A Vet’s Guide To Treating Your Dog’s Dry Skin

By Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / Honayst

Dry skin in your dog can be one of the most frustrating health conditions to deal with as an owner. You feel sympathetic for the discomfort your pet is experiencing and at the same time, all that scratching can keep you up at night. As a veterinarian, I’ve outlined the background knowledge for what could be causing your pet’s dry skin, when to visit your pet’s veterinarian, and some helpful tips on improving your dog’s skin and coat.

What is Dry Skin in Dogs?

The medical term for dry skin is Seborrhea or seborrheic dermatitis. This is a disorder of the skin where the sebaceous glands in the skin produce an excessive amount of waxy oil, called sebum. The imbalance of sebum creates a scaly, flaky, and/or red look to the skin. The flakes you see are sloughed dead skin cells, and the coat can appear oily or dry.

What Causes Symptoms of Canine Dry Skin?

1. Low humidity

If you live in an environment with dry air, your pet may experience dry flaky skin with mild itchiness that isn’t usually accompanied with any other clinical signs.

2. Parasite infestations

Parasites like fleas, Demodex, and scabies mites are intensely itchy. With the exception of fleas, you will not see these with the naked eye but your vet can easily diagnose them for you. You might notice missing fur and intense itchiness.

3. Allergies

Skin hypersensitivities are a very common cause of dry skin and can range from parasites (fleas), food, or the environment. These usually cause incessant licking, scratching, redness, ear infections, and secondary bacterial infections.

4. Inadequate hydration and nutrition

Diets that lack necessary nutrients like oils, moisture content, probiotics, and enzymes can cause dryness and dullness of the coat.

5. Infections

Bacterial and fungal infections can cause the skin to appear red, flaky, dry, and/or itchy.

6. Hormone or metabolic changes

Disruptions in the endocrine system and metabolic disorders will change the skin and coat’s appearance.

A Vet Visit Is Needed When You See Any of the Following

After your vet determines the underlying cause of the dry skin and other signs you are seeing in your pet, they will recommend very effective prescription medications and products. These could include antimicrobials, immunotherapeutics, anti-inflammatories, and topical therapies such as medicated sprays and shampoos. Hypoallergenic shampoo can work wonders. Soap-free is best!

Tips for Improving Dry Skin

If there are no other underlying causes, you can use these tips to prevent your pet’s skin from drying out or acquiring the secondary symptoms listed above.

  1. When shampooing your dog, use a gentle moisturizing shampoo with humectants made for dogs (human shampoo is at the wrong pH for dogs). Then follow up with a conditioner.
  2. After the shampoo, do not blow dry your dog’s coat if you can avoid it. Even cool blow dryers will dry out the coat. Toweling down and blotting to absorb the majority of the moisture will be effective enough and your dog’s whole body shake will do the rest. If you get your dog groomed, kindly request that the groomer turn down the blow dryer to the lowest setting or not use one at all.
  3. Feed a nutritionally balanced diet. Most packaged dog food from pet stores are nutritionally balanced for dogs. Be sure to look for the AAFCO symbol on the back of dog food to be sure. If this symbol is not on the feed packaging, then it is not being appropriately regulated and may not contain the nutrients your dog needs to maintain healthy skin and a fur coat.
  4. Adding a little moist food and supplying fresh water will increase your dog’s hydration intake which will add moisture to the skin.
  5. Supplementing your dog’s diet with products like NaturVet Skin and Coat Dog Soft Chews, fish oil, and/or probiotics can improve the coat and skin condition.
  6. Continue flea preventative all year long. This is a standard veterinary recommendation, even if you rarely see a flea. That’s because as soon as a flea jumps on and bites your dog, the saliva is allergenic enough to cause itching and scratching which creates a vicious cycle of inflammation and infection. It’s better to just prevent a bite.
  7. Moisturizing wipes are great for hard-to-clean areas like skin folds in bulldogs, shar-peis, and pugs.

Implementing a healthy skin and coat regimen will relieve your dog of pesky dry skin signs so you can sleep easy and their coat can shine brightly.

Dr. Ari Aycock-Williams D. V. M. D. A. C. L. A. M.

Dr. Ari Aycock-Williams is a board-certified, licensed, and USDA-accredited veterinarian. She earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree at Michigan State University in 2009. Dr. Aycock-Williams went on to complete her residency and certification in Laboratory Animal Medicine at the University of Southern California. Currently, she is the Senior Clinical Veterinarian at USC in the Department of Animal Resources.