The Skin and It’s Microbiome

The microbiome, and in particular the gut microbiome, has been a buzz word for a few years now. We have been hearing about how our dogs and us humans have more bacteria than our own cells. How the microbiome is the key to good health. But did you know that the biome extends to the skin and into every layer below the skin’s surface. Did you know that an imbalance in the skin microbiome is likely the cause of dry and itchy skin? My son recently called and was telling me that his 14-year-old Cocker Spaniel was having sore, angry red spots all over his body. I told him to soak the skin in raw kefir. Why kefir you may ask. Because it is full of lactobacillus acidophils and other beneficial bacteria that can bring the skin’s microbiome back into balance. I saw the dog a couple of days later and the spots were almost completely gone.

How do you know if your dog’s skin microbiome is out of balance? One way could be itchy skin. The dog has such itchy skin that it is driving him, and you, mad. To be honest, there can be other contributing factors but, in my mind, an imbalance is the root cause. Dr. Julie Lee says. “While cancer is the number one cause of death in our dogs, skin issues is still the number one cause of elective euthanasia.” How can this happen? The most obvious way is keeping your dog too clean. Yes, you read that right. Most dogs in America are too clean. They are getting that bath every month, or every week or twice a week and some people bathe them every day. I can’t even imagine having that kind of time. But bathing is one of the most damaging things you can do for the balance of your pet’s skin. Any soap will kill off the good bacteria, unbalance the microbiome and damage the health of your dog’s skin and the immune system. The skin’s microbiome is incredibly important in preventing skin disease, allergies and auto immune disease.  Skeletal muscle is the largest organ, but skin is the largest eliminative organ in the body. It is the barrier of protection between the inside of your dog and the outside world.

What can you do to help your dog and protect his skin? First and foremost, stop bathing so much. Harriet is ten years old and I can count on two hands how many baths she has had. She has gone years without a bath. She loves to go splashing in the creek and rolling in the mud, but I don’t bathe her as soon as I get home. I wait a few hours and just brush her out and she is gorgeous again.  Rolling in the mud you gasp!!! Yes! But why? I’ll tell you. A little thing called SBO’s. Soil Based Organisms. This is the term for microorganisms that are found in healthy, natural soil. According to Dr. Jeannie Thomason of “The Whole Dog”

“I am sure you have seen your dog eating grass, digging and eating the dirt or maybe even pulling up whole clumps of grass – roots and all and eating it.  Here is the connection, interaction and consumption of soil-based microorganisms in action.  These microorganisms are a part of our animals. They always have been, since the dawn of time.  Think of the wolves, big cats, feral cats and wild horses.  They all eat off the ground and in so doing consume some of the soil with their meal.” [1]

I know I struggle with my dogs eating grass when we are out on a walk. But if that is what they need I allow it…..some of the time.  Dr. Jeannie also says:

“SBO’s, are known as spore-forming bacteria that have the ability to “seed” the digestive tract with bacteria which will flourish and support a

balanced microbiome, the term used for the mini-ecology of microorganisms such as bacteria that inhabit the human body and perform vital functions such as immune support and digestion.

Some characteristics which are unique to SBO probiotics include:

  • The structure of soil-based organisms is naturally resistant to the harsh environment of the upper digestive tract and stomach.
  • Unlike other probiotics not derived from soil, probiotics containing SBOs are very stable and don’t need any special coatings or preservatives to ensure a clinically relevant amount reaches the appropriate areas of the gut.

This is due to a natural shell that preserves the probiotic spore against harm — whether in the terrestrial environment, or in the acidic environments in our carnivore companion’s stomach.  Like a seed, warm temperatures and moisture stimulate germination. Soil-based probiotics are well-adapted to the environment of the gut and have been shown to remain in the digestive tract where they can provide long-term benefit.”[2]

But what does eating dirt and grass have to do with rolling and playing in the dirt and mud and the skin? Everything. The microbiome needs to be fed from the inside out and the outside in.  Eating dirt & grass plus playing in the same are how the microbiome of the skin and gut, because everything is connected, stay healthy. I want to encourage you to allow your dog to get dirty. Stop bathing all the time. Really once or twice a year is plenty. Just allow your dog to be a dog and not some super model clean freak.

[1] [2] Soil based organisms as probiotics for pets SBOs (

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Joy Eriksen CSAN

Certified Small Animal Naturopath

My name is Joy Eriksen and I am a Certified Small Animal Naturopath. My passion is helping people with their companion animals. Keeping them healthy and vibrant for a long and happy life.

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