Dry skin in dogs causes itching, flaky skin, and lots of discomfort for your pooch. There are many reasons why your dog's skin is dry but getting to the root cause is the only way to treat it effectively. Here I've listed the common causes of what can dry a dog's skin out, along with how you can resolve it naturally.
If you have an itchy, flaky dog, I can help you to assess whether your dog's itching is due to dry skin (or not) and, most
importantly, how to treat it.
That's my dog, Hudson, in the picture to the right, he was always scratching.
After years of trying to alleviate Hudson's itching, without much success, I finally found a plan that works wonders for his coat and completely restored his skin.
I took Hudson to the vet countless times, had skin tests done (all
negative), tried lots of different foods and shampoos and kept current
with flea and tick treatments but nothing stopped him scratching.
He seemed to be getting miserable with constantly scratching and so too was I. So I started on a journey of discovery. It was then that I discovered there were more than a couple of reasons why his skin was dry and I had to address as many as I could to stop the itching.
Is your dog constantly scratching? Does he have flaky skin and a dull coat? Now, ask yourself this....How many of the below causes of dry skin applies to your dog? If you answered yes to two or more, then chances are your dog's itching is due to dry skin. Although flakiness isn't always a symptom of dry skin, it can just be itching alone. Hudson had dry itchy, flaky, skin and most of the causes applied to us!
To enable you to do the same for your dog, review below the common causes of dry skin in dogs and see how many you identify with.
These are the main factors that contribute to dry skin in dogs:
Regularly bathing your dog with a good quality shampoo is key to the overall health of their skin and coat. How often depends on your dog's skin, for a dog with dry skin, once a month is good. I must admit, I wasn't bathing Hudson that often as I wrongly believed that you shouldn't bathe a dog with dry skin too often. But...I since found out that if you don't bathe your dog regularly, it allows dead skin and hair to buildup which causes flaky skin.
Using a harsh shampoo, one with lots of synthetic ingredients, or
worse, human shampoo, strips your dog's skin of it's natural oils,
causing dry skin and lots of itching. Also if you use a homemade shampoo (particularly one with vinegar) and you don't get the pH exactly right, it can result in drying out your dog's skin.
The best type of shampoo to use on a dog with dry skin is a natural one containing Colloidal Oatmeal. Even better is to follow up with a good moisturizing rinse. Just as we use moisturizer on our skin to combat dry skin, a good moisturizing rinse will do the same for a dog's skin.
I use Nature's Specialties Colloidal Oatmeal shampoo and Colloidal Oatmeal Creme Rinse as I find them to be the best.
Dogs need to be groomed regularly to get rid of that dead skin and fur. Especially dogs with a double coat (yep, that's my German Shepherd again). If you don't brush your dog on a regular basis the dead skin starts to mix with the undercoat and tons of dead flakes will buildup on the surface of the skin. You'll see this if you part your dog's fur.
Long coated dogs, dogs with thick coats, and double-coated dogs are all likely to accumulate a ton of dead flakes under all that hair if they are not groomed regularly. Daily is best, but at least three or four times a week. Short-haired dogs are less prone to this as they don't have that thick undercoat for skin to get trapped in.
Dogs need fatty acids in their diet for optimal skin and coat health, especially omega-3 typically found in fish oil.
A lack of omega-3 fatty acids is an extremely common cause for dry, flaky skin.
Unfortunately many of the processed dog foods are heated to such high temperatures that even if they contain fatty acids, they are no longer active once they reach your dog's bowl.
The heating process virtually renders them useless so supplementation of omega-3 is a good fix for dry skin.
Personally I use salmon oil, but krill oil, or any kind of fish oil should work.
Basically, the drier the air, the more likely your dog will have dry skin. If you live in an area with a dry climate then your dog is more likely to suffer from dry skin. The most common places for this type of weather is southwest United States, northern Mexico, Argentina, North Africa, South Africa and central parts of Australia. If you live in a dry climate, I'm sure you're already aware that's it dry, but here is a list of the driest cities in the United States.
Having said that, you don't have to live in a dry climate for your dog to suffer from dry skin. Many dogs outside these areas have dry skin too, especially if they spend a lot of time indoors or meet all the other criteria above.
Speaking of indoors, another contributing factor to dog dry skin is forced air heating. As it gets colder outdoors we typically crank up the heating indoors, which causes the skin to dry out and there you have a perfect recipe for an itchy, scratchy dog.
If your best pal spends most of his time indoors (as mine do), a humidifier will help to stop his skin (and yours) from drying out. Adding a humidifier to your home will mean the air will be more humid which makes it feel warmer at cooler temperatures, so you'll be more comfortable with a lower thermostat setting. The humidity is also much better for skin (dogs and humans) and has the added benefit of reducing your overall heating costs.
I found out that dogs that are neutered or spayed have a much higher risk of suffering from skin and coat problems, especially dry skin. This is because removing the sex hormones can upset the natural balance of hormones that also regulate oil production in the skin/coat.
My dog, Hudson, was neutered at 11 months old, so there isn't much I can do about that, it's just helpful to know that we need to be more aware of potential skin and coat problems, particularly dry skin, if our dogs are neutered/spayed.
Finally, and before you treat your dog's dry skin you need to ensure that it is dry skin you're dealing with and not some other underlying cause.
Suspect yeast if your dog is biting, licking, or chewing at his paws a lot. Yeast usually affects ears, paws, groin, belly and armpits and generally occurs more in humid environments.
Suspect a skin infection if you dog has open sores, pimples, or is shaking his head a lot.
Suspect allergies if itching is linked to warmer weather or is all year long.
Suspect dandruff if there are large flakes present or thinning of fur.
Suspect Mange if itching is severe that dog scratches himself raw and is losing fur.
If you're still unsure if your dog's itching is due to dry skin, you can also try our 3 simple steps to identify other possible dog skin conditions.
Now, let's get to the treatment!
After much trial and error, this is the treatment plan that I found works really well for my dog's dry skin.
Every day I supplement Hudson's dinner with 1 teaspoon salmon oil. Even though he only really suffers from dry skin in the winter I still use salmon oil during the summer.
Reason being, supplements work best when they are given over longer periods and can take a few months to get into their system to actually start working to support the skin.
I give him a good brush daily to stimulate his natural oils and to keep his skin in good condition.On a monthly basis I bathe Hudson with a good quality colloidal oatmeal shampoo and moisturizing rinse. You can use any brand of dog shampoo (not human), but check the ingredients to ensure it contains colloidal oatmeal AND that it doesn't contain a ton of synthetic ingredients.
If you see a whole list of long names that you have no idea what they are, then stay away from that product, it may do more harm than good. Even though it may still contain colloidal oatmeal, the other (synthetic ingredients) will probably outweigh the oatmeal proving it to be less effective in relieving your dog's dry skin.
The best products I found for dry skin is the Nature's Specialties range. They use the best natural ingredients which are nontoxic and biodegradable. I love this range and use it on my dogs all the time. See above for their colloidal oatmeal shampoo and moisturizing rinse that works well for dry skin in dogs.
After shampooing, fully rinse with warm water and make double-sure that you rinse all the shampoo out. Next, use a good moisturizing rinse that gets right into the skin, this step is the key to treating your dog's dry skin and stop the scratching.
You can buy a doggie moisturizing conditioner rinse, (again, check the ingredients) or make your own (see below).
I use Nature's Specialties Colloidal Oatmeal Creme Rinse which complements the shampoo. It's super concentrated so a little goes a long way and works brilliantly.
Finish by washing the moisturizing rinse off leaving your dog's coat silky and soft and his skin re-moisturized.
You can make your own moisturizing rinse using Alpha Keri bath and shower oil (or generic version). Mix about 1 ounce of Alpha Keri Bath Oil in a quart of water. After shampooing your dog and fully rinsing with warm water, pour the mix over him and allow it to remain on the coat as he dries. You don't rinse this off.
You can also make up a spray bottle containing one part Alpha Keri Bath Oil to three parts of water. Spray this to areas that are difficult to get to, or use on really problem areas, such as the belly and insides of legs. Again, don't rinse off. Or, you can buy an anti-itch spray to use on these areas.
The moisturizer won't come off or leave residue on your upholstery or carpets but your dog may appear to look wet long after he has dried. The downside to this remedy is that your dog's coat will continue to look wet or greasy for a few days after using it. It won't feel greasy though and it'll be a lot more comfortable for him.
An anti-itch spray stops the itching immediately and can be used after the shampoo and conditioner. It can also be used alone to stop itching and is great for use in-between baths.
The spray is a medicated solution that contains antimicrobial and anti-fungal properties. This means that it not only works to relieve itching due to dry skin, but can be used to relieve itching due to a range of skin irritation such as hot spots, yeast and dandruff.
If your dog has severe itching you can also include an antihistamine, but check with your vet. Start with the baths, moisturizing rinses and spray first, before you add an antihistamine. If you're using a different brand shampoo, it maybe worth swapping to the Nature's Specialties range before adding an antihistamine.
A good antihistamine to try is Diphenhydramine (Generic Benadryl).