Just like in people, our dogs' skin is their largest organ. When combined with their coat, it makes up 12% of the average dog's body weight. What you may not know is that your dog's daily nutrition can have a significant impact on the health and condition of its skin and coat. Here, our Los Angeles vets explain the relationship between your dog's skin, coat, and diet.
Veterinarians have known for a long time that your dog's daily nutrition can affect the condition and health of its skin and coat - for better or worse. In fact, up to 25% of all dogs have a skin or coat problem that could be exacerbated by their daily diet.
How does nutrition affect my dog's skin and coat?
Your dog's skin is its largest organ and, as a result, uses a lot of resources from its body to maintain - especially when you consider that it is also responsible for growing and maintaining the health and condition of its coat too!
So, it only stands to reason that the quality and nutritional contents of your dog's diet each day will have an impact on the kinds of vitamins, minerals, proteins, and fats that your pooch will have access to in order to maintain the health of their skin.
Because of this, dogs that have all of their dietary needs met and aren't suffering from an unrelated skin condition are much more likely to have a healthy, glossy, and full coat as well as skin that is free of dryness and irritation.
On the other hand, dogs who don't get all of their nutritional needs met aren't able to supply their skin with the building blocks it requires to maintain its own health and coat condition. In such cases, their coat may appear dull, their skin may be dry or irritated, and they may scratch or groom more than is normal or healthy for their body.
How does poor nutrition affect my dog's skin?
Any deficits in your dog's nutrition - whether that be them not eating enough or not getting enough of a particular nutritional ingredient - will impact the health of their skin.
One of the most common ways that your dog's diet can affect their skin health negatively is the degradation or destruction of a 'biofilm' that naturally sits on the outside of your dog's skin.
A healthy dog's skin naturally secretes a substance known as "sebum" (people's skin also secretes this!). This substance forms a protective layer on top of your dog's skin, shielding it from external irritants, aiding in moisture retention, and acting as a physical barrier against harmful bacteria that would otherwise accumulate on the skin.
When your dog's skin doesn't get the nutritional ingredients it needs to maintain its biofilm, its skin can become home to bacteria and become irritated, infected, uncomfortable, and, if it goes long enough, dangerous to its overall health.
Some breeds of dogs (such as bulldog breeds or pugs) are more susceptible to skin infections because of folds in their skin that may become home to bacteria. Maintaining a proper diet to allow them to naturally defend themselves against these microscopic invaders is even more important than in other dogs.
What are the symptoms of skin and coat conditions caused by my dog's diet?
While skin conditions in dogs can display a number of symptoms, the following are some of the most common in our canine companions that aren't getting enough nutrition in their diets:
- Sparse, dry, dull hair with “split ends”
- Slow growth or no growth of hair from spots that have been clipped or shaved
- Accumulation of dry skin scales
- Pressure sores
- Change in or loss of hair color
What other skin problems may be associated with my dog's diet?
While nutritional deficiencies are the most direct way that a dog's diet may negatively impact its skin and coat, your dog may also display symptoms of skin issues if they have a dermatological dietary allergy. In cases like this, rather than being caused by what isn't in your dog's food, their response is caused by what is in your dog's food.
Some dogs are allergic to specific food ingredients, and if this is the case, they may begin to exhibit symptoms similar to those listed above. If you suspect that your dog is not getting enough nutritional value from its daily diet, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible. They will be able to test your dog for allergies and walk you through the process of narrowing down ingredients until you find the best food for your dog's health and well-being.