Depending on the breed of your dog, age, and a number of genetic factors, you may find they are prone to skin conditions. You can support your dog’s recovery, as well as prevent future problems, in a number of simple ways.
What’s important about your dog’s skin?
A dog’s skin acts as a barrier between their sensitive organs, muscles and skeleton and their environment – whether they spend time outdoors or indoors. It’s the largest organ in their body and, including their hair, makes up around 12% of their entire body weight. It offers vital protection against parasites, stores fat, water and vitamins, and houses sensitive nerve endings.
Their skin is a barrier which prevents water loss, reducing the chance of dehydration, as well as helping regulate their body temperature. A dog’s skin also secretes sebum, an oil-like substance which creates a biofilm over the surface of the skin. This film protects against external threats by managing the balance of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria, and prevents bacteria from multiplying. It also maintains the pH balance of your dog’s skin to help prevent irritation from environmental changes.
In these ways, your dog’s skin is an important filter between their environment and their body, and needs to be looked after properly.
What are the symptoms of a skin condition in my dog?
Much like the symptoms of a skin condition in a human, your dog might suffer from dry, irritated, or red skin in certain areas. Their coat may appear dry or greasy, there may be some hair loss, or you may notice they have dandruff. It’s likely that the first symptom you’ll spot of a skin condition is your dog itching or scratching itself as it tries to relieve some of its discomfort.
Particular breeds of dog have their own skin conditions which it’s important to be aware of. Dogs such as Bulldogs or Pugs can suffer irritation from bacteria and yeast becoming ‘stuck’ in their folds of skin. Medium-sized dogs who may spend lots of time outside or working are exposed to environmental pressures, which means their skin’s natural defences need special support. German Shepherds, Dalmatians, Miniature Schnauzers and Shih Tzus all have similarly sensitive skin, so it’s important to ask your vet if there are any genetic predispositions to skin conditions you should know about.
Why do dogs get skin conditions?
Some skin conditions in dogs are created or exacerbated by external factors. Dogs who spend a lot of time outdoors are in contact with a greater variety of potential pests and parasites, which in turn can cause inflammation. Although hygiene is important, if you use a shampoo or cleaning product which strips their skin of sebum this can similarly cause problems.
A poor or nutritionally-unbalanced diet may contribute to the occurrence of skin complaints in dogs. There are several types of adverse reactions to food, and the most common is allergies, where dogs develop allergic response to the protein in their diet. As a result, symptoms such as itching, redness and inflammation are triggered. Your dog's sensitivity, combined with their diet, can then cause a skin complaint.
Keeping your dog’s skin healthy requires a complex mix of nutrients, including long chain fatty acids like those from the omega 3 and omega 6 groups. Trace minerals like zinc and copper are important for overall cell function and maintaining a high-quality, well-coloured coat. Most importantly, high quality proteins which are easy to digest are essential; your dog’s skin and coat uses up 30% of their daily protein intake, so it’s crucial to make sure they’re getting the right type.
You can support your dog’s skin and hair health, and take preventative action against common skin conditions, by choosing an appropriate food and being aware of any external factors they might encounter. If you’re unsure, ask your vet who will be happy to help.