Dry, flaky, itchy skin does more than irritate your dog. It could lead to an infection or indicate a more serious medical condition. Part of putting a stop to the itching is identifying the cause of the dry skin. From there, you can work through potential solutions that will (most likely) include consulting a veterinarian. 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, dry skin can be more than flaky skin, although that’s definitely included on the list of symptoms. Other typical symptoms include1:
The self-scratching and biting that goes along with the symptoms of dry skin can be just as dangerous to the dog as the symptoms themselves. Open wounds create an avenue for infection and further health problems. Consequently, it’s important to treat dry skin before it becomes a more serious problem.
Causes of Dogs’ Dry Skin
Causes of your dog’s dry skin can range from a food allergy or shampoo to something more complex like a chronic disorder like hypothyroidism. However, any of the following could be behind the itchy skin.
Dogs can suffer from food, environmental, and seasonal allergies, any of which can cause skin problems. Common ingredients in dog food like soy, wheat, and even chicken can trigger allergies for some dogs. Environmental and seasonal allergies come from the environment in which the dog lives. They include things such as dust mites, grasses, pollen, and mold spores.5 Amid the many potential allergens, flea saliva remains one of the most common in dog allergies. However, as you’ll see in the treatment and prevention sections, there are ways to keep allergy-related dry skin under control.
Though they’re not pleasant to think about, parasites are a potential cause of dry skin. In dogs, the most common are the Demodex mite, cheyletiellosis (walking mite), and canine scabies.6 Lice are another creepy-crawly that could cause canine skin problems. You’ll need a veterinarian to diagnose the type of parasite and recommend a treatment. In some cases, your regular veterinarian will refer you to a veterinary dermatologist.
Itching and flaking can be an outer symptom of an internal problem, with the most common among dogs being Cushing’s disease and hypothyroidism. Cushing’s disease, also known as spontaneous hypercortisolism, is more common among neutered and spayed middle age to older dogs and certain breeds like Standard Schnauzers and Fox Terriers.7 A metabolic disease requires a diagnosis and ongoing treatment and guidance by a veterinarian.
Many bacterial and fungal infections cause itchy, dry skin. These types of infections include everything from yeast infections to Staphylococcus strains. Some conditions like allergies or Cushing’s disease can make a dog more likely to get a skin infection.
A dog’s diet influences every aspect of its health, including the skin and coat. Diet insufficiencies can definitely contribute to dry skin, hair loss, and other visible symptoms of ill health. If diet lies behind your dog’s problems, you may need to work with the veterinarian to determine if a food allergy is the problem or if the dog isn’t getting the right nutrients for his age or size.
Breed-Specific Skin Problems
Some dog breeds are prone to skin problems due to the inbreeding that’s designed to enhance some features and eliminate others. Hairless breeds like the Xoloitzcuintli and the Peruvian Inca Orchid tend to have skin issues, though you don’t have to worry about shedding. Breeds that grow thick coats and shed heavily year-round, like Siberian Huskies and Malamutes, are more likely to suffer from skin problems, too. 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, treatment of their dog’s dry skin starts with a visit to the veterinarian’s office. That’s the only way to eliminate some of the more serious issues that could be at work. For example, metabolic disorders require medication and other treatments to control the disease rather than eliminate it altogether.
If the veterinarian suspects food allergies, she may recommend an elimination diet. In this case, you would buy dog food with a limited ingredient list to see how the dog reacts to it. It’s a process of eliminating potential allergens until you find the offending foods.8
Seasonal or environmental allergies require a multi-pronged approach of avoiding the allergen and reducing sensitivity to it. For example, flea treatment can help prevent dry skin caused by an allergy to flea saliva. However, in some areas, it’s difficult to keep flea infestation at a level that prevents a reaction. In that case, allergy shots may help.9 Allergy shots may also help when seasonal allergies are unavoidable.
Other treatment options may include:
- Dietary changes or supplements10
- Topical ointments and creams
- Flea and tick treatments
- Use of a humidifier (or dehumidifier)
Preventing Dry Skin
Prevention makes life better for you and your dog. While preventative measures may not stop all dry skin episodes, they can reduce them. Basic prevention includes:
- A balanced diet with high-quality dog food
- Regular flea and tick treatments
- Following veterinarian’s instructions, including the use of supplements or medications
- Keeping the skin clean, but not over bathing the dog
- Knowing what illnesses the breed is susceptible to
- Using gentle dog-specific shampoos and products
- Regular veterinary checkups
Dogs are the happy-go-lucky members of the household. When they’re healthy, they’re happy. Preventative care and quick treatment should dry skin arise will keep your dog cheerful and full of life.
- Burke A. Dry skin on dogs: Causes, symptoms, and treatment. AKC.org Published May 19, 2016. Accessed April 19, 2021.
- Moriella KA. Pruritus in animals. Merckvetmanual.com Updated January 2020. Accessed April 19.2021.
- Bloom P. Canine scaling disorders. Cliniciansbrief.com Published July 2007. Accessed April 19, 2021.
- Moriello KA. Alopecia in animals. Merckvetmanual.com Updated January 2020. Accessed April 19, 2021.
- Hill PB and DeBoer DJ. The ACVD task force on canine atopic dermatitis(IV): environmental allergies. Veterinary Immunology and Immunopathology. 2001;81(3-4): 169-186. doi: 10.1016/S0165-2427(01)00298-7
- Dryden MW. Mite infestation (mange, acariasis, scabies) in dogs. Merckvetmanual.com Updated June 2018. Accessed April 19, 2021.
- Carotenuto G, Malerba E, Dolfini C, et al. Cushing syndrome-an epidemiological study based on a canine population of 21,281 dogs. Open Veterinary Journal. 2019;9(1): 27-32. doi: 10.4314/ovj.v9i1.5
- Balima NS and Rajasekaran R. Clinical management of food allergy in a dog. Journal of Entomology and Zoology Studies. 2020;8(4): 1586-1588. Accessed April 19, 2021.
- Marro A, Pirles M, Schiaffino L, et al. Successful immunotherapy of canine flea allergy with injected Actinomycetales preparations. Immunotherapy. 2011; 3(8). doi: 10.2217/imt.11.93
- Marchegiani A, Fruganti A, Spaterna A, et al. Impact of nutritional supplements on canine dermatological disorders. Veterinary Science. 2020;7(2): 38. doi: 10.3390/vetsci7020038