
Other types of phenols in oat are responsible for different functional properties. In fact, the oat flavonoids are strong UVA-screens, (25) and the avenacins have potent antifungal activity as well as a soap-like function. (25,28)
Tocopherols (vitamin E) have anti-inflammatory and antiphotodamage activities. They have been found to prevent or reduce UV-mediated damage in the skin and to inhibit the biosynthesis of prostaglandin [E.sub.2]. (38)
The anti-inflammatory properties of oat have been substantiated in several investigations. A study using extracts of Avena sativa showed strong inhibition of prostaglandin biosynthesis in vitro. (39) Another in vitro investigation found that the oat extract decreased mobilization of arachidonic acid from phospholipids, suggesting value for ameliorating inflammatory skin disorders. (40)
A few investigations have also been conducted in vivo. Vie et al (41) used the sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) irritation model to study the anti-inflammatory effect of oatmeal. They pretreated the test sites on the arms with oatmeal extracts (Avena sativa or Avena rhealba) under occlusion for 2 hours and then applied a 1% SLS solution under a patch for 24 hours. The results showed a significant decrease in irritation with both extracts, demonstrating a preventive effect of these compounds on SLS-irritated skin.
A recent investigation in burn patients demonstrated the soothing benefit of a shower/bath oil containing 5% colloidal oatmeal in liquid paraffin. The results showed that the group using colloidal oatmeal had a significant reduction in itch compared to the group using paraffin oil alone. (42)
Many older studies have demonstrated the soothing properties of colloidal oatmeal. (7,9-13) In a study with 139 patients (aged 21-91) suffering from various pruritic dermatoses, colloidal oatmeal was used as a bath and regular cleanser for 3 months. Complete or marked itch relief was experienced by over 71% of the group. (12) Another investigation involving 152 pediatric patients, mostly presenting with atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, fungous infections, or seborrheic dermatitis concluded that baths with colloidal oatmeal in an oil form were excellent adjuncts to therapy, with soothing and cleansing properties and lack of irritation. (10)
New technology in the formulation of oatmeal products has allowed more cosmetically appealing topicals for improved moisturization, cleansing, and shaving, and new products are constantly being developed to address different skin types, skin conditions, and age groups. (8)
I thank Dr. Alessandra Pagnoni for providing her expert opinion and critical help in the organization and preparation of the manuscript above.
But How Does Colloidal Oatmeal Work?
Colloidal oatmeal is simply oats ground into an extremely fine powder. When added to bathwater, it creates a milky dispersion that prevents the oatmeal from settling rapidly. So the oatmeal stays in the water and doesn't just sink to the bottom of the bath. When you get into the tub, the colloidal oatmeal feels silky, as it coats, moisturizes, softens, and protects your skin.
What Conditions Are Helped By Colloidal Oatmeal?
Colloidal oatmeal works great to help relieve dry, skin patches (Eczema), psoriasis, acne, bug bites, sunburns, and other minor skin irritations. It also helps relieve chicken pox, poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, and other itching and scratching rashes. Since colloidal oatmeal has an anti-itch property that helps reduce the “need to itch,” soaking in the bath brings soothing comfort to those infected. When your skin is itchy and irritated, its pH level may be higher. Colloidal Oatmeal helps bring the pH back to normal levels, taming "the need to itch."
What Conditions Are Helped By Colloidal Oatmeal?
Colloidal oatmeal works great to help relieve dry, psoriasis, skin patches (Eczema), acne, bug bites, sunburns, and other minor skin irritations. It also helps relieve chicken pox, poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, and other itching and scratching rashes. These rashes also work twofold with the central nervous system as they continue to create- to keep it simple- an itch signal to the nerves and then on to the brain- from within the skin tissue. Regardless of how aggressively it is scratched on the surface, it is still telling the brain that there is something there that continues to not feel right. This subsequent scratching can be the source of much more than simple itching. Self mutiliation response to relieve allergy itching often causes both secondary skin infections, a cycle of hair and skin loss, sores, and general anxiety and even depression in a pet. Imagine being trapped in your body for weeks, months or even years and always feeling itchy and uncomfortable. To me, it would be maddening! Remember that these pets likely are not “themselves”- they could be skittish, reactive, aggressive and just plainly unhappy at their visits. Now’s your chance to step up and help them. And here is your chance to start a positive change for them, even if it is only a few hours of normality and relief following their groom. What good things we can do if we choose to try.
Since colloidal oatmeal has an anti-itch property that helps reduce the “need to itch,” soaking in the bath brings soothing comfort to those infected. When skin is itchy and irritated, its pH level may be higher. Colloidal oatmeal helps bring the pH back to normal levels, taming "the need to itch."
Checking in a pet who may have allergies
It is important to address your concerns straight away with the pet owner. Both to possibly help create a change back home while they are in your care at the salon, and to avoid possibly having any issue blamed to your hands. Help the owner to leave your salon with an idea of what services you plan for their pet, and WHY. Helping to integrate their help will almost always help them feel empowered and have initiative to make a change. In a way, we are instilling our knowledge and care into the pet owner to create a better life for their pet. Most any owner will be proud to help and with your ability to be kind, honest and helpful. Still, if you get an owner who simply does not care to listen or help, do not give up, be patient. Care for the pet as best you can during their visit, and repeat that care every time you see them. At least you are still helping. Sometimes the changes an owner sees back home in their pet will get the ball rolling.
As soon as the pet arrives, do a thorough check in before the owner leaves, talk with them about what you see and give some advice on what you’d like to try to help and for follow up care back home and with their vet. Look for: oily or sticky coat residue, thickened or calloused areas of skin, open lesions, hair loss, healing sores, rashes, and lumps. Look well at their feet, ears, eyes and even into their mouths for signs of systemic issues. All things within a body are connected, so you will be looking for things like discolored or abnormally dry or weepy mucus membranes, discharge from ears, eyes or around the lips and flew areas, odor from the ears, folds of facial skin, feet and breath. Redness of any area on the pet usually signals an area of high yeast count and/or an area that has recently received prolonged chewing & itching. Mention for them to try to clean their pet’s bedding, food bowls and toys while they are at your salon- this could help lessen the allergen contaminants for when they return to their surroundings at home. If this is a contact allergy, it could help prolong their relief a little longer. Next I will then trim the pet’s nails, take a look at helping their ears with thorough cleaning if they are not too inflamed, and then straight to the bath. If the pet is really matted where you cannot get the skin and coat clean, you may need to first remove some or all of the coat as a rough in clip first. If avoidable, I will always try to get them into a cool bath straight away and wait for grooming work until the coat is clean and the skin has a little of its moisture and elasticity back.
If your grooming clients have skin that is mildly inflamed, reddened by irritation, is coated in dander and oily or tacky residue, colloidal oatmeal can help soothe their skin as well.
Here is the method that I prefer to use in the salon for clients, it takes an extra 10 minutes for prep time and allowing the pet to soak, but it still gives genuine help in a short time so it is well worth having as a tool for relief.
Providing a Colloidal Oatmeal Soak
Rinse the pet for 2 to 5 minutes with cool to luke warm water. Light water pressure and heavy water flow is beneficial. You do not want to water spray or mechanically rub the skin too hard when it is aggravated for obvious reasons.
Follow the long cool rinse with a gentle cleansing shampoo. Some may find that a gentle shampoo does not adequately break up excess skin dander or oils to be effective in their removal, so it may be necessary to step up to a clarifying shampoo if there is excess debris on the coat. Always remember that gentler is better, but we also want to be effective in our results to make a difference for the pet owner and the pet. If the skin is not built up too badly, step back down to a gentle formula shampoo, and bathe at least twice. Be careful about manually scrubbing too hard, let the water and products work for you, and follow this bath with another cool rinse for 2 to 3 minutes to help seal in moisture.
After the bath, you can now get your oatmeal soak ready for the pet. You can keep the pet in the tub, or remove them, towel dry lightly, kennel, and keep them warm while you mix the soak.
Add 2 Tablespoons of colloidal oatmeal powder to a luke-warm bath of up to 5 gallons of water (a hot bath will irritate the skin), the heavier the mix, the only change will be that you must be more thorough in rinsing. You can either cup up & pour the luke warm water over the pet’s back and neck, or allow them to soak supervised in a bath deep enough to cover them up to their neck. The dilution ratio for the oatmeal should be listed in the product’s label, but in the effect that it is not, a good rule of thumb is to mix 2 Tablespoons into 5 gallons of warmer water. You want this soak to be warm, but not hot and not so cold that they may chill. Be sure they are supplied with an anti-slip matt in the bottom of the tub, and never leave them unattended. Add your pet client, and let them soak for 5 to 7 minutes. You can pour the luke warm or cool water over the pets back and neck, or allow them to soak supervised in a bath deep enough to cover them up to their neck. Again, be sure they are supplied with an anti-slip matt in the bottom of the tub, and never leave them unattended. And be sure not to get the colloidal rinse into the pet’s eyes. Allowing the ear leathers to soak in this solution is a great help for inflamed ears as well. After a soak rinse them again for a minute or two with cooler water, towel dry by softly squeezing the water from the coat, and either kennel or hand dry as needed. If the pet has needed a clarifying or deeper shampoo, you will want to apply a diluted cream rinse or conditioner to their coat to be sure the skin is given added moisture. We never want to over condition the coat, but we do not want to leave it at all stripped as well. *Remember with conditioners, less is more, and slathering on a heavy cream or oils will only cause coat build up and keep the skin from regenerating and cleansing itself as it was designed to do. In the case of all pets with abnormal skin, we are seeking to normalize the skin, help the skin to create its own healthy flora, and then to stop subsequent treatment in the salon once that is achieved. Meaning that you may not need to treat the skin in this manner at the next visit, or that you may need to alter your care as the skin’s healing and normalization continues. We want to bridge the gap in the pet’s normal skin condition and then let the body step up to continue that normality on its own if possible.
After the rinse, it is normal for both your hands and the pet to feel very silky and smooth. This is the oatmeal doing what it was designed to do; lightly coat the skin, seal in moisture, and providing elasticity back to the skin & hair. Since colloidal oatmeal also pulls out the annoying irritant that are on the skin’s surface, and even superficially in the skin’s upper cellular layers, your pet will be feeling better in no time.
This treatment will help as soon as it is applied for most every pet, but must be repeated every two to three days either with you or at home if this is what the pet owner wants to rely on for relief. Using colloidal oatmeal is a very gentle and non- invasive remedy to topical irritation and itching, but simply will not end allergic responses unless it is used as part of a care regimen that helps end the allergen(s) inclusion in the pet’s daily life. Remember that an oatmeal bath is a remedy, NOT a solution to an underlying issue which may be at the root of the itchiness or odors. Again, always work with your pet owners and their vet to be sure your pet’s health needs are addressed and fulfilled.