If your dog's skin is itchy and flaky, or their coat is dull you might be wondering how you can help them look and feel better. Our Denver vets are here to talk about your dog's diet and nutrition and how it relates to skin health.
Skin Conditions & Your Dog
Veterinarians have recognized the links between pets' diets and their skin since the 50s. In fact, one of the main ways your veterinarian assesses the health of your dog during a routine exam is by looking at the condition of her coat and skin. Many dogs will develop skin conditions throughout their life for a number of reasons, but severe and uncomfortable skin issues are very commonly seen in dogs with poor nutrition.
Common skin conditions that dogs can get include:
- Allergies including flea bites and atopic dermatitis
- Skin cancer
- Food hypersensitivity/intolerance
- Seborrhea (greasy skin or dry, flaky skin)
- Hormone-related skin diseases
- Bacterial skin infection
- Immune-medicated skin disease
- Parasites (e.g., demodectic mange)
Your Dogs Skin & Their Overall Health
Your pet's skin and coat are not only for looks, they also play a huge role in your dog's overall health. They are important for your dog's immune system and even hydration. The following are some of the functions of the skin and coat of dogs:
- Protection - Your dog's skin works like a protective barrier around your pet to keep external objects, chemicals, and environmental stressors out. Skin also contains nerves and nerve endings to allow your pet to feel things such as heat, cold, pressure and pain. Additionally, the coat protects pets against chemical damage, trauma, ultraviolet light, and contact with hot surfaces.
- Immunity - You might not realize it, but skin plays a huge role in the immune system. If the skin's immunity is compromised, infections and potentially serious diseases caused by harmful bacteria could develop.
- Thermoregulation - A healthy, full coat allows your pet to better regulate its temperature by providing insulation. A health coat regulates body temperature through the movement of hair follicles. The follicles can either move closer together as a way of insulating or move apart to create airflow to cool your dog.
- Hydration - You may not realize it, but your pet's skin is critical in maintaining proper hydration. Water loss through the skin can severely impact your pet's health. Dogs and cats do not have sweat glands, so excess water loss through unhealthy skin (transepidermal water loss) often causes health problems. Excessive water loss through the skin also affects the amount of energy a pet needs to maintain his metabolism.
- Nutrient storage - The skin also serves as a storage site for several nutrients. Protein and amino acids are present in the skin, as are collagen fibers and enzymes. Dog and cat hair is mostly made up of protein. Up to 35% of a dog's daily protein intake is used to maintain her skin and coat. Linoleic acid and other fatty acids are stored in the skin and are present in the phospholipid bilayer to provide flexibility and fluidity to the skin. Fatty acids are important in protecting pets against inflammation. The precursors to vitamin D are present in the skin and are converted to vitamin D by exposure to ultraviolet rays in sunlight. Minerals such as zinc, copper, selenium, and manganese are found in relatively high concentrations in the skin because of their role as cofactors and coenzymes in several biologic reactions that take place in the skin. Fat-soluble vitamins A and E may also be stored in the skin. Vitamin A is necessary for cell production and maintenance, and vitamin E is an antioxidant that helps protect the skin. B vitamins are found in the skin but are not stored there because they are water solubl
How Your Dog's Nutrition Affects Their Skin & Coat
A nutritional deficiency can have a huge effect on a dog’s skin and haircoat. This often happens when a dog is fed a homemade diet over a long period of time. A nutritional deficiency can also occur when dogs are fed a poor quality commercial dry food, a commercial food that contains nutrient excesses, or if a commercial diet is supplemented inappropriately.
A dog’s age is important when considering a potential nutritional problem with skin and haircoat quality. The dog’s body requires higher levels of certain nutrients during growth than during adulthood. Because the body has only so many ways to respond to diseases or nutritional deficiencies, it is important to look for and address any systemic diseases or parasites that may be at work. Nutritional issues should be considered if any of the following changes in the skin and haircoat emerge:
- Sparse, dry, dull hair with “split ends”
- Slow growth or no growth of hair from spots that have been clipped or shaved
- Accumulation of dry skin scales
- Pressure sores
- Change in or loss of hair color
Food-related risk factors for nutrition-related skin disease include:
- Low fat content
- Poor quality protein or fat
- Low nutrient digestibility
- High levels of nutrients that inhibit zinc absorption (which is critical for normal skin)
Healthy Dog Coat & Skin: The Omegas
Remember, a shiny, soft coat isn’t just nice to have, it’s a key indicator of its health (and often your dog's overall health, too).
Essential fatty acids aid the foundation of your dog’s skin and coat by fortifying proteins and boosting collagen production, making the skin stronger and coats shinier.
Having good essential fatty acid levels means your dog’s skin will retain moisture, protect against the environment, and grow a shinier coat.
The fatty acids that play the biggest role in your dog’s skin and coat are the Omega fatty acids -- Omega-3s, Omega-6s, and Omega-9s.
This type of polyunsaturated fat can’t be produced by the body but is important for strengthening the proteins of the skin and fur.
There are three common Omega-3s:
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
While Omega-3s have many health benefits, when it comes to your dog’s skin and coat health, you’ll find their anti-inflammatory properties most beneficial.
Like Omega-3s, Omega-6s are also polyunsaturated fats that can’t be produced by the body.
The difference is the chemical makeup -- Omega-6s have six carbons on the omega end of their last double bond, which is how it got its name.
The most common Omega-6s are:
- Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA)
- Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)
- Dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid (GLA)
Omega-6s help keep cells within the skin and fur healthy and regenerate quickly.
One of these things is not like the other! Omega-9s are monounsaturated and are produced within the body.
However, it’s still beneficial to consume more than the body makes since there are a number of health benefits. In terms of your dog’s skin and coat, Omega-9s reduce inflammation and aid in the construction of healthy skin cells and hair follicles.
Other Things That Benefit Your Dogs Skin & Coat
Linoleic acid - An omega-6 fatty acid found in corn, soy, flaxseed, and other nuts, is a key nutrient in maintaining a healthy coat. Many pets with dry, flaky skin are often deficient in linoleic acid. Dandruff, thin hair, discolored hair, increased shedding, and poor healing are all associated with low linoleic acid levels in the skin and diet.
Zinc - This is especially important in the skin because of the high cellular turnover rate caused by constant shedding. In addition, zinc helps reduce water loss through the skin. Pets who are fed low levels of zinc develop hair loss, skin infections, and a dull appearance.
Biotin and B vitamins - These play important roles as cofactors in many of the body's metabolic processes, including fat metabolism. This is important in the skin because biotin and B vitamins are involved in aiding linoleic acid function in the epidermis and dermis.
Proper grooming - This can also help keep your pet's skin and coat in good shape. For information on grooming or bathing your pet, talk to our Denver vets.
How To Help Your Dog Have Better Skin & Fur
Now that you know how important Omegas are for your dog’s skin and coat health, let’s talk about how you can get them the amount they need.
One of the simplest ways to make sure your dog’s skin and coat are getting everything needed is through diet.
You’ll want to include a variety of foods that are rich in Omegas, including:
- Cold-water fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and sardines
- Plant oils
- Peanut butter
You may hear that nuts and seeds are rich in Omegas, and while that’s true, you probably won’t want to include them in your dog’s diet as they can cause digestive distress.
Topical treatment can be just as effective for getting Omegas into your dog’s skin and coat!
After grooming, rub your dog with some coconut oil to get some fatty acids into the follicles, give them an extra boost of moisture, and leave them smelling sweet and delicious.
This should be done sparingly in most cases, and you may want to consult your vet beforehand.
Skin and Coat Supplements
Skin and coat supplements are a great way to give your dog the extra boost of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants they need for optimal health.
When selecting a supplement to improve your dog’s skin and coat, make sure they are developed by experts, contain ingredients rich in Omega fatty acids such as Green-Lipped Mussel, and
make sure it supports other areas of health like immune support, joint health, and digestive support.
Healthy skin starts with good hydration. It is very important to ensure that your dog always has fresh, clean water available to them because getting enough water throughout the day has a number of health benefits. This includes healthy skin and coats.
If your dog eats dry food, it is even more important to make sure they stay hydrated because this type of food provides no hydration at all.
On the go with your dog a lot but want to make sure they get the water they need? Keep this collapsible dog bowl in your car, backpack, or suitcase for easy portable hydration.