Dry skin on dogs is an unpleasant problem for both the dog and the owner, and one of the most common reasons for visiting a veterinarian. Dry skin can occur as a result of poor nutrition and a lack of vitamins and minerals, as well as from excessive bathing and the use of the wrong products that can act too abrasively and aggressively on the dog’s skin. Dry skin in dogs can also be a symptom of a more serious condition such as hormonal disorders of the thyroid gland, Cushing syndrome, or testicular and ovarian tumors. Here, you can learn about the causes of dry skin in dogs, what symptoms indicate that your dog is suffering from this condition and, of course, how you can help him.
What Causes Dry Skin on Dogs
The dog’s skin has multiple roles; it serves as a protective barrier, it regulates the body temperature, and it gives a sense of touch and pain. It consists of three layers, and for this topic, the most interesting of them is the epidermis or the outer layer of the skin. This layer contains numerous glands, pores, and hair follicles and their function is conditioned by the action of hormones, nutrition, and the environment. If there is an imbalance of these factors in the epidermis, the skin may become too oily or too dry.1Moriello, K.A. (June 2018). Structure of the Skin in Dogs. MSD Veterinary Manual. Retrieved 11 September 2020.
Dry skin on dogs can occur as a symptom of some skin conditions like hormonal disorders, dermatitis, or can be caused by parasitic infection. Parasites usually get on the skin when owners forget to give antiparasitic protection.
In most cases, if an allergic reaction or dermatitis doesn’t develop, owners can solve the problem on their own by giving the dog antiparasitic protection. Also, dry skin can occur due to environmental reasons such as lack of humidity, too much bathing, allergies, or using products that are not intended for dogs.
Dry Skin on Dogs Caused by Parasitic Infections
The most common parasitic skin problem is fleas. Fleas are parasites that live on a dog’s skin, feeding on it and the dog’s blood. Symptoms that indicate that your dog is infested with fleas can range between mild to severe skin issues like allergic dermatitis, which is manifested by dry skin, hair loss, and severe itching and infection. If you suspect that your dog is infested with fleas, you can find out more about that topic on “Fleas on dogs”.
Other parasites that can cause skin infections in dogs and lead to dry skin are mites. Mites are very contagious and are easily transmitted from one dog to another. When dogs have skin conditions caused by parasites, owners are often very afraid that they could be affected by those parasites. Mites and fleas can pass from dog to owner, but they can only live on a human body for a short period of time because they are only able to eat and reproduce on dogs.
When dogs have these types of parasites their skin gets very itchy and inflamed. One of the more severe parasitic infections is caused by Demodex, a parasite that can occur in two forms: locally and generalized. In case of Demodex infestation, infected areas become dry and hairless and these dogs have flaky skin. This problem needs to be treated by a veterinarian because, in order to properly identify this condition, a vet needs to do skin scraping and look under the microscope to see if there is a presence of this parasite. Only when the cause is confirmed can the vet start treatment.
Dry Skin on Dogs as a Symptom of Internal Diseases
Often, dry skin is not only a topical problem. Sometimes it can be a symptom that indicates that something more serious is happening to the dog. A serious disorder that can cause visible changes in the skin is hypothyroidism, an endocrine disorder where the concentration of thyroid hormone is reduced. One of the manifestations of this disease is dry thickened areas on the skin, along with discoloration.
Another disorder that can lead to dry skin is Cushing’s syndrome. Cushing’s syndrome is a hormonal disorder caused by elevated cortisol levels. Symptoms include increased water intake, more frequent urination, increased appetite in the dog, and changes in the skin such as dry, thin skin and hair. It can also occur as a result of corticosteroid treatment.
Other diseases that can lead to dry skin on dogs are tumors, specifically tumors on the ovaries and testicles. Symptoms can range from problems with urination, weight gain, swelling in the scrotal area, infertility, and changes in the skin such as dry patchy areas, hyperpigmentation, and hairless areas. Tumors of the ovaries and testicles are more common in older animals that have not been neutered. In dogs, testicular tumors most commonly occur in males in whom one or both testicles are not descended into the scrotum (cryptorchidism).
Dry Skin on Dogs Due to Nutritional Disorders
Nutrition is very important for the health and beauty of a dog’s skin and coat. If a dog’s diet is poor and unbalanced, it will affect the skin. Dry, flaky skin on dogs, hair without shine, and other accompanying symptoms can be the result of a lack of vitamins and minerals.
Essential fatty acid deficiencies that affect dryness and skin quality are omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Deficiency of vitamins A and E, biotin, and minerals like selenium and zinc can also affect skin appearance, elasticity, and quality.
Quite often the difference on the skin is noticed when the dog’s diet changes. You should pay attention if there are any changes on the dog’s skin after you changed, added or subtracted something in its diet.
Dry Skin on Dogs Due to Environmental Reasons
As every dog is different, the skin of each dog is observed individually. Skin has microorganisms that live on it and protect it rather than harm it. They coexist with the individual they live on and are different in each dog.
The microorganisms that live on the skin of a dog depend on the environment in which the dog lives. If the dog lives in poor, unhygienic conditions, without regular bathing and brushing, and it’s constantly exposed to the outside weather conditions, it’s more likely that the balance of microorganisms that live on the dog will be disturbed and the probability of skin conditions rises.
Also, very often in dogs, as in humans, skin dries out in winter due to the sharp wind, cold air and strong heating in the house, and in summer due to the reduction of humidity in the air. If these are the reasons for your dog’s dry skin, and most often they are, you should pay more attention to the products you use for your dog’s skin, and using a humidifier in the rooms where the dog is staying can help.
Excessive bathing can also be a cause of dry skin. Dogs should not be bathed too often because excessive washing removes the greasy surface layer that protects the skin, and the skin becomes dry and prone to skin diseases. You should also be careful with products you use on your dog because using harsh shampoos or shampoos that are not intended for dogs can lead to irritation and dry skin.
When buying dog shampoo, be sure to choose one that contains as many natural ingredients as possible. Natural ingredients that are beneficial for dry skin in dogs are aloe vera and oatmeal, which moisturize the skin.
While the dog shouldn’t be bathed too often, this doesn’t include paws. They can be washed every day. It is also important to regularly clean the bed or the place where the dog is staying.2Cuscó, A., Belanger, J.M., Gershony, L., Islas-Trejo, A., Levy, K., Medrano, J.F., Sánchez, A., Oberbauer A.M., Francino, O. (October 2017). Individual signatures and environmental factors shape skin microbiota in healthy dogs. VL – 5 DO – 10.1186/s40168-017-0355-6 JO. Microbiome ER.
Atopic dermatitis is an allergic disease that can be caused by house mites, plant pollens, or other airborne or plant allergens that can be identified with an allergy test. Symptoms of atopic dermatitis include redness, dry skin and itching. Oftentimes, dogs will lick and bite their paws and stomach. Symptoms can also occur in younger dogs, and are strongest during the year when there are the most allergens.
According to a study on canine atopic dermatitis conducted in Switzerland, these are breeds of dogs that have shown a predisposition to these skin problems:
- West Highland White Terrier
- Mixed Breeds
- Golden Retriever
- German Shepherd
- French Bulldog
- Bull Terrier
- Jack Russell Terrier
- Rhodesian Ridgeback
- Pug3Picco, Federica & Zini, E & Nett, Claudia & Naegeli, C & Bigler, Beat & Rüfenacht, S & Roosje, Petra & Ricklin, Meret & Wilhelm, Sylvia & Pfister, J & Meng, E & Favrot, C. (2008). A prospective study on canine atopic dermatitis and food-induced allergic dermatitis in Switzerland. Picco, Federica. A prospective study on canine atopic dermatitis and food-induced allergic dermatitis in Switzerland. Veterinary dermatology. 19. 150-5. 10.1111/j.1365-3164.2008.00669.x.
Treatment of atopic dermatitis includes antihistamines, corticosteroids, and immunotherapy. This is a chronic disease and many veterinarians recommend the use of mild dog shampoos along with medication therapy to topically soothe a dog’s skin and prevent further irritation.
Symptoms of Dry Skin on Dogs
It is very important to monitor the symptoms on the skin, because often the symptoms and dry skin itself can indicate a major problem or systemic disorder. Some of the symptoms of dry skin on dogs are the following:
- Flaky skin
- Peeling of the skin
- Frequent shedding
- Irritated and slightly red skin
It is important that if you notice additional symptoms such as increased appetite, increased water intake, frequent urination, larger hairless areas, severe redness, scratching, and constant chipping and biting of the paws, stomach and tail, you consult your veterinarian who will make an accurate diagnosis.
What Can I Put on My Dog for Dry Skin?
It’s very important to pay attention to whether dry skin has appeared as a symptom of allergies, parasites, hormonal disorder or if it’s the result of the usage of wrong products.
The method of treatment depends on the cause of this condition. It is very important to consult a veterinarian and explain everything you have noticed in order to determine the exact cause. Treatment is usually carried out by applying the therapy directly to the dog’s skin, and in some cases the application of medication by a veterinarian is required.
In the case of ectoparasite infection, prevention is the most important thing. By using antiparasitic spot-on, collars and similar antiparasitic agents, you will prevent ectoparasitic infestation. If your dog is not protected and you notice more serious symptoms such as severe itching, redness, hair loss, this remedy will not be enough and going to the vet will be the best option.
If the dog has dry skin, and sheds too much as a result of poor nutrition, nothing you put on the dog will work. In this case, it is important to change his diet. Foods that are enriched with minerals like zinc and vitamins like A, D3 and C that affect the quality of the dog’s skin and hair are widely available.
Pet owners should be careful with what they put on the dog’s skin. They often use creams and lotions intended for humans, which can be harmful to dogs. Creams and lotions for humans are not good for pets because they contain chemicals that dogs can ingest by licking, and as a consequence, pets can have stomach aches and diarrhea.
On dogs we should only use products that are just right for them. If the veterinarians determine that the cause of dry skin is an allergy or seborrhea, they will recommend a special medical shampoo for your dog. Medical shampoos contain special components and must be used according to the instructions.4Moriello, K.A., DVM, DACVD. (June 2018). Treatment of Skin Disorders in Dogs. MSD Veterinary Manual. Retrieved 12 September 2020.
If your pet does not need special treatment with medical shampoo and has dry skin, it is recommended to use mild shampoos for dogs that contain natural ingredients such as aloe vera and oatmeal, because they moisturize and soothe dry skin.
The shampoo is very important for the treatment of dry skin, if you take your dog for grooming, draw the groomer’s attention to the fact that the dog has dry and sensitive skin, or bring a shampoo that you know is suitable for your dog. It is best to use mild, natural-based shampoos and when shampooing a dog, it is good to leave the soap on for a few minutes so that the skin absorbs the ingredients before rinsing.
How to Prevent Dry Skin on Dogs
It doesn’t matter if dry skin occurs on dogs’ backs, elbows, feet, or belly, we can prevent it in the same way. What the dog eats affects his appearance, so diet plays a big role in preventing dry skin. There are foods on the market that are intended for dogs that have skin problems, so if you want to improve their diet, look for foods enriched with zinc, magnesium, antioxidants, and vitamins A, E, D, and C.
If you want to improve your dog’s diet but are worried because your pet is picky and refuses to eat new foods, don’t worry. If a dog does not eat a meal, it does not mean that you must immediately return to the food he likes but does not do him any good. Pour the food into a bowl and leave it. When the dog becomes hungry, he will forget about his pickiness because he will have no choice and will eat the food you left. Just be patient.
Also, something you can do to prevent your dog’s dry skin is to establish a regular bathing routine. Bathe your dog regularly but don’t overdo it, because too frequent bathing removes the oily layer of the skin and damages the normal microflora that every dog has. If the skin is disturbed, it becomes dry and sensitive and is more susceptible to the penetration of bad bacteria, fungus, and infection. The dog should get used to grooming from an early age. If you have puppies, it is recommended not to bathe them for up to two months, and only after a visit to the vet when he has received the vaccines and all the protection he needs.
It is very important that when you bathe the dog the water is neither ice cold nor too hot, but at a lukewarm temperature. It is enough to bathe the dog every two or three months. Of course, if the dog gets dirty you can bathe it a few more times.
It is also very important to regularly clean dog brushes, their beds, and clothes if the dog is wearing them, because sometimes bad bacteria can accumulate in these places and that can harm the health of your pet’s skin.
Natural Remedies for Dry Skin on Dogs
Home remedies for dogs are not often recommended by veterinarians as there are not many clinical studies that show their benefits to dogs. If you still want to try some natural remedies on your own, these are the most common natural ingredients that owners use for milder forms of dry skin in dogs.
Organic Apple Cider Vinegar for Dry Skin on Dogs
One of the simplest home remedies that you can use is apple cider vinegar. This product helps to clean the skin and prevent unpleasant odors. If you want to use apple cider vinegar on your dog, it is best to get an organic one and dilute it with water in a ratio of 1:1. It is also recommended not to use it often, as it destroys a healthy layer of the skin when overused.
Also, you shouldn’t use apple cider vinegar if the skin is cracked or damaged because it can cause more irritation.
After you prepare the mixture of apple cider vinegar and water, run a cloth soaked in the solution over the dog’s skin and hair. The sour smell of the vinegar evaporates from the dog very quickly and if you want to add a nicer smell you can put one to two drops of organic lavender essence that will give a nice smell and at the same time drive insects away from the skin.5Gopal, J., Dawson, V.A., Muthu, M., Gansukh, E., Jung, S., Chul, S., Ayyakkannu, S. (December 11, 2017) Authenticating apple cider vinegar’s home remedy claims: antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral properties and cytotoxicity aspect. Nat Prod Res. 2019 Mar;33(6):906-910. DOI: 10.1080/14786419.2017.1413567. Epub 2017 Dec 11. PMID: 29224370
Aloe Vera for Dry Skin on Dogs
Aloe vera is a plant that is widely used in dermal cosmetics and its effects on the skin are well known. It has an anti-inflammatory and soothing effect. In Holland Veterinary Clinic, veterinarians used aloe vera to treat various problems in animals, like mastitis. It showed to be a good addition to antibiotic therapy for various skin and gastrointestinal diseases.6Coats, B.C., Ahola, R. Aloe Vera the New Millennium: The Future of Wellness in the 21st Century. 264.-269.
It is used by cutting the leaf in half and applying the thick gel inside to the dry skin.
Oatmeal for Dry Skin on Dogs
Oats are a natural source of ingredients that reduce inflammation in the body. This means they have anti-inflammatory, anti-irritant, anti-itching, and moisturizing effects. Today, colloidal oatmeal suspensions can be found in many shampoos, creams, and lotions for both humans and dogs precisely because of their mild and soothing effect on the skin.7Fowler Jr, J. (October 13, 2014). Colloidal oatmeal formulations and the treatment of atopic dermatitis. J Drugs Dermatol. 1180-3; quiz 1184-5. PMID: 25607551.
At home, you can make a solution by grinding one cup of oatmeal in a blender and mixing it with the same amount of water. If the paste is too thick, you can add more water and apply this mixture on the dog after bathing. Leave it on for 10-15 minutes and then rinse with lukewarm water.
If you do not have time to make this mixture for every bathing, a more simple option is to get a shampoo containing oatmeal. That way you will shorten the bathing process and moisturize the dog’s skin in one go. Also, as a vet and pet owner, I know that homemade preparations like this one are very difficult to apply to a dog, especially if the dog is restless when bathing like mine. I personally avoid them, but many owners like home remedies, so I think that everyone should look for a solution that suits them and their pet best.8Fowler Jr, J. (October 13, 2014). Colloidal oatmeal formulations and the treatment of atopic dermatitis. J Drugs Dermatol. 1180-3; quiz 1184-5. PMID: 25607551.
Supplements for Dry Skin on Dogs
Supplements that contain omega 3 fatty acids (like fish oil), and vitamins A and E are something you can add to your dog’s diet. As inflammation of any tissues is the starting point for the development of major health problems, the use of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids is recommended to prevent many diseases, such as diseases of the joints and bones, nervous system, cardiovascular system, and skin.9Bauer, J.E., DVM, PhD, DACVN. (December 1, 2011). Therapeutic use of fish oils in companion animals. 1;239(11):1441-51. DOI: 10.2460/javma.239.11.1441. PMID: 22087720.
Skin supplements that are on the market often contain vitamins that, together with these fatty acids, have a beneficial effect on the appearance and quality of your pet’s skin and hair. Regardless of their potentially positive effect, before using supplements it is always a good idea to consult a veterinarian about which one would best suit your dog.
Since dog skin is covered with hair whose length varies from short to quiet long, dog owners may find it harder to notice that their pet’s skin is dry and irritated. Most often this problem is detected when brushing or when the owners notice white spots on the furniture from dry peeling skin.
Dry skin on a dog can be a very irritating problem because it itches and creates daily discomfort. It is very important to pay attention to the symptoms that the dog has, because sometimes changes in the skin can indicate a more serious disorder, allergy, or hormonal imbalance.
Owners need to keep their dog’s skin as healthy as possible by paying attention to their dog’s diet to ensure they are getting enough vitamins, minerals and omega-3 fatty acids, and by protecting the dog from ectoparasites.
Brushing and bathing your dog regularly is also important, but keep in mind that you don’t need to overdo it and that you should use products that are designed especially for dogs. It is always better to use shampoos that contain natural ingredients, and this is especially important when it comes to dogs that have dry skin. The natural ingredients that are desirable in this case are oatmeal and aloe vera because they nourish the skin and help maintain moisture.
If the skin, in addition to being dry and flaky, also becomes very red and inflamed, and the dog’s hair begins to fall out, or there is a change in the dog’s mood and appetite, you have a very good reason to visit the vet as soon as possible.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Dry Skin on Dogs
How to Treat Dry Skin on Dogs?
Dry skin can be treated only when the cause is known with certainty. The causes of dry skin can be parasites, poor diet, hormonal imbalances, allergies, and even tumors that are not visible on the skin. Very often the causes are not serious, and can be as simple as the use of the wrong products for the dog’s skin or lack of humidity. To learn more about causes, go to the section 'What Causes Dry Skin on Dogs.'
How Can I Treat My Dog’s Skin Naturally?
Using herbal shampoos and preparations is the best option for treating dry dog skin. Some of the natural home remedies that can be used are apple cider vinegar and lavender essential oil but you should take precautions when using them. Don’t use them too often and always dilute them. Also, aloe vera is a good natural remedy that soothes skin and calms irritation. Many veterinarians do not recommend that owners experiment with home remedies for dog skin because there are not many clinical studies done on dogs, unlike humans, to show their benefits to animal health. It is very important to understand that what is good for your skin, and what you apply to yourself, does not necessarily mean that it is good for your dog’s skin as well. Dogs have a fatty layer that protects them from infections, so it is very important that the balance of the skin is not disturbed.
How to Soothe Dry Skin on Dogs?
You can do this by first brushing your dog well, then washing it with a mild dog shampoo which contains aloe vera extract and oatmeal – ingredients that help keep the dog’s skin moist. You can also make a solution of water and organic apple cider vinegar, and wipe the dog with this mixture. It will soothe your pet’s skin and take out all the dirt.
Can You Put Vaseline on a Dog’s Dry Skin?
Vaseline is recommended by veterinarians to be used in the winter to lubricate the dog’s paws and pads because it creates a protective layer from frostbite. If you use vaseline to lubricate your dog’s dry skin, it will seem soothing at first glance, but its density can clog pores, and there are no scientific facts that confirm the effect of Vaseline on dry skin.
Can You Use Coconut Oil on a Dogs’ Dry Skin?
Organic coconut oil can be used on a dog, but there are no scientific facts proving its beneficial effects on dog skin. If you still want to use coconut oil on your dog, you need to make sure that the dog does not lick and eat too much applied coconut oil because it can cause diarrhea and upset tummies in sensitive dogs. Also never expose dogs with oiled skin to the sun, because they can easily get sunburned.
|↑1||Moriello, K.A. (June 2018). Structure of the Skin in Dogs. MSD Veterinary Manual. Retrieved 11 September 2020.|
|↑2||Cuscó, A., Belanger, J.M., Gershony, L., Islas-Trejo, A., Levy, K., Medrano, J.F., Sánchez, A., Oberbauer A.M., Francino, O. (October 2017). Individual signatures and environmental factors shape skin microbiota in healthy dogs. VL – 5 DO – 10.1186/s40168-017-0355-6 JO. Microbiome ER.|
|↑3||Picco, Federica & Zini, E & Nett, Claudia & Naegeli, C & Bigler, Beat & Rüfenacht, S & Roosje, Petra & Ricklin, Meret & Wilhelm, Sylvia & Pfister, J & Meng, E & Favrot, C. (2008). A prospective study on canine atopic dermatitis and food-induced allergic dermatitis in Switzerland. Picco, Federica. A prospective study on canine atopic dermatitis and food-induced allergic dermatitis in Switzerland. Veterinary dermatology. 19. 150-5. 10.1111/j.1365-3164.2008.00669.x.|
|↑4||Moriello, K.A., DVM, DACVD. (June 2018). Treatment of Skin Disorders in Dogs. MSD Veterinary Manual. Retrieved 12 September 2020.|
|↑5||Gopal, J., Dawson, V.A., Muthu, M., Gansukh, E., Jung, S., Chul, S., Ayyakkannu, S. (December 11, 2017) Authenticating apple cider vinegar’s home remedy claims: antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral properties and cytotoxicity aspect. Nat Prod Res. 2019 Mar;33(6):906-910. DOI: 10.1080/14786419.2017.1413567. Epub 2017 Dec 11. PMID: 29224370|
|↑6||Coats, B.C., Ahola, R. Aloe Vera the New Millennium: The Future of Wellness in the 21st Century. 264.-269.|
|↑7, ↑8||Fowler Jr, J. (October 13, 2014). Colloidal oatmeal formulations and the treatment of atopic dermatitis. J Drugs Dermatol. 1180-3; quiz 1184-5. PMID: 25607551.|
|↑9||Bauer, J.E., DVM, PhD, DACVN. (December 1, 2011). Therapeutic use of fish oils in companion animals. 1;239(11):1441-51. DOI: 10.2460/javma.239.11.1441. PMID: 22087720.|