How do I deal with my dog's dry skin?

Skin Care

Dry skin can often be itchy, so be on the lookout for your dog scratching and chewing at themselves more than usual.

If you notice that your dog has dry skin, it is a good idea to take them to your vet, as a number of things can cause this problem.

Because of the serious nature of some conditions that show dry skin as a symptom, the first step should be a check-up with the vet to test for those and identify if your dog has a parasite. Once medical issues are covered, a number of measures are available that have helped dogs with dry skin.

A skin condition can be one of the clearest indications of just how well your furry friend is feeling and is an important factor in keeping them healthy. Just as for humans, there are a number of dog skin conditions, some of which can result in sensitive or dry skin. Anyone that has lived with dogs for a while is familiar with the sound of an itchy dog as they go to town with paws and teeth, often in the middle of the night while you are trying to get some sleep! If dog itchy skin is a problem, your dog could have dry skin, either as the reason for the itch or because of the scratching. There is no doubt that constant scratching or the feeling of dry skin is no fun for your pooch, so the reason for it needs discovering.

How can I tell if my itchy dog is due to dry skin?

Dry skin can often be itchy, so be on the lookout for your dog scratching and chewing at themselves more than usual. Dry skin will often flake, made worse by scratching, meaning that if you part your dog’s coat you could see flakes of skin or dandruff. The skin may be covered in what looks like a rash of little pimples or, especially if the dog has been scratching at the spot for a while, scabs. The skin might be obviously irritated, red and sore. Dry skin, especially if combined with the symptom of increased oiliness, can form large shiny scales, which can then be prone to cracking and possibly bleeding. Many skin conditions can result in hair loss, excessive compared to usual shedding, and frequently in patches corresponding to the dry skin. Certain dog skin problems will have a particular very noticeable unpleasant odour.

What causes dry skin in dogs?

If you notice that your dog has dry skin, it is a good idea to take them to your vet, as a number of things can cause this problem.

Some medical conditions cause dry skin, but the real problem can be much more serious. The two main issues linked to dry skin are Cushing’s disease and hypothyroidism. Both require veterinary diagnosis and treatment plans and will need life-long monitoring and medication to control them. In these cases, there are often other symptoms like hair loss and dry, brittle hair. There may also be skin infections. Cancer can result in dry skin, as can some autoimmune disorders. These are all very serious conditions, and this is why a dog with dry skin should see a vet in the first instance.

Skin infections, whether bacterial, viral, or fungal, can cause a number of skin symptoms in dogs, including dry skin. The vet will take a skin scraping to examine and see exactly what the problem is. Skin infections can also be a symptom of larger problems. Some can be transmitted to humans (for example the fungal infection ringworm) so care should be taken when handling dogs with skin infections. If you can detect a musty smell and have noticed that your dog’s itchy ears or paws are a particular problem, they may have a yeast infection. If untreated, a yeast infection can result in the skin drying and thickening to resemble elephant skin.

Allergies, whether to food, environmental factors or seasonal allergens, can cause the skin to become dry. If these allergies are not treated, the allergic dog can develop allergic dermatitis, making the skin inflamed, red and dry, which can then crack and become very painful, leaving a breach in the skin’s defences to allow infection in. Common allergies are to pollen, dust, grass, and flea saliva. Allergic reactions to flea bites are one of the most common skin disorders seen, so it is really important to make sure your dog is protected from creepy crawlies. Food allergies can be a problem and common ingredients that cause problems for dogs are beef, maize, soy, wheat, dairy, chicken and eggs.

A dog with dandruff and itchy skin can have issues with other parasites like lice or mites. Mites can cause a condition called mange, which has two types. Sarcoptic mange, also known as canine scabies, usually affects the ears, face, and legs. Affected skin is itchy and red, with hair loss and sores, and the surrounding skin dries out. This type spreads easily among dogs and to people, although the mites cannot survive on people. The other type of mange is demodectic mange and causes bald spots, sores and scabbing. This type is not contagious to other dogs, nor can it be spread to people.

Dry environmental conditions dry skin out. Living in a dry environment removes moisture from the skin. If not replaced, this leads to the skin drying out. This is usually more of a problem over the winter when we turn the heating up inside once the temperatures fall.

Excessive bathing will strip the natural oils from your dog’s skin and coat. Using human products to bath dogs is also a bad idea as dogs have a different skin pH. Insufficient grooming can result in hair matting and the skin underneath becoming unhealthy as oils can build up and cause the skin to form large scales.

How to treat these dog skin problems

Because of the serious nature of some conditions that show dry skin as a symptom, the first step should be a check-up with the vet to test for those and identify if your dog has a parasite. Once medical issues are covered, a number of measures are available that have helped dogs with dry skin.

Feeding a quality diet, full of real ingredients and no fillers, is one of the very best ways to promote skin health. Feeding moist foods is also far superior to feeding dry kibble, as dry food will absorb water in the dog’s body, dehydrating them as they eat. Although dry fed dogs will generally drink more, this is not always enough to balance the water absorption and so can dry their skin. Essential fatty acids are vital for skin health. If you are not feeding a diet that is already plentiful in omega-3 and omega-6 oils, you will need to supplement the dog’s diet. Fish oils are a great source of omega-3 and omega-6 is in a variety of vegetables and vegetable oils.

Vitamin E oil is great for dry skin and can be rubbed directly onto the dog’s coat and skin on particularly dry areas. Coconut or olive oil are other options of how to cure dogs itchy skin. An oatmeal wash is great for helping to stop the itching of dry skin and has anti-inflammatory properties. Grind up oatmeal into a powder and mix with water to use as a kind of poultice dressing on affected spots, or mix in water to bathe your dog, letting them soak in it for a few minutes if they will. Oatmeal shampoos can also be purchased in pet stores if you don’t want to make your own.

Avoid bathing your dog too much, so that the natural oils are not constantly stripped from the skin. Always use appropriate dog shampoo to avoid irritating the skin with the wrong products, and make sure you thoroughly rinse the coat of shampoo. Regular grooming distributes the natural oils around the dog’s skin and coat and gives you a good chance to have a look at both coat and skin and spot any problem areas as early as possible.

If the air is dry, for example in winter, a humidifier can add moisture back into the air, which will help stop the drying process.

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