Dry skin is a common problem in dogs, but there can be several reasons why it can occur. Some reasons are easily solved while others indicate a more chronic issue. Knowing what can cause dry skin and how it can be treated can help you keep your dog comfortable and healthy.
Dog Skin Anatomy
Dog skin has three prominent layers to it: the epidermis, dermis, and subcutaneous layer. The outermost layer and the layer that gets dry is the epidermis. This layer is also the layer that helps to hold in moisture, makes new skin cells, and is the layer of skin you see under the fur. Keeping the epidermis healthy is a major factor in preventing dry skin in dogs.
Causes of Dry Skin in Dogs
Dry skin is uncomfortable for dogs and can cause itching and scratching. Thankfully, most of the causes of dry skin are seasonal or temporary. Some causes, however, can be quite difficult to treat.
Allergies and Sensitivities
Food and environmental allergies or sensitivities, such as mold, pollen, and grass, can cause dry skin in dogs. These allergies are very commonly seen and can be difficult to manage until you know exactly what your dog is allergic or sensitive to.
Some shampoos are not properly formulated for a dog's skin or contain ingredients that are too harsh and that will dry out the skin. These shampoos may be necessary for some oily skin conditions but can dry out skin excessively if used unnecessarily or too frequently. But even frequent bathing with regular shampoo can dry skin out.
Environments that are too warm with a dry heat or are just have a low humidity level can dry skin out. This can occur both indoors and outdoors but seasonal skin issues are often seen in dogs during warmer months of the year.
Fleas and mites bite and cause irritation. Sometimes dry skin can occur in dogs with these parasites, especially if it has an allergy to them. Parasites can be difficult to see, and it may only take a few to cause a real problem in a sensitive dog.
Diets that don't provide proper nutrition for a dog can result in a variety of problems, including dry skin. This is often seen in dogs that are eating home cooked diets or low-quality dog foods.
A difficult disease that can affect a dog's skin is called atopic dermatitis, or atopy for short. This problem causes many skin issues including dry skin and is a chronic issue involving allergies to different things.
Some substances such as clothing detergent, floor cleaners, and perfumes may cause skin irritation called contact dermatitis. This can also result in dry skin on a dog but is usually easily resolved once you determine what substance is causing the problem.
Treatments for Dry Skin in Dogs
Depending on the cause of your dog's dry skin, the best way to treat it may vary.
Avoidance and Elimination
Sensitivities, allergies, and contact dermatitis may be temporarily treated with medications to ease symptoms. Eliminating and avoiding the irritant in question is the only way to truly solve your dog's dry skin problem. It may take some time to discover what your dog is sensitive or allergic to, but once you do, you can do your best to avoid exposing your dog to it.
Moisturize and Increase Humidity
For dry skin that is a result of low humidity or dry heat, a humidifier in the home can help to increase the moisture in the air where your dog spends most of its time. Using moisturizing sprays designed for dog skin can also help if your dog spends a lot of time outside in low-humidity environments. Supplements containing ingredients like fish oil and hardy kiwi that have been shown to improve skin moisture retention may also be beneficial for all pets with dry skin, regardless of the reason for it.
Improve Nutrition and Bathing Routines
Dietary and shampoo changes may be necessary if the dry skin is a result of poor nutrition or drying shampoos. Excessive bathing should also be stopped to allow skin to retain its natural moisture if your attempts to keep your dog clean are a little overzealous. Simply improving nutrition and practicing better bathing routines can make a huge difference in increasing skin health.
Use Parasite Prevention
Regular external parasite preventative medication should be administered to your dog to prevent infestations of fleas and mites that can cause dry skin.
Atopic Dermatitis in Dogs. Veterinary Information Network.
Coat and Skin Appearance in the Healthy Dog. VCA Hospitals.
Olivry, T et al. Allergic contact dermatitis in the dog. Principles and diagnosis. The Veterinary clinics of North America. Small animal practice vol. 20,6 (1990): 1443-56. doi:10.1016/s0195-5616(90)50154-0