Supermodels and make-up artists aren’t alone in craving good skin. And when it comes to a good head of hair, Patrick Dempsey isn’t the only one being judged.
When it comes to dogs, though, it’s not just show dogs who need to worry about their skin and hair—it’s all dogs. Or should we say it’s their human parents who need to do their part to help ensure that their fur babies have healthy skin and healthy coats.
We know that as pet parents there’s a bit of vanity involved when it comes to your dog. Who doesn’t want to be walking the best-looking dog on the block? Admit it: you beam with pride when your neighbor pets Fifi and squeals, oh, her fur is so soft.
But there’s a more important reason to pay attention to your furry child’s skin and coat. Just like you and me, when your dog’s skin is flaky or his hair appears lackluster, it’s probably a signal that there’s something not right with his health.
Let’s take a step back and talk about what we mean by a dog’s skin and coat.
Dog Skin and Coat Care? What’s it All About?
First of all, since your dog is most likely covered with fur or hair—even the so-called hairless dogs have some—you probably don’t think about your dog’s skin very often. But believe it or not, just like in humans, your dog’s skin is the largest organ of her body.
Dogs. They’re just like us.
And when it comes to your dog’s coat, some dogs have fur and some have hair. This post explains that both dog fur and dog hair are made of the protein known as keratin, and dog fur and dog hair are similar, but not the same thing.
Dogs with fur have either a single coat or a double coat, the latter usually has a protective outer coat and a softer undercoat. Springer spaniels, border collies and beagles are just a few examples of dogs with fur.
Dogs with hair have only one coat and it generally feels smoother and silkier than fur. Yorkshire terriers and standard poodles have short hair, while Irish setters Shih Tzus and Afghan hounds have long hair.
The main difference between fur and hair is in the way it grows. In both cases, there is a four-phase cycle, beginning with initial growth through the shedding phase, until the cycle starts again. Dogs with fur go through those phases more quickly than those with hair.
You can get a general idea of how healthy your dog is by how his skin and coat look and feel. And in some cases, how they smell.
Common Conditions Affecting a Dog’s Skin and Coat
Dermatitis is a broad term for an inflammatory skin condition marked by dry and itchy skin. After flea allergy dermatitis, atopic dermatitis is the second most common in dogs and can be caused by allergic reactions to pollen, ragweed, grass, trees, molds or food or medication.
If your dog is excessively licking or scratching herself or gnawing on her paws or groin area, she’s signaling something may be wrong. Atopic dermatitis can also create greasy skin with dandruff-like flakes, and a strong unpleasant skin odor.
Contact dermatitis is another skin condition that to the average dog parent will present in the same way. And seborrheic dermatitis is a skin disorder that occurs when your dog’s sebaceous skin glands produce too much sebum, marked by a very dry, dull coat, dandruff, crusty, scaly skin lesions, and large amounts of earwax. Did we mention itching again? This skin disorder often shows up on a dog’s back, face, flanks and skinfolds.
So, if your dog’s skin is flaky, scaly or crusty, or if he’s constantly scratching, or has a coat that’s looks sadder than he does when you leave for work in the morning, Fido might have fleas, allergies, a nutritional imbalance or deficiencies, or a digestive disorder. And if your dog is stressed, has chronic diarrhea, suffers from arthritis or obesity, or possibly cancer, it’s likely to show in your dog’s skin and coat.
If it’s confusing as to what he has and what you should do, here is the first important take-away: take your dog to the vet. He or she will be able to better diagnose what is causing your dog’s skin and coat problems and will offer solutions that may include a change in diet, addition of supplements, natural home remedies (e.g., calendula, apple cider vinegar applications, fresh filtered water, and use of a humidifier), medications, allergy testing, or other tests if something more serious is suspected. But you need to know what’s wrong before you know which treatment is appropriate.
More Tips for Healthy Skin and Coat
There are other things that you can be doing to pump up the health volume for your dog’s skin and coat. For example, regularly brushing and combing your dog’s coat will promote healthy growth and shedding cycles, get rid of allergens that may be lodged in the skin and fur, keep your dog’s hair untangled and brush out dead skin. Some breeds also need professional grooming.
Your vet may recommend weekly baths, and oatmeal is one ingredient that could soothe the beastly itching. There is such a thing as too many baths, though, so you’ll want to check with your vet.
According to this post, here’s what your dog’s healthy skin should look like: it should be supple and clear, not bumpy, flaky or greasy. And as for her coat, you want it to look shiny and smooth, not rough or brittle.
Nutrition Matters! Dog Skin and Coat Vitamins Count Too!
As with humans, nutrition plays a vital role in the health of your dog, including his skin and coat. Just like you, your dog needs a well-balanced, nutrient-dense diet that incorporates the right combination of water, protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.
Here are five key nutrients to consider when it comes specifically to your dog’s skin and coat:
- Omega-3 fatty acids—this essential nutrient can help your dog’s coat shine and hair soft and silky. But it’s not just about looking good. If your dog’s skin is supple and their coat is shiny, those are indicators of good health. Omega-3 fatty acids help moisturize your dog’s skin, which in turn may help reduce shedding, prevent dandruff and lessen itchiness. (If you want to learn how much omega-3 EPA and DHA your dog needs, read more.)
- Biotin—although this vitamin is sometimes referred to as vitamin H, it is also known as B7 and is actually part of the B complex group of vitamins. You may be familiar with biotin as it is popular in humans for strengthening hair and nails and for producing fatty acids that help feed the skin. When it comes to your fur babies, biotin is one nutrient that your vet may recommend for supple skin and a lustrous coat. It’s also thought to help with dermatitis and may prevent hair loss.
- Vitamin E—it’s an essential fat-soluble vitamin that can bring a shine back to your dog’s coat and add suppleness to your dog’s skin. Some dogs get enough vitamin E from their diet, while others may need to add a supplement. If your dog is deficient in vitamin E, some of the signs include dry skin, dandruff and skin abrasions. Vitamin E can be orally supplemented, but vitamin E oil can also be applied directly to the skin. It’s a popular vitamin recommendation from vets for dry skin and itchiness as well as for certain allergies that manifest in dermatitis, especially in the ears. But be aware that your dog can get too much of a good thing. Read more here.
- Vitamin A—this is another essential vitamin that is a must for skin and coat, among other benefits. And a lack of vitamin A could be the reason your dog’s skin and coat are not looking up to snuff. This fat-soluble vitamin can also help some dogs with scaly skin or seborrhea. Look for vitamin A in a dog’s multivitamin and also in egg yolks, liver, fish liver oil, kale and carrots. Don’t overdo it on this vitamin, though, as too much could be toxic for your dog.
- Zinc—this essential mineral helps not only your dog’s thyroid and immune system function properly, but it also helps heal wounds and promotes healthy skin and coat. On the flip side, zinc deficiency can lead to hair loss and skin problems.
Whether you’re thinking about adding supplements to your dog’s diet or considering a natural remedy to protect and promote good skin and coat health, you’ll want to dialogue with your dog’s vet about the individual supplements you’re considering — the dose and delivery method (e.g., chewables, oils, powders) and even brands. Don’t share your own supplements with your dog; save those for yourself. This post has some vet-recommended brands to consider especially for your dog’s skin and coat.