Beagle dog scratching

An allergy can lead to dry skin on your dog.

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Why does my dog have dry skin?

By Dr Jo de Klerk, BVetMed (Hons) MScTAH MRCVS Veterinarian

Updated on the

From poor diet to a fungal infection, there are many reasons why your dog may have dry skin. The best way to get to the bottom of it is by visiting a veterinarian.

Much like humans, dogs can also get dry skin, which in turn leads to dandruff or flaky deposits in the coat. When severe, it is known as seborrhoea.

There are many causes of dry skin on dogs and the symptoms vary as well.

What are the causes of dry skin on dogs?

Dry skin on dogs can be caused by many different things. Something as simple as a poor diet can lead to dry skin, yet it can also be a symptom of underlying health issues. These can include a poor immune system, hormonal disorders, such as hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease, allergies or skin conditions, such as parasitic, fungal or bacterial infections. A veterinarian is the best person to investigate, as many of these conditions will need prescription medication or medicated shampoo.

What are the symptoms of dry skin on dogs?

The symptoms of dry skin on dogs can vary from case to case. Sometimes the skin will be red or cracked, which is particularly common on the paws. Other times the skin becomes flaky and you will see dandruff on the coat. There may also be scabs on the skin. In severe cases with dandruff, it can lead to seborrhoea, which is when the sebaceous glands go into overdrive and cause the coat to become greasy. Sometimes dry skin can be itchy for your dog, but this is not always the situation.

What treatment is there for dry skin on dogs?

To treat dry skin, the underlying cause needs to be identified. A veterinarian will perform diagnostic tests to ascertain the cause of the dry skin and directly treat that. If your dog has a skin infection, they will need antibiotics or anti-parasitic treatment. If they have an allergy, anti-inflammatories will be needed, along with trying to identify the allergen. If they have a systemic disease, such as Cushing’s disease or hypothyroidism, they will need daily tablets to manage this.

There are also some home treatments that will help improve the dry skin alongside the prescription treatment from a vet. Adding omega oils to the diet will help build up the quality of the skin layer and decrease inflammation in the skin. Also, soothing canine shampoos can be used, such as shampoos containing oatmeal or salicylic acid.

What does dry skin on a dog look like?

Dry skin on a dog can look quite different from one animal to another, depending on the cause. It may present as dry skin that is cracked or red, flaky dandruff, scabbing, and when severe it can even become greasy, if the sebaceous glands of the skin are affected.

Can my dog have dry skin on its back?

Dry skin on the back of your dog is the most common place for it to be evident. It can be due to a poor diet, poor immune system, allergies, health conditions such as hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease, or skin infections. Flea infestations are particularly common on the back of dogs, especially at the base of the tail, so it is important to visit a vet to ascertain the cause and appropriate treatment.

Why does my dog have dry skin and dandruff?

If your dog has dry skin or dandruff, they might have an underlying health issue or skin infection, which should be investigated by a veterinarian. The most common conditions are primary conditions of the skin, such as environmental or food allergies, mites or flea infestations or fungal or bacterial skin infections. A poor diet, deficient in omega oils, can also lead to dry skin with dandruff and this can easily be addressed. In more uncommon cases, the dry skin and dandruff can be due to internal problems such as an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), an adrenal gland disease known as Cushing’s disease, or any condition that lowers the immune system. If a veterinarian has ruled out all underlying health conditions, simple things such as over-washing with shampoo can cause dryness of the skin.

If your dog has dandruff, brushing them daily will help remove it and spread the natural oils through the coat to improve the moisture of the skin and coat.

Why does my dog have dry flaky skin and scabs?

If your dog has flaky, dry skin accompanied by scabs, this is usually an indication of an underlying infection. The most common type of infection is caused by parasites, especially fleas, yet fungal and bacterial infections can also cause scabbing. To check for fleas, you can do a paper towel test. Give your dog’s coat a good rub over with a white paper towel, and observe if any specks of dirt fall out onto it. If there are some specks, put a drop of water on them, and if they leave a red or brown stain on the towel, then this indicates that it is flea dirt and your dog might have a flea infection. Be aware, that you do not always see fleas on your dog, as 95% of fleas live in the environment.

Regardless of whether or not fleas are the underlying cause of your dog’s flaky skin and scabs, you should take them to a veterinarian, as skin that is scabby is usually uncomfortable and itchy, and therefore he will need treatment as soon as possible.

Why does my dog have dry, flaky skin and is losing hair?

If your dog has dry, flaky skin and is losing hair, it will be for one of two reasons. Firstly, it could be that the condition causing the dry, flaky skin is resulting in inflammation in the skin, and therefore damaging the hair follicles, resulting in hair loss. Or secondly, it could be that your dog is uncomfortable and licking or scratching the area, resulting in self-trauma and hair loss. A visit to a veterinarian will help determine the underlying cause and enable your dog to get treatment for his discomfort and skin condition.

What can I put on my dog's dry skin?

If your dog has dry skin, you should first visit a vet to get a diagnosis of why their skin is like that. Once you have a targeted treatment plan, then you can start looking at things to put on the skin to improve it, in conjunction with the prescription medication.

An effective remedy for dry skin is a spot-on product containing ceramides and fatty acids (omega oils) to restore the skin barrier. This is available from the vet. There are also shampoos that a veterinarian will be able to direct you to, which are moisturising and soothing. You should always take a vet's advice when it comes to shampoos, as many shampoos will dry out the skin further.

How can I treat my dog's dry skin naturally?

There is not a definitive answer to how to treat your dog’s dry skin naturally, as it depends on the underlying cause. If your dog has a serious internal illness causing his skin problems, such as Cushing’s disease, it will be detrimental to their health to try to treat it naturally.

If you have been to the veterinarian, and he or she has given your dog the all clear, the best natural remedy is to increase the omega oils in your dog’s diet. These ideally should be in the ratio of 3:1 omega-6 to omega-3. There are natural dog supplements containing these ratios of fatty acids, and bear in mind that ingredients such as flaxseed oil, hemp seed oil and coconut oil can also be added to the diet.

Can I use olive oil for my dog's dry skin?

A common home remedy for dry skin in dogs is to add olive oil to their food. Up to two teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil can be added to a medium-sized dog’s meals twice a day. This is not toxic to your dog and it contains fatty acids known as omega oils, which build up the skin barrier and help reduce inflammation.

Having said that, olive oil is not specifically formulated to heal skin conditions and does not contain the ideal ratios of omega-6 to omega-3 (3:1). As such, there are significantly better omega oil products on the market that are more targeted to helping improve your dog’s skin. In addition, extra virgin olive oil is expensive, and therefore you can purchase more effective products at cheaper prices from your local pet store or veterinarian.

Can I put coconut oil on my dog?

You can apply coconut oil in small quantities directly to your dog’s skin to help soothe it. The easiest way is to rub a small amount into your hands, pat your dog’s coat, then massage it in. Applying too much might make the coat oily and exacerbate the problem, so always discuss using coconut oil with a vet before applying it.

Can I leave coconut oil on my dog's skin?

You can leave coconut oil on your dog’s skin in small quantities, as it will either absorb or rub off during the day. Coconut oil is excellent for restoring moisture and soothing the skin. But it should only be used in very small quantities. It will not completely resolve the reason for dry skin, so it is still important that the underlying cause is treated too.

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