Dry, scaly, itchy skin does more than irritate your dog. This could lead to infection or be associated with another serious medical condition. Part of stopping itching is identifying the cause of dry skin. From there, you can find potential solutions that will (most likely) include seeing a vet. There are ways to treat and prevent dry skin from returning, so your dog can stay happy and healthy.
Symptoms of dry skin
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For a dog, flaky skin is usually caused by more than just dry skin. An underlying disease is often to blame, so you may see other symptoms like:
- Red skin
- Flaking of the skin
- Hair loss
- Increase in creaminess
The scratches and bites that often accompany dry skin can be just as dangerous to the dog as the underlying cause. Open wounds create a pathway for infection and other health problems. Therefore, it is important to treat dry skin before it becomes a bigger problem.
Causes of Dry Skin in Dogs
The causes of your dog’s flaky skin can range from simple conditions like dry winter air to complex chronic conditions like hypothyroidism. Any of the following (and more!) could be the cause of a dog’s dry skin.
Dogs can suffer from food, environmental, and seasonal allergies, all of which can cause skin problems. Common ingredients in dog food like beef or chicken can trigger allergies in some dogs. Environmental and seasonal allergies are even more common and originate in the dog’s environment. Triggers include things like dust mites, weeds, pollen, and mold spores. Of the many potential allergens, flea saliva remains one of the most common. However, as you will see in the sections on treatment and prevention, there are ways to control allergy-related dry skin.
Although not pleasant to think about, parasites are a potential cause of dry, itchy skin. In dogs, the most common are fleas, ticks, Demodex mite and canine mange. Lice are another creepy crawler that could cause skin problems in dogs. You will need a veterinarian to diagnose the type of parasite (except perhaps for fleas and ticks) and recommend treatment.
Itching and flaking can be an external symptom of an internal hormonal problem, the most common in dogs being Cushing’s disease and hypothyroidism. Cushing’s disease, also known as hyperadrenocorticism, is often seen in middle age in older dogs and certain breeds like Standard Schnauzers and Fox Terriers. A hormonal disease requires diagnosis and treatment guided by a veterinarian.
Many bacterial and fungal infections cause itchy and dry skin. These types of infections include everything from yeast infections to Staphylococcus strains. Certain conditions such as allergies or Cushing’s disease can make a dog more susceptible to getting a skin infection.
A dog’s diet influences all aspects of its health, including skin and coat. Dietary deficiencies can certainly contribute to dry skin, hair loss and other visible symptoms of poor health. If diet is causing the issues, you may need to work with a veterinarian to determine if your dog is getting the right nutrients for his age and lifestyle or to diagnose a food allergy.
Breed-specific skin issues
Some breeds of dogs are prone to skin problems due to inbreeding which has been used to enhance some characteristics and eliminate others. Hairless breeds like the Xoloitzcuintli and the Peruvian Inca Orchid tend to have skin problems, although you don’t have to worry about shedding. Breeds that have thick coats, such as Newfoundlands and Malamutes, are prone to skin problems if not groomed regularly. Other breeds like Bulldogs, Shar-Peis, and Doberman Pinschers are prone to allergies, hypothyroidism, and other medical conditions that include dry skin among their symptoms.
Treatment for dry skin
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For most pet owners, treating their dog’s dry skin starts with a trip to the veterinarian. It’s the only way to rule out some of the most serious problems that could be at work.
If the vet suspects food allergies, they may recommend an elimination diet. In this case, you would buy dog food with a limited ingredient list or that is made with hydrolyzed protein to see how the dog reacts to it. It’s a process of eliminating potential allergens and gradually reintroducing them until you find the offending ingredients.
Seasonal or environmental allergies require a multi-pronged approach to avoid the allergen whenever possible and reduce sensitivity to it. For example, effective flea prevention will prevent dry skin caused by flea saliva allergy. However, eliminating a dog’s exposure to pollen is difficult. In this case, allergy medications and injections can help.
Other treatment options may include:
- Dietary modifications or supplements
- Medicated shampoos
- Topical ointments and creams
- Flea and Tick Treatments
- Using a humidifier (or dehumidifier)
Prevent dry skin
Prevention makes life better for you and your dog. Although preventive measures cannot stop all episodes of dry skin, they can reduce them. Basic prevention includes:
- A complete and balanced diet with high quality dog food
- Regular flea and tick treatments
- Following veterinarian instructions, including the use of medications, supplements, and medicated shampoos
- Keep the skin clean, but don’t over bathe the dog
- Know what diseases the breed is susceptible to
- Use dog-specific mild shampoos and products
- Regular veterinary checks
Dogs are the carefree members of the household. When they are healthy, they are happy. Preventive care and prompt treatment for dry skin will keep your dog happy and ready for life.
Featured photo courtesy: Pixabay