For a dog, dry skin is itchy and uncomfortable. Of course its the same for us humans too, but when we suffer from dry skin, we slather on moisturizer and feel a whole lot better. Unfortunately, that's difficult to do with dogs, given all that fur and hair, but there is still plenty we can do to give them relief - including using a doggie moisturizer!
These are the main factors that contribute to dry skin in dogs:
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, so he's my poster-child!
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, skin tests were done (all negative), tried lots of different foods and shampoos and kept current with flea and tick treatments, but nothing stopped him scratching.
Dry skin with a dull, brittle, thin coat may also be a sign of a protein deficiency. If your dog has these symptoms check with your vet.
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 my dog's 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 apply 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 the common causes of dry skin in dogs and see if you identify with any.
Without a doubt, this is by far the easiest way to treat dry skin in dogs.
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 a prevalent cause for dry, flaky skin. Simply adding fish oil (fatty acids) to your dog's diet can help combat dry 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many of the processed dog foods are heated to such high temperatures that even if they contain fatty acids, they are no longer active once they reach your dog's bowl.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. Salmon oil is an excellent source of omega-3 but make sure you buy one that is from fresh, wild caught Alaskan salmon, not farm-raised. Preferably one that is manufactured in a facility that has received the stamp of Good Manufacturing Practices.
Manufactured in the USA in a facility that conforms to the Good Manufacturing Practices so you can be sure that they've made every possible effort to ensure this product gets to you in the purest, most natural condition.
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Ensuring your dog is groomed correctly will affect his or her dry skin. That's why I asked the advice of a professional groomer for the next two sections.
Tarah Schwartz is a professional groomer of seven years and has also worked as a veterinary technician and boarding kennel supervisor. Here's what she says about how grooming affects dry skin.
How Grooming Affects Dry Skin - A Groomers Advice
As you can imagine, how often you bathe your dog and what type of shampoo you use can have a significant impact on his dry skin. Depending on your dog’s breed and skin type, most groomers would recommend bathing every four to six weeks. Even if you use an appropriate shampoo, washing your dog too often can strip his skin of its natural oils and cause itching and flaking. Likewise, not bathing your dog often enough allows the coat’s oils and dead skin to build up which can lead to a matted coat and itchy skin.
Look for a shampoo that’s intended for itchy or sensitive skin. Check the ingredients on the back of the bottle, too. The more natural ingredients you see, the gentler the shampoo will be on your dog’s dry skin. Shampoos containing colloidal oatmeal are excellent for dry skin. The oatmeal soothes irritated skin and balances pH levels. Other ingredients that are great for itchy skin are vitamin E, aloe, and baking soda. Never use human shampoo on your dog. The pH of our skin is very different from dogs, and you can cause further irritation and even inflammation.
The way you bathe your dog is as important as the products you use. When shampooing, be sure that you scrub well enough that the product reaches the skin. You may need a rubber brush to achieve this. Once you’ve scrubbed the shampoo down to the skin, be sure to rinse the coat thoroughly. Left over shampoo in the coat can further irritate dry skin, so when you think you’re done rinsing, rinse one more time.
Consider using additional grooming products such as a moisturizing conditioner or rinse after shampooing. Conditioning rinses can soften the coat and moisturize the skin, making the coat easier to comb between baths. There are also a variety of soothing anti-itch sprays on the market that can be used between baths or on particularly itchy areas or hotspots.
Author: Tarah Schwartz - Professional Groomer
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How Undergrooming Affects the Coat - A Groomer's Advice
Regular brushing is essential for the health of a dog’s coat. Without frequent brushing, dead skin and hair build up and trap dirt and oil on the surface of your dog’s skin. Depending on your dog’s coat type, you may also find that his coat will become matted more quickly as the dead hair and skin builds up. Regular grooming not only removes dead skin and hair but also distributes the skin’s natural oils more evenly, resulting in a healthier, shinier coat.
As with bathing, it’s important to not only have the right tools but to use them correctly. First, find the right type of comb or brush for your dog’s coat type. If you aren’t sure what works best for your breed, ask your local groomer for advice. Once you have the right tool, you can start brushing. Make sure you brush down to the skin to remove all the dead hair and pore-clogging dander but be careful not to scratch or scrape your dog’s sensitive skin.
Dogs with long, thick, or double coats will need more frequent brushing. Daily brushing is ideal, but two to four times per week will also work well. If your dog sheds seasonally, you may need to brush him more often during periods of heavy shedding. Short haired dogs will need brushing less often, but regular grooming is still vital to the health of the dog’s skin and coat.
Author: Tarah Schwartz - Professional Groomer
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 with dry air heating or meet all the other criteria above.
Forced dry air heating is another contributing factor that dries out a dog's skin. As the temperature outdoors drops we typically crank up the heat 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.
You can get humidifiers that add moisture to a specific room or if you want to increase the humidity in the entire house you can opt for a unit that attaches directly to your existing furnace which will pump additional moisture into all rooms.
Dogs that are neutered or spayed have a much higher risk of suffering from skin and coat problems, unusually dry skin. Removing sex hormones can upset the natural balance of hormones that also regulate oil production in the skin/coat.
I'm not saying you shouldn't neuter or spay your dogs, there are many good arguments for spaying and neutering, and my dog, Hudson, was neutered at 11 months old.
Nevertheless, it is helpful to know that we need to be more aware of potential skin and coat problems, mainly dry skin, if our dogs are neutered/spayed.
Many skin conditions, including dry skin, are the result of a build-up of toxins in the body. If a dog's body or immune system is unable to eliminate waste effectively, the body tries to push the problem outward towards the skin.
In this case, the skin becomes overburdened as the body attempts to steer the toxins away from the vital organs.
Adding healing herbs that work to eliminate these toxins will help to restore your dog's skin and coat. Herbs that support the liver and blood work particularly well in this case.
Burdock Root - is a valuable herb in many skin conditions unusually dry or scaly skin. Acting as a blood cleanser, it's particularly helpful in removing toxins from the liver and skin. Burdock is a powerful liver tonic which also helps to clean and build the blood.
Yellow Dock - is used extensively for all skin problems and also aids in eliminating toxins from the liver. Yellow Dock is a quick-cleansing herb that stimulates bile products and helps with cleaning the blood. It's particularly useful for treating chronic skin conditions that may be attributed to toxic build-up.
Red Clover - has been used in the treatment as a blood-purifying agent for hundreds of years. Packed full of nutrients and chemical compounds that are effective against many skin disorders. Red Clover has the added benefit of being an anticancer herb.
Aloe vera - is an excellent lotion for dry skin. It is known for its anti-inflammatory properties; when applied topically it can help to reduce redness, irritation and itching.
Coconut oil - helps to keep the affected area moisturized while providing antibacterial protection against further infection or irritation.
Additionally, both aloe vera and coconut oil have been found to have strong antioxidant activity which further supports healthy skin with tissue growth and repair in the affected area.
Below you'll find a simple home remedy using these herbs to treat dry skin.
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 a bacterial or fungal 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 or hair loss.
There are two different types of dandruff; oily or dry.
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!
Skip forward to the best shampoo to treat dry skin.
After much trial and error, this is the treatment plan that I found works well for my dog's dry skin.
Every day I supplement Hudson's dinner with 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 more extended periods and can take a few months to get into their system to 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.
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. I like colloidal oatmeal shampoo and moisturizing rinse that works well for dry skin in dogs.
Used by many competitive groomers, Nature's Specialties are recognized in the grooming industry as the best premium products available today.
After shampooing, thoroughly 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 also apply Vitamin E as a massaging oil as close to the skin as you can.
I don't use this as it's quite tricky on longer coated dogs (like Hudson's) and I don't find I need to with Nature's Specialties range.
You can buy a doggie moisturizing conditioner rinse, (again, check the ingredients).
I use Nature's Specialties Colloidal Oatmeal Creme Rinse which compliments 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.
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 naturally medicated solution that contains antimicrobial and anti-fungal properties that not only work 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 may be worth swapping to Nature's Specialties range before adding an antihistamine.
An excellent antihistamine to try is Diphenhydramine (generic Benadryl). One brand many dog owner's use, is Banophen.
Dosage for Diphenhydramine (25mg)
1mg per pound of body weight 2/3 times per day
e.g. 75lb dog = 3 x 25mg tablets 3 times a day.
WARNING: Do not use any kind of antihistamine that contains decongestants or one that is used to treat multi-symptoms such as cold and flu medicines. These are toxic to dogs.
It should only contain Diphenhydramine as the active ingredient.
Diphenhydramine may causes drowsiness, see here for antihistamine alternatives.