Just as their human owners often do, dogs struggle with dry skin. Dogs can develop dry skin due to a number of causes. Some of these causes are more serious than others but regardless of why dogs' skin is dry, it's never a comfortable feeling. Knowing why your dog has dry skin and how it is treated can help you get your dog the relief it wants and needs while also ensuring any serious causes are properly addressed.
What Is Dry Skin?
Dog skin is made up of layers and the outermost layer that we see is called the epidermis. This layer is responsible for holding in moisture, creating new skin cells, providing pigmentation to the skin, and other important functions. When the epidermis is inflamed or is not adequately holding in moisture, the skin becomes dry, cracked, and flaky.
Signs of Dry Skin on Dogs
Just like when a person has dry skin, itching or scratching, and dandruff or flaky skin are commonly seen symptoms in dogs with dry skin. Scratching and licking dry skin may also lead to redness and hair loss from damage to the follicles. If the skin is irritated enough, scabs can form, an odor may develop, pimples may pop up, and the skin may become extra oily.
Causes of Dry Skin
There are a variety of causes of dry skin on dogs. Many causes are related to environmental factors, poor parasite control, or ineffective grooming habits, but some are infectious, immune, or endocrine diseases that require veterinary attention.
- Allergies and sensitivities
- Drying shampoos
- Hot baths
- Low environmental humidity
- External parasites
- Poor diet
- Atopic dermatitis
- Contact dermatitis
- Cushing's disease
- Skin infections
Diagnosing the Cause of Dry Skin on Dogs
If your dog has dry skin, figuring out the reason for it may involve ruling out several potential causes. Some of the easiest causes to rule out include flea infestations, low-humidity environments, excessive bathing, and shampoos that are not designed for dogs. Make sure your dog's food is a high quality food that is recommended by your veterinarian and your dog is on a veterinarian-recommended flea preventative regularly. If you are still unable to find the cause of your dog's dry skin, a vet visit may be warranted.
A full history of your pet will be obtained and a physical examination will be performed by your vet. Your vet may then perform skin testing to look for bacterial or fungal infections, parasites, and abnormal skin cells. They may also recommend bloodwork to look for immune and endocrine disorders.
Treatment of Dry Skin on Dogs
Once the cause of the dry skin is determined, you can begin a treatment plan for your dog. If the dry skin is because of an environmental reason, moisturizing shampoos and sprays, an increase in environmental humidity, a higher quality food and flea prevention may be necessary alongside supplements designed to improve skin moisture and health. Omega-3 fatty acids, fish oil, ceramides, and regular brushing may be recommended if no specific medication is needed. If your veterinarian finds an underlying disease or infection causing dry skin, medications, dietary changes, and other treatments may be recommended.
How to Prevent Dry Skin on Dogs
There are several easy ways to prevent your dog from developing dry skin. Start by feeding a high-quality dog food and using flea preventatives every month. Avoid bathing your dog too often, especially in hot water or with shampoos that are not formulated for dogs as these can be very drying, but don't let dirt and debris build up. Ensure your home's humidity level stays between 40-60% and use moisturizing or conditioning sprays on your dog’s coat in between baths to keep the skin hydrated. Discuss supplements like omega-3 fatty acids or fish oil with your veterinarian, since some dogs may be sensitive and develop diarrhea at high doses.
Additionally, regular blood screenings at your dog's annual check-ups can help catch diseases that may cause dry skin before your dog even starts exhibiting the signs of dry skin.