Vitamin E: Another Tool to Help Treat Canine Atopic Dermatitis


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Golden Retrievers may develop Canine Atopic Dermatitis. Image by Connor Dawson

Canine Atopic Dermatitis (CAD) is a common skin condition in dogs, which can be difficult to diagnose and even more difficult to control.

A 2014 study showed that oral Vitamin E (alpho tocopherol) can help alleviate some of the symptoms of CAD. What does this mean for you and your pet?

What is Canine Atopic Dermatitis?

Canine Atopic Dermatitis is a chronic allergic skin disease, often seasonal, which causes intense itching. Experts think CAD has a genetic component, with certain breeds such as Golden Retrievers, Dalmatians, West Highland White Terriers and Lhasa Apso being more likely to develop the condition. However, there are regional and other predisposing factors which may affect the severity of the problem.

Dogs with CAD are more likely to develop hypersensitive allergic reactions which include lesions on the feet, face, ears and abdomen, often where the body has come in contact with the allergen. CAD dogs also often develop secondary areas of skin irritation from scratching, licking and/or chewing on other parts of the body.

The Results of the Oral Vitamin E Study

Preliminary research by the team, based at the University of Ljubljana Veterinary Faculty in Slovenia, had already determined that dogs with CAD tended to have lower levels of Vitamin E in both skin and the circulatory system. The next step was to determine whether giving this vitamin orally would have a positive effect on CAD cases.

The researchers divided 29 dogs with CAD into two groups. Fourteen received the Vitamin E supplement and the rest were given a mineral oil placebo instead, so that the owners could not tell which dogs were getting the Vitamin E.

All dogs in the study were given fexofenadine, an antihistamine regularly used to control skin irritation and subsequent scratching. The researchers evaluated the dogs before, during and after the treatment using an internationally recognized standard scoring system- the Canine Atopic Dermatitis Extent and Severity Index (CADESI-03).

All dogs given the supplement showed improved levels of plasma Vitamin E, indicating there was more of this essential vitamin in their bodies. In addition, CADESI-03 scores of dogs on Vitamin E were better than those of dogs on the placebo throughout the course of the study. More importantly, indicators such as reduction in redness, thickening of the skin, and hair loss confirmed the positive effect of the oral Vitamin E.

CAD can cause severe itching in afflicted dogs. Image by irkengirdib

Why Vitamin E Alone is Usually Not Enough

While it is encouraging that something as basic as giving a vitamin supplement can help dogs with CAD, it is important to understand that  dog owners can rarely completely control CAD using products such as vitamin supplements alone.

Combinations of a hypoallergenic diet, bathing to remove allergens, antihistamines, allergen-specific immunotherapy (ASIT), corticosteroids and other therapies are often needed to make a CAD dog comfortable.

Vitamin E may, however, provide additional benefits beyond helping control this condition. In an email interview with Dr. Tina Kotnik, one of the study’s authors, Decoded Science learned that her team will do further research on Vitamin E’s value in reducing dependence on corticosteroid medications, which are often used to control symptoms in severe cases.

Cautions and Contraindications When Using Vitamin E

Dr. Kotnik also says that owners should know the potential side effects of Vitamin E. She told Decoded Science that, based on findings in humans, high doses of Vitamin E may interfere with normal coagulation and enhance absorption, utilization and storage of Vitamin A. The interference with coagulation could result in a more intense reaction in dogs exposed to warfarin, an anti-coagulant found in many rodent poisons.

Dog owners should consult with their veterinarian before beginning a course of Vitamin E, but when dosed appropriately, alpha tocopherol also has anti-oxidant properties, which can have benefits for older dogs as well as those with CAD.

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