Striving for itch-free skin

Those of us who have struggled with a dry scalp and dandruff can testify how frustrating it can be to manage and treat this condition. Now, imagine if your entire body was covered with a hairy coat that is dry, itchy and flaky. Unfortunately, for many dogs, this is the case, and it’s largely left undiagnosed and untreated. The good news is that this condition can be cured and controlled in almost all cases, with the correct guidance.

What is dry skin and dandruff?

Dry skin is an uncomfortable condition referring to skin that lacks moisture in its outer layer and feels dry to the touch. Dogs with dry skin usually present with itching, scratching, flaky skin, and small, white specks in their hair coat, known as dandruff. Dandruff develops when the sebaceous glands – those responsible for producing oils which protect and nourish the skin – start to overproduce. This leads to excess oils irritating the skin, which causes the skin to shed in greater quantities than normal.

These dogs’ skin can also appear irritated and inflamed. In severe cases you may also notice scabs, general hair loss or bald patches. I have noticed that puppies and long-haired breeds are at particular risk, but all dogs can be affected.

 Causes of dry skin

There are various causes of dry skin and dandruff in dogs. Some are easily corrected by making small adjustments to the dog’s diet or the environment, while other conditions, unfortunately, need extensive diagnostic and treatment plans. The most common causes of dry skin in dogs include:

  • Lack of nutrients to develop a heathy skin and coat, like the essential fatty acids omega-3 and -6. These are vital for a healthy skin and needs to be supplemented in your dog’s diet, since his body cannot make these nutrients on its own. Protein, together with vitamin A, also play an important role and need to be adequately represented in your dog’s diet. Ideally, you should speak to your vet, who will recommend a high-quality food that can be used long-term.
  • An environment that is too hot or too cold can also trigger reactions in your dog’s skin that can interrupt its oil production.
  • Excessive bathing, especially with shampoo not prescribed for dogs, are one of the most common contributors to dry skin.
  • External parasites, like fleas or mites, are also one of the most common causes for dry, itchy and flaky skin, and needs to be ruled out first by your veterinarian.
  • Food or environmental allergies can lead to dry skin and can be extremely challenging to control. These conditions usually require lifelong management.
  • Unfortunately, dry skin and dandruff can be a symptom of an underlying endocrine disorder, like Cushing’s disease or hypothyroidism, which will need extensive diagnostic and treatment protocols.

Treatment and prevention of dry skin

With the help of your veterinarian, you will be able to rule out conditions that make dry skin more difficult to treat, like parasites or underlying medical conditions. If these are left undiagnosed, all other treatments will be ineffective. It is vital that you stay up to date with a trusted external parasite prevention regimen, and ensure that you feed a vet-recommended food, which will give your dog all the nutrients he needs for a healthy skin and coat. In some cases, your vet might also recommend a supplement that can be added to your dog’s food. These supplements usually contain omega-3 and -6 essential fatty acids and zinc, biotin and vitamin A.

Also ensure to keep your dog’s environment at a comfortable temperature, and groom him regularly to prevent any build-up of dirt and debris in the coat. When using a shampoo, make sure it is specifically recommended for dogs and that it assists with dry skin. Remember that human shampoos are not suitable for dogs. As with all conditions, prevention is better than cure, and by sticking to regular vet visits, your dog’s dry skin might be picked up before it becomes a health risk.

Deal with it

As with our own hair, we should never assume that our dog’s dry and flaky skin is ’only seasonal’ and will go away by itself. Even though it might not be a big deal now, it can easily progress to become a big, itchy, flaky, hair-loss mess that is difficult to control. We have also learnt that, even though most conditions are easily treatable by making a few adjustments, some do need serious intervention.

We should always remember that dogs cannot speak for themselves when in pain or even when they feel the slightest discomfort, like a dry and itchy skin. That is why we, their owners, have been entrusted as their guardians and voices.


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