Looking after your dog's skin is very important for his overall health. Here we look at what a healthy dog coat and skin should look like, how to support your dog's skin and coat and answer some important questions about your dog's skin...
The first thing you see when looking at a dog is his skin and coat — a window into his overall health. Dogs vary dramatically in their coat types, length, colour, and texture. Some breeds even come in hairless varieties, such as the Xoloitzcuintli, the Mexican Hairless dog.
Whether your dog is long or short-haired, sleek or shaggy, his coat health is entirely linked to the health of his skin. In turn, his skin can be a good indicator of his internal health too. Here is some essential dog skin knowledge and some of your most frequently asked dog skin questions to help you care for your dog’s skin and coat, and support his health and appearance.
Dog skin and coat condition
Skin provides a critical first line of defence for our dogs and is essential to protect them from injury, dehydration, illness, and even UV light. If there is a breach in the skin barrier, such as an injury, potentially pathogenic microorganisms can enter and cause infections.
A healthy skin and coat also helps dogs to regulate their body temperature and detect what is happening in their external environment. In fact, the skin is full of sensory nerve endings that detect a range of stimuli, allowing dogs to respond accordingly — that might be to move somewhere cooler or warmer, or to move away from something that hurts!
This is why keeping a careful eye on your dog’s overall skin and coat condition is important. If you do find lumps, bumps, cuts or scrapes, correct care and a veterinary check-up for anything unusual is always a good idea.
Healthy dog skin
Healthy dog skin should be soft to the touch and pliable under your fingers without any coarseness, hardening, signs of wounds, sores, or obvious injury. While there is a diversity in coat types, a soft, shiny coat is typically a good sign of skin health in dogs and there should be no unusual areas of hair loss.
If your dog’s skin is dry, flaky, and his hair is dull, brittle, sparse, or moulting excessively, these could be signs of a problem needing some attention. Similarly, if your dog is licking, chewing, scratching, or even rubbing specific areas of his skin to excess, seeking veterinary advice and a diagnosis is essential.
How to support your dog’s skin and coat
It is often said that a healthy dog ‘glows,’ indicating the importance of internal health for skin condition. Beyond the unchangeable genetic basis of your dog’s skin and coat characteristics, you can help to ensure he looks as healthy as possible through overall care and management, which includes regular grooming, exercise, and good nutrition.
Your dog skin questions answered...
Q) How can I care for my dog’s dry skin?
A) If your dog has dry skin, ruling out potential infections or allergies is important, so have a chat with your vet in the first instance. If all is otherwise well, it could be that your dog might benefit from enhanced nutrition to support skin health, in the form of omega 3 fatty acids, typically available from oily fish, or via specific supplements. Some dog foods are even specifically formulated to support skin health.
Regular grooming, exercise, and even massage can also help your dog’s skin condition and it might be that you explore the use of topical preparations, shampoos, and conditioners that can help to moisturise the skin and coat. Always be careful to use specialist dog products however as dogs’ skin pH is subtly different to our own and you might inadvertently cause other problems. Even over bathing can create problems with dogs’ skin health.
Q) Why does my dog tend to get itchy feet in spring and summer only?
A) In the same way that many people get hay fever at certain times of the year, dogs sometimes react to environmental substances that are only present during certain seasons. Dogs can react to grass pollen and other substances in spring and summer, causing itching, irritation, and sometimes hair loss. If this occurs, do seek veterinary advice as there are practical measures that you can take to ease your dog’s distress and irritation. In many cases however, the problem resolves as the seasons change.
Q) My dog has light-coloured hair that often looks pink or red on his feet and round his mouth; why is this?
A) Dogs with light-coloured hair can often get staining on their coats if they have been licking certain areas. This is a result of compounds in the saliva, some of which are pigmented and can cause staining of light hair. This can sometimes be seen as tear stains, saliva staining around the mouth, and also on contact areas such as the elbows. In most cases, the staining is harmless and is just unsightly. However, occasional staining can be the sign of other infections and is worth investigating if it has recently appeared. Sometimes changing your dog’s diet can reduce such staining.
Certain ingredients, especially red meats such as lamb or venison, may make saliva staining more likely for some dogs and a change to a fish or chicken-based diet might be beneficial. Seeking professional advice is always recommended.
Q) Does what I feed my dog affect his skin?
A) Skin and coat health are dependent on good nutrition. Indeed, many nutrient deficiencies are often identified by changes in both skin and coat condition, highlighting why awareness and monitoring is so important. What dogs eat can affect how their skin renews (this typically takes between four and six weeks) and the growth and overall quality of their coat.
If you feed a nutritious and well-formulated diet, then your dog’s skin should be fine. Sometimes supplementary help is useful however and additional key nutrients such as biotin, zinc, and omega 3 fatty acids, from oily fish such as sardines, might be beneficial.
Some herbs and other ingredients, including some plant oils, are also thought to support skin and coat health. If you are adding dietary supplements, it is best to seek guidance on the appropriate feeding level.
Q) What are the most common skin issues in dogs?
A) Typical skin issues can include bacterial or fungal infections, or the presence of parasites such as fleas, ticks, and mites, which can cause significant itching and irritation. Skin issues may also indicate allergies and many allergic reactions are actually to environmental triggers such as pollen or household substances. Storage mites occasionally found in dry food can also cause skin irritation for some dogs. Elimination protocols are essential to identify what potential triggers exist and are best done with veterinary support.
Q) What should I do if my dog is scratching a lot?
A) While some scratching is perfectly normal for all dogs, if your dog is scratching excessively, rubbing himself, shaking his head, and perhaps even causing injury to himself, always seek advice from your vet. This is critical to rule out obvious causes and also to minimise distress to your dog, as well as harm to his skin and coat.
Q) What can I do to help keep my dog's skin healthy?
A) Regularly grooming your dog is a good way to monitor skin and coat health, as well as helping to bond with your dog. You can quickly note any injuries or changes and seek further advice if needed. Bathing is an option and should be done as required; some dogs need bathing more often than others (hello, fox-poo rollers)! If your dog lives inside, frequent bathing should not be too much of a problem for coat condition, but do use a gentle shampoo that is designed for dog use.
Common skin problems for dogs
Because skin is at the body surface, it has to deal with lots of challenges. Common skin problems experienced by dogs are often caused by parasites such as fleas, mites, and ticks. These are small creatures that live on, or in, our dogs’ skin and can cause significant irritation, as well as potentially carrying other diseases that can make dogs ill. Ticks are common if your dog walks in countryside areas where there are sheep or deer, and are small spider-like creatures that embed their heads into a dog’s skin and feed.
Unfortunately, ticks can spread Lyme disease, which can be quite nasty, so it is good practice to check your dog carefully and remove any ticks found using a specialised tick-removing tool. Similarly, flea combs are a good way of removing fleas from your dog’s coat. Chemical treatments for skin parasites are also available and it is worth chatting to your vet about the best option for your dog.
Did you know?
Your dog’s skin is an amazing feat of biology. In fact, did you know that your dog’s skin is his largest organ? Skin forms a first line of defence for our dogs, by providing protection from injury, disease, and ultraviolet (UV) light. It also helps to limit the impact of weather and environmental extremes on our dogs, minimises their risk of dehydration, allows them to sense the environment, and is critical in helping to regulate our dogs’ body temperatures. Let’s get under our dogs’ skin and find out more.