How to Alleviate Dry Skin in Dogs

Two Parts:Evaluating Your Dog's SkinConditioning Your Dog's Skin

It's understandable that you want your dog to be comfortable and have a healthy glossy coat. Unfortunately, if your dog has dry skin, it can leave him feeling itchy and uncomfortable. He may also have a coarse coat and flakes of dandruff. Once you've considered your dog's health, take steps to improve his coat.

Part 1
Evaluating Your Dog's Skin

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    Look for signs of dry skin. The first sign that your dog is experiencing dry skin might be that he begins to scratch violently when you simply touch his skin. If you part his hair, you may notice other signs of dry skin. These include:[1]
    • Dry, flaky skin
    • Dandruff
    • Itchiness
    • A harsh, brittle coat
    • Cracked or tough skin
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    Consider your dog's health. Ask yourself if your dog seems himself or whether anything has recently changed. For example, has his appetite changed (eating more or less), and what is his thirst like? Have his energy levels changed? If you suspect there are other medical conditions affecting your dog, take him to the veterinarian for a diagnosis and treatment. Dry skin may be caused by underlying medical conditions. Once treated, the dry skin may go away.[2]
    • These non-specific behavioral changes could point to medical conditions like hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid glands), Cushing's disease, infections, or diabetes. These conditions can affect skin health and coat condition, especially in older dogs.
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    Check your dog's coat for parasites. Take a close look at your dog's coat itself. Brush back the hair and look for flakes of dandruff. Be aware that while flakes of dandruff are associated with a dry coat, the flakes could actually be tiny parasites. These parasites, Cheyletiella, have the nickname "walking dandruff" because they may simply look like dandruff, but you may spot them moving if you watch carefully.
    • Your vet can diagnose Cheyletiella by looking at skin flakes under the microscope. The treatment involves medicated sprays (with fipronil) every two weeks to kill the mites.[3]

Part 2
Conditioning Your Dog's Skin

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    Feed your dog a nutritious diet. Make sure your dog has a high-quality balanced diet and constant access to fresh water. You should choose a commercial dog food that lists a named meat, like chicken, beef or lamb, at the top of the ingredients list, followed by a named vegetable, like sweet potato or carrot. These quality ingredients are more nutritious than "meat-by-products" or "soya" and the food is more likely to contain good levels of vitamins and minerals. It's also a good idea to look for a food that has added vitamin E or omega-6 fatty acids, since these can nourish your dog's skin.You should put olive oil on the dogs food to help get rid of the dry skin. It works quite well and it serves as a great treat for the dog. [4]
    • Cheaper or economy foods usually begin with lower quality ingredients and are more heavily processed. This can cause your dog's skin to suffer, especially if you change from a good quality food to a poor quality food. While you won't notice the changes immediately, you will see a difference after about a month.
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    Give your dog dietary supplements. Regardless of whether you choose a high or low quality commercial food, some nutrients will be destroyed during processing. If your dog has dry skin, you may need to give additional nutrients in the form of dietary supplements. These can nourish skin cells deep within your dog's tissues, which will lead to healthy skin after about a month of supplementing.[5] Consider adding the following nutrients:
    • Vitamin E: Give your dog 1.6 to 8 mg / kg per day. Ask your vet for a dosage specific to your dog. Vitamin E is an antioxidant which can improve your dog's skin and promote healing. It does this by combating the damage done to skin cells as a result of environmental factors such as pollution.[6]
    • Omega fatty acids or oils: These are also known as PUFA (poly unsaturated fatty acids). Omega 3 is found in flax, corn, and soy oils, while Omega 6 is found in fish oils. These fatty acids are anti-inflammatory (helpful if your dog has allergies), which can nourish the skin cells, and improve the skin's defensive barrier. The recommended dose is 30mg/kg, but if you accidentally give your dog too much, he can get diarrhea.
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    Groom your dog on a regular basis. You should brush your dog every day. This will distribute natural oils throughout the coat, keep it shiny and protected, and prevent oil buildup that could cause irritation. Brushing is a simple way to condition your dog's skin and it acts like a massage, increasing the blood supply to the skin. This lets more oxygen reach the skin and remove waste products, which can alleviate dry skin.[7]
    • Remove matting in the fur as soon as you notice it. Mats tighten up against the skin and air from reaching your dog's skin, which can cause dry and flaking skin.
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    Bathe your dog. Not only will bathing your dog prevent dirt and oil buildup, but it will also give you the chance to closely examine your dog's skin and coat for skin problems like parasites. Generally, you should shampoo your dog monthly or up to every two weeks at most if he has normal skin. If your dog with dry skin rolls in mud and needs a bath, use an oatmeal shampoo and avoid over-drying him.
    • Choose a dog shampoo that is specifically pH balanced for dog skin.[8] Don't use a perfumed shampoo, since it could dry out the skin. A good choice is an oatmeal shampoo which is gently moisturizing but not greasy.
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    Monitor your home's humidity. Low humidity associated with cold weather can cause or aggravate already dry skin. Control your home's humidity levels using humidifiers which will add moisture to the air. Indoor heating can dry out a coat, so be careful about overheating the house. Keep your dog from lying against heaters.
    • You should also keep your dog indoors during dry, cold weather.
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    Be patient. Moisturizing your dog's skin will take time because the skin is made up of layers of skin cells. The mature skin cells at the top are older and dryer, with a tendency to be flaky. The skin cells at the bottom are called the "germ" or baby skin cells. It takes over 28 days for baby skin cells to migrate upwards and become mature skin cells at the top. Keep conditioning your dog's skin for at least a month, so you can begin looking for improvement.
    • After a month or two of conditioning treatment, you can reevaluate what's effective in treating your dog's dry skin.[9]


  • Start grooming your puppy as soon as you can. This will make him more familiar and comfortable with the process.

Sources and Citations

  1. Small Animal Internal Medicine. Nelson & Couto. Mosby
  2. Small Animal Internal Medicine. Nelson & Couto. Mosby
  3. Parasitic Mites of Dogs and Dats. Foley. Comp Cont Ed Prac Vet 13.
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Article Info

Categories: Canine Health