How to Care for Your Sensitive-skin Dog
By Jennifer Viegas
Some dogs, like people, have more sensitive skin than others. For dogs, a few of the telltale signs are itching and inflammation. These can be caused by food allergies and environmental problems, among other factors. For food-related issues, you can take action to help your dog feel better.
One of the first key questions to ask, however, is if your dog’s skin problems are tied to the food that it is consuming. “Most people jump to change their dogs’ food whenever the dog starts to itch, assuming that the food is the problem,” says Dr. Katy Nelson, an associate emergency veterinarian in Alexandria, Va. “However, only about 10 percent of pets actually have a food allergy, so finding the true allergen is key to controlling skin problems.” She adds that “even if the allergen is not an ingested one, sensitive-skin formula foods may still help.”
Dog Foods That Target Skin and Coat Issues
Special foods are now available through your veterinarian to address skin and coat problems. They promote a healthy skin and coat with these types of ingredients:
- Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids: These are found in ingredients such as fish oil and canola oil. They help to manage a pet’s itching and scratching. These oils also “help the skin replenish its own luster,” says Nelson.
- Unique blends of proteins and carbohydrates that can reduce the risk of bad reactions to food: “When looking for a sensitive-skin formula, ensure that there is just one protein source (e.g., chicken or beef versus ‘poultry products’) and one carb source to reduce antigenic stimulation,” says Nelson.
- Vitamins and minerals to restore nutrients in the coat and skin: Nelson mentions biotin and vitamin E in particular.
- Linoleic acid: This acid is found in high-quality, animal-based protein. It helps to keep your dog’s coat shiny and healthy.
Both wet and dry foods may contain all of the above. “Premium wet food can provide the same nutritional benefits as its dry counterpart,” explains Dr. Amy Dicke, a technical services veterinarian for Iams. “Premium foods provide a complete and balanced diet and deliver higher-quality ingredients for easy digestion and absorption of essential nutrients.”
Your Dog’s Breed Matters
Nelson says that certain breeds are more prone to skin and coat disorders. These include hound dogs, white dogs (think redheaded people with sensitive skin), golden retrievers (and other thick-coated breeds), Pomeranians, Doberman pinschers and more.
Wrinkly dogs, such as bulldogs and shar-peis, are notorious for suffering from skin and coat issues. A recent study, published in the journal PLoS Genetics, determined that the wrinkled skin of shar-peis contains an excess of a compound called hyaluronan. Co-author Linda Tintle of Wurtsboro Veterinary Clinic and her colleagues found that the excess is caused by a genetic mutation, which can result in inflammatory skin disease. “With this genetic information, people can avoid breeding shar-peis with many (genetic) duplications,” she says. “Understanding the causes will also lead to more effective treatments.”
Whether your dog is one of the at-risk breeds or just an itchy mutt, you can help your pet, according to Nelson, by doing the following three things:
- Always keep your dog’s flea and tick prevention current.
- Keep its skin as clean as possible by bathing frequently and using wipes in between baths.
- Avoid switching between foods/protein sources to lower antigenic stimulation. It’s better for your dog if you find one quality food that agrees with your pet, and stick with it. Variety can be the spice of life, but for dogs with sensitive skin, it’s best to stay with the tried-and-true food that your veterinarian recommends.
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Jennifer Viegas is the managing editor of The Dog Daily. She is a journalist for Discovery News, the news service for the Discovery Channel, and has written more than 20 books on animals, health and other science-related topics.