Kicking the steroid cycle to heal the dog


The (skin) struggle is real!

Karen and John Deal had been struggling with Nico’s dermatitis nonstop when we first met them. Under the care of her veterinarian, they’d been giving Nico oral steroids (Prednisone) for six long years to combat her itch and she was caught up in a cycle of some healing and relief, then back to bad outbreaks – over and over again. Her quality of life was at an all time low when they shared their frustration.

Recently they made a change that offered dramatic improvements. Because this issue is so common for so many, we asked them to share her experience for this post. We hope it’s helpful to others.

In Karen’s words: “Nico came into our lives via the way of a backyard breeder who was giving away the last puppies from the litter who had not been sold. She was scared, smelled horrid with a raging case of fleas. We scooped her up and took her home to a new life. Nico was her new name.


In her first few months with us, we noticed a lot of scratching and inflamed skin. Since she didn’t have a lot of hair yet, we could see the bumps and pinkness all over her. The veterinarian said she was possibly allergic to her kibble and maybe try a new food choice. They gave her antibiotic shot and a bottle of prednisone pills to help with the inflammation. This worked okay for a few weeks.

Soon, were in the vet hospital about once a week and were on a first name basis with all the staff. The new diagnosis was allergies. There was a long list of items and remedies we tried. Atopica, Apoquel, medicated shampoos, medicated creams, medicated sprays and mousses. The one thing that kept her skin a little clear was Prednisone and the dose was getting higher with each visit.

Our vet did an extensive allergy panel. When the results came in we were all shocked. Nico was allergic to basically, everything. All Californian native weeds, Oak, Redwood and Pepper trees, molds, dust mites, dust and dirt. Yes, dirt! The vet had a series of allergy shots created for her and we tried that for months. No luck.

Our next line of defense was to change our home. Most of the trees and plants had to go from the yards. We took out the carpet in the house and changed laundry detergent to hypoallergenic. Started a new diet that we cooked at home and dehydrated yams as treats. All of these actions helped, but she was still not looking or feeling any better.

The Prednisone had horrible side effects that started to affect her quality of life after six years of use. Nico was almost completely bald, extremely bloated and had no energy.  Staph and bacteria infections were a monthly occurrence.  Most antibiotics stopped had working on her.

The vet started saying “It is not the quantity of life, but the quality of her life.” This was not the conversation we wanted to hear. 

In the next year we had adopted a new puppy from BADRAP. We really hoped that a new friend would get Nico back to her old self. Ike was perfect for her. She would play with Ike for a while, but didn’t have the energy to keep up.

We started to volunteer with BR at the Keep’em Home Events.  While having a conversation with Bernice and Donna one afternoon, they were telling us wonderful stories of the help their dogs found at Creature Comforts Holistic Veterinary Center in Oakland. Bernice’s dog had allergies like our pup and had found acupuncture and herbs were helping to make his life much better. David raved about the raw food diet. We had a lot to research and talk about.

Let’s press the immune system’s reset button, shall we?

The next week, we made an appointment. Nico met Dr. Tina and they were fast friends. Dr. Tina was a little baffled where to start with a file as thick as a dictionary and a history of endless drugs. Her first goal was to get Nico off the prednisone. She had her first ever acupuncture treatment and left with a few Chinese herbs. Dr. Tina introduced us to holistic antihistamine called Antronex and B12 shots. A full raw diet was started and we started to see improvements.

After 3 months, Nico was off the Prednisone for the first time in seven years. Her energy was back. She had a full body of hair for the first time in her life. Her weight was down from 88 lbs to 67 lbs. Ike had a big sister to wrestle and play with again. The sassy girl was back in business. This was everything we wanted for her.

Nico, before and after.

While she still has the occasional flare ups and skin infections, they’re few and far between now. We can usually control a break out with baths, Apoquel, B12 and hemo-acupuncture. Of course the treats and kisses she gets at Creature Comforts from the staff might be helping too.

Our journey with Nico has been a roller coaster of emotions and a lot of dedication. We cherish everyday with have her and thank the Village of people who helped us get to where were are now.” – Karen Deal

More info on the downside of longterm steroid use and changing the treatment mindset.

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