HOW EFA SUPPLEMENTS WORK ON OUR PETS
by Evan M. Blair D.V.M.
The most common presenting complaint in my animal hospital is skin problems. From dry and flaky skin to full blown bacterial infections with pustules the majority of these cases all have one predisposing factor or primary cause: dry skin.
There are different degrees of dry skin and something as simple as weekly conditioning may resolve the problem. I call this an external factor. The internal factor may be a deficiency in essential fatty acids (EFA) that can lubricate the shaft of the hair follicle so it does not dry up and fall out.
I always tell my clients to give me two months to resolve the problem (although I look good when it happens faster). First I want the animal on what I call a “normal” routine. This may consist of a weekly bath and a separate conditioning step. Stay away from those 2-in-1’s. After a month the skin is re-evaluated and I run my hands across the coat and my hands feel like I just swiped a chalkboard then we add the oral EFA supplement. These supplements can take 3-4 weeks to work but usually we can see a dramatic improvement after 2 weeks.
I can honestly say that 99% of my cases are resolved doing this. Very rarely do I have to refer out to a specialist.
The best metaphor I can give you is this: Lets say that you live in a cave and have never seen the light of day. You have an unlimited supply of milk yet you are still severely calcium deficient. How is this possible? Easy, the sun needs to convert all that vitamin D into the active form vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol), which can then bind to the calcium for intestinal absorption.
This same situation can be applied to our supplementation of EFA’s. There must be a supply of the mineral zinc for the EFA to bind to in order for it to do its job.
Way back in veterinary hospitals and pet stores there used to be supplements consisting of oils (let’s not even start to talk about saturated versus unsaturated). We were more likely to clog the animals’ arteries or cause heart disease before we got healthy skin.
One thing I would like to add is that when these cases first present to me they have a secondary bacterial infection and the animal will not stop scratching. The primary cause is the dry skin, but we have to treat the scratching and infection. Picture this, you scratch a little area of skin. Now you repeatedly scratch it because of the initial itch. The only thing that breaks this cycle is the use of a steroid injection. Don’t panic! Steroids are only bad when they are repeatedly used as a cure all. Only bad veterinarians would resort to this practice. One treatment will not cause immunosuppression and all those horror stories you might have heard.
Staphylococcus bacteria normally live on the skin. When the animal scratches and breaks the skin is when this bacterium gets into the lesion and multiples. Thus the use of an antibiotic is warranted. So here we have treated the secondary symptoms. If we do not address the primary cause (dry skin) of the problem it will reoccur again in 4-6 weeks.
So here is the bottom line: treat the primary cause as well as the secondary symptoms. Treat external (conditioner) and internal (EFA supplementation) factors. This should resolve most cases.
Evan M. Blair D.V.M.
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