Did you know that a dog's skin is the largest organ of their body? Unfortunately, it's also one that is often overlooked. If your dog's skin appears flaky or dry, there could be several reasons why. All dog owners should understand the causes of dry skin on dogs and effective methods to make your pet more comfortable.
Why Do Dogs Develop Dry Skin?
The skin acts as a barrier to protect a dog's internal tissues, helps maintain hydration, and regulates temperature, among other functions. Unfortunately, under certain conditions, a dog's skin can lack moisture and become very dry. This may lead to itching, chewing, or visible dandruff. If your dog is suffering from any of these symptoms, it's important to explore the possible causes.
- Poor nutrition
- Allergies (seasonal, food, environmental)
- Dry environment
- Ectoparasites (fleas, mites, lice, etc).
- Intestinal parasites
- Hormone conditions
- Auto-immune conditions
- Yeast infections
- Bacterial infections
Many of these conditions require prescription medication or ongoing treatment and should be managed by a veterinarian.
How to Treat Dry Skin on Dogs
As you can see, there are several reasons that a dog could develop dry skin, and addressing the root cause is essential to resolving this problem. However, there are several methods that can both reduce generalized dryness and promote good skin health.
Use a Humidifier
If the weather has recently cooled down or you've relocated to a dryer climate, it's possible that your dog's dry skin could be due to low humidity. The moisture in skin evaporates more quickly in cold or dry environments, which can make it noticeably dry and scaley. The same thing likely happens to your own skin during the winter months.
To combat this, you can add moisture back into the air with a humidifier. Try placing it in the room where your dog sleeps at night, or near an area where they like to play or lounge during the day. If you don't have access to a humidifier, you can simply keep your dog in the bathroom while you take a hot shower to bring some moisture back into their skin.
Assess Their Diet
Poor nutrition can have detrimental effects on a dog's health. Diets lacking in appropriate levels of essential nutrients, such as protein, fatty acids, zinc, and vitamins A and E, often cause dogs to have dry skin and dull fur. Make sure your pup eats a high-quality food that is formulated specifically for dogs. You could even pick up a food designed to support skin health (most have the words "skin" or "coat" in the names), which is good reassurance that they're abundant in these necessary nutrients. Some even use fatty acid-rich fish as the protein source.
If you cook their food at home, it's important that you do so under the guidance of a vet to ensure that the diet is well-balanced. There are some minerals and vitamins that dogs often can't obtain from food alone, so formulated supplement packets often accompany diet recipes.
Hygiene and grooming are a significant part of skin health. If your dog has any matted fur, these could be pulling the skin, causing irritation and subsequent dandruff. Carefully remove these mats with clippers (do not use scissors) or have your pet professionally groomed.
Regular brushing at home can prevent uncomfortable mats from forming. It also serves to remove old skin cells or debris and promote blood circulation. Make sure you're using an appropriate, gentle brush to avoid damaging the skin or hurting your pup.
Try a Soothing Bath
Oatmeal has long been used to soothe itchy skin by holding in moisture and reinforcing its protective barrier. Consider giving your dog a soothing oatmeal bath. Be sure to use a product made for dogs, but use caution with manufactured shampoos, as these can actually dry out the skin further. Some veterinarians recommend using a homemade oatmeal recipe instead. You can even add a touch of olive oil to moisturize the skin, although too much will make your dog's coat oily.
Add Fatty Acid Supplements
Although all canine diets should contain fatty acids, some dogs can benefit from extra supplementation. Fatty acids like omega-3 and omega-6 have many benefits by contributing to skin, coat, heart, and joint health. They also contain anti-inflammatory properties that can help improve dry and itchy skin.
Look for a veterinarian-approved canine supplement containing DHA and EPA (two essential omega-3s), or ask your veterinarian about dosing for over-the-counter fish oil products. Just remember that too much omega-3 can be harmful to a dog, so getting a recommendation from your vet is vital. Adding fish to your dog's diet can also be a great way for them to get these beneficial fatty acids.
When to See a Veterinarian for Dry Skin
Considering the numerous causes of dry skin in dog, consulting with your veterinarian is never a bad idea. They can rule out any serious diseases as the cause and provide your dog with prescription relief. If the dry skin is persistent and does not respond to the above suggestions or is accompanied by the following symptoms, schedule a vet appointment.
- Red, inflamed skin
- Visible parasites
- Skin sores
- Foul odor
- Excessive scratching
- Patchy hair loss
- Circular crusts
- Thinning hair
- Greasy coat
- Excessive shedding
- Potbellied appearance
Preventing Dry Skin and Dandruff
Preventing dry skin in dogs is generally much easier than treating it. Along with ruling out any underlying conditions, use these methods to keep your dog's skin healthy.
- Feed a balanced and high-quality canine diet.
- Consider fatty acid supplementation.
- Use a monthly parasite preventative.
- Brush your dog regularly and keep skin folds clean.
- Promote hydration with readily available and fresh water.
- Avoid over-bathing.
- See your veterinarian for routine checkups.
Promote Healthy Skin
Dry skin can make your dog miserable, which is why prompt treatment is important. Although these remedies can provide your dog with relief, it won't resolve any underlying issues. See your veterinarian to make sure the dry skin isn't a symptom of something more serious. If it turns out to just be harmless dandruff, keep your pup's skin healthy by ensuring that they are adequately hydrated, nourished, and free of parasites.