Skin Conditions

Skin problems are some of the most difficult conditions to treat in dogs and cats, and are also some of the most annoying for their owners. Skin disorders are most commonly caused by allergies, mites, autoimmune problems and bacterial infections. Animals may be allergic to food ingredients, fleas or substances their skin comes into contact with. Flea allergies are common in dogs and cats but are very difficult to treat because highly allergic animals may have a flare-up after the bite of just one flea, despite anti-flea precautions. Skin allergies are conventionally treated with steroids and other drugs that have adverse side effects and are only treating the symptoms; they must be continued or the problem will return.

Another common problem in dogs is lick granulomas. In these cases the skin becomes irritated causing the animal to continually lick the area, resulting in further inflammation and irritation. A vicious cycle develops because the skin cannot heal while the animal continues to lick, yet they cannot stop licking because of the discomfort. These cases are again difficult to treat conventionally because it is hard to completely stop the animal from licking. Chinese medicine provides a natural way to relieve the irritation and stimulate healing.

Skin Conditions from A Chinese Medical Viewpoint

According to Chinese medical theory, skin conditions are generally rooted in internal weakness of the body and subsequent invasion of environmental pathogens. The body can be weakened by factors such as stress (for example after owners’ death or divorce), emotional imbalance, improper diet or genetic predisposition. Environmental pathogens such as heat, wind, dry, cold and damp are a major cause of disease in Chinese medicine and can invade when the body is weak, affecting the skin. For example, damp invasion results in oozing skin conditions and dry invasion results in scaly, itchy skin that is worse in dry weather. Invasion of damp is often accompanied by heat, causing the classic hot, damp skin that is seen in infections. Chinese medicine aims to expel these environmental pathogens from the body and strengthen the internal weakness, therefore allowing the skin to heal. By treating the root cause of the problem and not just the symptoms, Chinese medicine can often finally allow resolution of the skin condition.

Acupuncture for Skin Conditions

Acupuncture can be very effective to relieve and resolve skin conditions in dogs and cats. From a Western perspective, acupuncture can relieve the pain, itching and inflammation that is associated with most skin conditions. This prevents the animal from licking or scratching and allows healing. Studies have shown that acupuncture modulates the immune system and can benefit both immunodeficiency and immune-mediated disorders. Acupuncture stimulates circulation and blood flow, which also promotes healing. A technique often used in localized skin problems (such as lick granulomas) is known as ‘Circle the Dragon’ and involves insertion of acupuncture needles at 5-6 points around the lesion. This stimulates local blood flow to encourage healing.

Chinese Herbal Medicine for Skin Conditions

Numerous plants used in Chinese herbal medicine have been found to have anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and other effects that can benefit the skin. Herbal medicines can be given to animals with skin conditions either by mouth (as pills or capsules) or applied directly to the skin as salves or ointments, to better relieve local pain and inflammation. Many herbs have been shown to have anti-cancer effects and so are useful in both prevention and treatment of skin cancers. From a Chinese perspective, acupuncture and herbal medicine act synergistically to strengthen the body and drive out the external pathogenic invasion. These therapies are very safe when performed by a trained and licensed veterinarian.

Food Therapy for Skin Conditions

Diet is a very important part of treatment of skin conditions. Animals with food allergies obviously require a hypoallergenic diet, but food therapy can also benefit other skin conditions. According to Chinese medical theory, different foods have different properties, for example they may be cooling or drain dampness from the body. These types of foods can therefore be prescribed for animals with hot, damp skin conditions. Appropriate nutrition strengthens the body and the immune system, making it less likely that pathogenic factors will be able to invade in the future. Whether you would like to cook a complete diet for your pet or just supplement appropriate whole foods, food therapy can benefit skin conditions.

Skin conditions that can benefit from holistic treatment

Many common skin problems can benefit from acupuncture and Chinese veterinary medicine. These include:

  • Itching
  • Dry, irritated skin
  • Scaling / dandruff
  • Eczema / eruptions
  • Alopecia (hair loss)
  • Flea allergic dermatitis
  • Contact or food allergies
  • Pyoderma (“hot spots”)
  • Folliculitis & furunculosis
  • Lick granulomas
  • Skin cancers
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Pemphigus & lupus
  • Immunodeficiency disorders


New York Veterinary Acupuncture Service provides acupuncture, herbal medicine, Tui-na and Chinese food therapy on either a house call basis or at several area clinics. House calls are offered in New York's Orange County (Newburgh, Middletown, Beacon, Warwick, Goshen, Washingtonville, Florida, Chester, Monroe, Harriman, Tuxedo and surrounding areas). Thursday house calls are available in Manhattan. Fees vary by location; for more information, please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Office visits are available as follows:

High Point K9 Center
2224 Mt. Hope Rd., Middletown, NY
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for appointments

Compassion Veterinary Health Center
235 South Ave., Poughkeepsie, NY
Contact CVHC on 845-473-0358 for appointments

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