How to treat your dogs dry skin - causes, symptoms and treatments
Dry skin is incredibly uncomfortable and irritating, whether you’re a human or a dog! But dogs aren’t able to slater on a moisturizing cream or book themselves a vet’s appointment to find out what’s going on!
Dry skin can cause unbearable itching, leading to raw skin and dandruff all over your dog and home. Your dog can become anxious and stressed out by its inability to soothe the itch. Dry skin can often seem like a minor inconvenience, but it could indicate a more significant problem in your dog, so it shouldn’t be ignored.
If your dog is suffering from dry skin, then here is what you can do to help. We will dive into what might be causing dry skin, different symptoms to look for, and things you can implement to get your dog’s skin back to its balanced state.
Why does my dog have dry skin?
There isn’t one specific cause of dry skin on dogs. Many factors may be contributing to your dog experiencing dandruff or itchy skin, some more serious than others. You should always take your dog to the vet if you have any concerns about their health, but here are some of the primary reasons that your dog may have dry skin:
Cracked, dry skin and hair loss can indicate an allergic reaction to food, medication, or environmental factors.
1. Grooming issues
If your dog isn’t grooming itself properly, it could lead to an excess of dry, flaky skin. Dogs need to lick themselves to clear off dirt, debris, and dead skin their skin. If they are under-grooming themselves, it could be why they have more dandruff than usual. That's not to say you should expect your dog to be grooming themselves as much as a cat would since overgrooming can also cause irritation to the skin. A dog exhibiting healthy grooming behavior sees them grooming themselves for only a few minutes a day. If they aren't grooming themselves at all, then there could be an issue.
There are a few different reasons that your dog may not be grooming themselves. Age can play a factor in whether your dog is grooming themselves appropriately or not. Many puppies don't bother grooming until they are between 6 months and 1 year old, which is also when they like getting the messiest (lucky you!). But the most likely time they will experience dry skin as a result or poor grooming is in their later years. Old dogs lack energy, so grooming can fall low on the priority list, making them more likely to experience dry, flaky skin as a result.
Another reason your dog may not be grooming themselves is due to a medical condition. If your dog is experiencing dry skin and not grooming themselves then look for other symptoms such as a change in appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, or sneezing which could indicate a medical issue.
One last thing to keep in mind is that your dog may just be used to being dirty. This is especially common among rescue dogs who may have been mistreated in the past or left in dirty conditions and they just became used to it.
One of the most common causes of dry skin in dogs is allergies. An estimated 20% of dogs have allergies, and dry skin is a primary symptom. So, what allergies are most likely to cause dry skin? Food allergies top the list, and while nearly any food ingredient can produce allergies, there are some common offenders. Proteins, like dairy, chicken, eggs, wheat, soy, or beef are the most likely to create an allergic reaction. If this is the case then your dog may be put on an elimination diet to determine which of the ingredients is causing the reaction.
Pollen, grass and flowers are common allergens that can cause dry skin.
Just like humans, dogs can also be allergic to pollen, grass, and weeds. The main indicator for this type of allergy is if your dog's dry skin is seasonal and your home is surrounded by trees, flowers, and other plants. Your dog could also be allergic to the cleaning products your use in your home, perfumes or sprays, or mold.
If you've recently put your dog on a new medication and start to notice dry skin then it may be an indicator that they are allergic to that type of medication.
3. Skin products
What products are you using to bathe and groom your dog? If you are using harsh chemical soaps void of natural ingredients, it will likely dry your dogs’ skin out quickly. The chemicals found in many dog shampoos and soaps can cause your pup's skin to react negatively. The most common reaction experienced by dogs who've been exposed to synthetic, toxic chemicals found in these products is dry and itchy skin.
Always make sure to use organic, natural cleansers and ointments when grooming your dog to avoid irritating their skin. And even better, use products containing soothing ingredients like aloe vera, oatmeal, and seed oils.
When you're shopping for grooming products for your dog here are some of the most common ingredients you want to avoid:
- Cocamidopropyl Betaine (a thickening agent)
- Sodium Lauryl Sulfate/Sodium Laureth Sulfate (a foaming agent)
- Anything with "Laureth Sulfate" at the end
Always check your dog for ticks after they've been outdoors as they may cause a reaction on your dogs skin.
Parasites such as fleas, canine scabies, the Demodex mite, and Cheyletiellosis (walking dandruff) can all cause dry, flaky skin on your dog. One of the most common reasons for dry skin is flea allergy dermatitis, which is your dog's skin reacting to flea saliva. Depending on your dog's coat, you may be able to see fleas with the naked eye, but the other parasites will be nearly impossible to identify. It's important that you go to your vet to receive a proper diagnosis so they can create an appropriate treatment plan.
5. Weather changes
The reason your dog has dry skin could be as simple as a change in the weather. Just as humans experience dry skin and chapped lips during the cold winter, your dog may have the same issue. Outdoors, the cold air holds less moisture than warm. Which will dry out your dog's skin. But what about the warmth inside your home? Technically, if it's cold and dry outside, it's also dry inside. The artificial heating used indoors during the winter actually dries the skin out more.
Now, what about the summer? Although the air may be more humid in the summer, there is also more sun. Too much sun exposure dries out our skin and has the same effect on the skin of our dogs.
Other potential causes of dry skin
The above list features the most common causes of dry skin on your dog. But there are some potential other reasons that your pooch may be experiencing painful and itchy dry skin.
Painful red and cracked dry skin on your dog's nose could indicate a bacterial skin infection.
- Ringworm - Ringworm is a fungus that causes circular dry patches on your dog's skin. It's most commonly found around their ears, paws, front legs, and heads.
- Stress and anxiety - When your dog is stressed or anxious they may start licking or biting themselves excessively, leading to irritated, dry skin. You may also begin to notice hair falling out.
- Bacterial skin infection - Also called pyoderma, a bacterial skin infection can be caused by infection or inflammation of your dog's skin and can make your dog's skin red and dry. Pyoderma requires antibiotics, so you'll need to take your dog to the vet for a prescription.
- Hypothyroidism - Hypothyroidism can cause your dog's coat to become thinner, and their skin to become flaky (rather than red or dry). This is typically most noticeable on their back and rear legs.
- Auto-immune disease - Auto-immune disease causes crusting of your dog's skin and may also appear as cysts or lesions. They will need prescribed medication for this condition from your vet.
- Breed-specific conditions - Some breeds are more prone to dry skin than others such as Labrador Retrievers, Boxers, Terriers and Dalmatians.
How can you tell if your dog has dry skin?
Dry skin can look different on every dog and can sometimes be hard to spot, depending on your dog’s breed, coat thickness, and color. Here are some of the primary symptoms that your dog is suffering from dry skin.
Dry skin and hair loss on your dog's back could be caused by stress and anxiety.
1. Itching - A little bit of itching is part of healthy grooming habits, but if your dog is itching excessively then it's more than likely they have irritated and dry skin. If you notice them scratching you should immediately inspect the area as you don't want them to irritate it worse or break the skin.
2. Scaling - Scaly skin is one of the more common signs dryness due to weather, lack of moisture, and harsh chemical cleansers. If your dog's skin is scaly but not overly flaky or red then it's time to get some moisture back in their skin.
3. Flaking - Flaking skin appears like dandruff on your dog's coat. If you notice dandruff and flaky pieces of skin in their coat then they definitely have dry skin. Commonly this symptom is a result of lack of grooming, as there is excessive dead skin build-up.
4. Hair loss - Hair loss is also a primary indicator of dry skin. Depending on where they are losing hair your vet will be able to diagnose what is causing the problem.
5. Red skin patches - Red and irritated skin patches will tell your right away that your dog has dry skin. These are typically quite painful so you want to get to the root of the cause sooner rather than later.
6. Dehydration - - Just as humans get dry skin when they are dehydrated, so do dogs. Make sure your dog always has access to clean drinking water. If they do and it's still an issue than go and see your vet.
The best treatments for dry skin on your dog
It’s no fun to watch your dog suffer from dry skin, and there are many preventative measures you can take to support your dog’s physical health. That said, if you start to notice any of the above symptoms, here are some of the best treatments.
1. Use a flea and tick preventative
Fleas, ticks, and other parasites are a common cause of dry skin on your dog, so it’s essential to use a flea and tick preventative. Many flea and tick preventives can be toxic for your pet, such as flea collars, so always choose a safe and effective option.
Ideally, the best option is to minimize your dog's contact with fleas and ticks, such as ensuring your yard is well maintained. If you do go walking in the bush a lot then always do a tick check each time you get home to try to catch them before they cause real damage.
Of course, natural prevention only goes so far, and sometimes you might need to use something stronger to ensure your dog doesn't end up with an infestation. Always opt for natural preventatives, and when choosing sprays or oils look for the ones with the fewest ingredients to limit your dog's exposure to anything toxic.
Ensure your dog is fed a balanced diet full of healthy fats and proteins.
2. Feed your dog a balanced diet
A lack of protein and essential fatty acids in your dog’s diet can contribute to dry skin, as can poor nutrition in general. Many food brands contain highly processed and inorganic ingredients that aren’t providing your dog with the nutritional value they need. Always choose 100% organic food options and try balancing dry and wet food to get your dog extra moisture.
Additionally, it never hurts to choose foods that contain ingredients that support a healthy and moisturized coat. These include things like Salmon Oil, Flaxseed Oil, Vitamin E, and essential fatty acids.
Avoid ingredients like artificial colors, preservatives, meat meal, corn syrup, MSG, white flour, and BHA.
3. Bathe your dog properly
Use natural, mild shampoo as part of your dog's regular grooming routine.Using harsh chemical soaps on your dog can do a number on their skin. Take a look at your current bath time regime and what products you’re using on your dog. Always use mild cleansers that are made with organic, natural ingredients and free from toxic chemicals like phthalates, parabens, and SLS.
Labels, especially on pet grooming products, can sometimes be misleading and hint at the product being "green" or "vegan" but that doesn't mean it's actually good for your dog's skin. Look for soothing, moisturizing components like oatmeal and aloe vera, such as those found in OATS Calming Shampoo and OATS Calming Conditioner.
The frequency that you bathe your dog will also play a role. How often you should bathe your dog depends on the breed, but on average you should give your dog a good scrubbing at least once every four weeks. If your dog is often outdoors and getting muddy then you'll need to bathe them more frequently, but if they are mostly indoors and aren't getting super dirty then once every four weeks is enough.
4. Regular grooming
Regular grooming is important to remove the build-up of dead skin on your dog’s body. When you aren’t brushing your dog frequently, the dead skin will continue to accumulate, causing irritation and itchiness, which will lead to flaking. Ideally, you should be brushing your dog at least 4-5 times a week, but that will vary based on the breed of your dog and the length of their coat. Short-haired breeds may not need as much brushing, whereas long-haired breeds will need it once per day.
The frequency you should be grooming your dog can also depend on the time of year. In the springtime, your dog may start to shed its coat and therefore require more frequent brushing. Whenever grooming your dog, always use a high-quality brush with thick, rounded pins and a lightweight conditioning spray.
5. Use a natural skin ointment
If your dog is suffering from severely dry skin, you’ll need something to help promote healing, provide deep moisture and protect the skin from getting worse. Using an organic, natural skin ointment will give your dog some much-needed relief from the discomfort and pain associated with dry skin. It will help reduce irritation, and redness and lessen your dog’s urge to scratch, so the skin has a chance to heal. A skin ointment is great in the dry, winter months when your dog's skin is more prone to cracking.
Some great soothing ingredients to look for in a skin ointment include organic olive oil, organic evening primrose oil, organic shea butter, organic sea buckthorn seed oil, and organic marigold oil. Adding a natural skin ointment to your dog's skincare routine will always be beneficial and your pooch will definitely thank you for it!
Massage in an organic moisturizing skin ointment to your dog's dry skin.
6. Visit the vet for a diagnosis
The most important thing to do if your dog is experiencing prolonged dry skin is to take them to the vet for a professional diagnosis. The vet will be able to test for parasites, do an allergy test, recommend food options and work with you to develop a treatment plan that is right for your furry little friend. It's never a good idea to try to self-diagnose your dog's condition. The longer you wait to see a professional, the more damaging the condition can become. It's always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your furry friend!
Soothe your dog’s dry skin
Dry skin is incredibly common in dogs, and while it might just be a seasonal issue, it could also indicate larger problems with your dogs’ health. The best practice is to be pre-emptive and ensure that everything goes in and on your pet is support their overall health. Organic, natural products and foods are a great place to start, including regular grooming and health check-ups. But if your dog is experiencing prolonged dry skin, always seek the advice of a professional vet.