The skin is the largest and the most exposed organ. This is just as true for dogs as it is for people. When your dog has dry skin, it’s not only unsightly, but it may indicate an underlying disease. I know that dry skin can be frustrating for both dogs and dog parents. It can be difficult to determine the cause, and it may turn into a battle just to control the signs. The good news is that dry skin (xerosis) is not a specific disease in itself, but a symptom. There may be many different possible causes, which are often treatable. If you work with your veterinarian, there is a good chance that you can identify the underlying cause.
What could cause my dog’s dry skin?
Your veterinarian will consider the following possible causes of dry skin:
Degenerative or senile (age associated)
- While any pet can develop dry skin. It is more common in older dogs. The risk increases with age.
- Diseases such as Lupus and Pemphigus that arise from an abnormal immune response may result in abnormalities of the skin.
Metabolic conditions (e.g., endocrine or hormone imbalances)
- Hormonal imbalances, as seen with low thyroid levels or Cushing’s disease.
Nutritional deficiencies (less common)
- Most common diets are well balanced and meet daily requirements, but in some cases nutritional supplements, such as fatty acids, may be of value. Make sure you use a product recommended by your veterinarian. Unless your dog has a confirmed deficiency, there is no need for vitamin supplements.
Inflammatory (e.g., infections or allergies)
- Dogs, like people, can suffer from allergies, skin infections or seborrhea which can result in too much or too little oil in the skin.
Traumatic or environmental (e.g., treatments for external parasites)
- Skin tends to be driest in winter, when temperatures and humidity levels plummet. Using central heating or wood-burning stoves reduces humidity, and can also contribute to dry skin.
- Excessive bathing can dry skin, and so can frequent swimming, particularly in heavily chlorinated pools. Residues such as chlorine and salt from the sea can have serious drying effects.
- Some flea baths and dips and even grooming shampoos strip moisture from your skin, and can result in dryness and flaking. Some flea products are overtly irritating if not used properly. Be sure to use shampoos intended for pets rather than humans.
How will my veterinarian identify the cause of my dog’s dry skin?
Your veterinarian will want to gather some initial information:
- Is your dog excessively itchy? (Simple dry skin is not very itchy)
- Is there a patchy hair coat or is the hair broken off in areas?
- Is there any sort of odor to the skin? (Healthy skin has no unpleasant odor associated with it.)
What to do if your dog has dry, flakey or scaly skin?
Start by asking for your veterinarian’s advice and recommendation during an examination of your pet.
Evaluation of the hair coat, with diagnostics such as skin scrapings and cultures will help guide your veterinarian to the cause of the dry skin. In some cases, blood tests for endocrine conditions may be recommended too.
If your dog is itching a lot, your veterinarian might also suggest diagnostics or food trials to help rule out allergies.
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.