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7 Common Causes of Dry Dog Skin

Getting to the Bottom of the Itch!

By Meredith Alling. November 06, 2013 | See Comments

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    PetCareRx Staff Veterinarian

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A Puppy Scratching An Itch

Maybe one of the reasons dogs are considered man's best friend is that they seem to fall victim to many of the same ailments as pet parents. Dry skin is very common in dogs for many different reasons. Learn here what could be making your dog twitch and itch.

No one likes dry, itchy skin, and that goes for dogs too. Not only is dry skin uncomfortable, it can also be a symptom of an underlying condition that needs to be treated before it gets worse.

Dry Dog Skin General Symptoms

The most obvious symptom exhibited by dog’s with dry skin is itchiness. A dog with dry skin may scratch, lick, or bite themselves -- sometimes to the point of causing injury. A dog with dry skin might also rub up against furniture to try to relieve their itchiness. Other symptoms include hair loss from excessive scratching or skin that appears dry, flaky, scaly, or otherwise irritated.

Possible Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments of Dry Dog Skin

Cause #1: Fleas, mites, or mange

  • Symptoms: Bites from parasites can irritate your dog’s skin, and some dogs can have an allergic reaction to the parasite’s saliva. Excessive scratching and biting are the primary symptoms, and with fleas, you may see a specific focus on the back and tail area. With mites, you may see dandruff and scaly skin, and ear mites can cause your dog to shake their head violently. With mange, you will often see hair loss, sores, and scabs.
  • Treatment: Anti-parasitic shampoos, dips, and on-the-spot products can help remove parasites and relieve irritation. First rid your home of the infestation, and then ask your veterinarian about starting your dog on a treatment to avoid future problems.

Cause #2: Allergies

  • Symptoms: Just like humans, dogs can suffer from allergies. Some common allergens include fleas, mold, dust, pollen, perfumes, smoke, medications, shampoos, and food. In addition to scratching, a dog with allergies may exhibit irritated skin, runny eyes, sneezing, vomiting, diarrhea, snoring, and paw chewing or swelling.
  • Treatment: The treatment will depend on your dog’s specific allergy. If your dog is allergic to fleas, they should be on a flea control product. If your dog has food allergies, a hypoallergenic food or a diet prescribed by your veterinarian may solve the problem. For other allergies, certain injections can decrease the severity of your dog’s reaction. Supplements and medications may also be recommended in some cases.

Cause #3: Poor Diet

  • Symptoms: A low-quality diet means that your dog is not receiving the essential nutrients that make for healthy skin and a shiny coat. You may see itching, flaking, and redness.
  • Treatment: Switch your dog to a high-quality food. Your veterinarian may also recommend supplements that contain essential fatty acids.

Cause #4: Irritating Shampoos

  • Symptoms: Dogs should only be bathed with shampoos intended for dogs. Human shampoos or other harsh shampoos can dry out and irritate your dog’s skin. You may see itching, redness, and flaking.
  • Treatment: Switch to an all-natural dog shampoo for sensitive skin. Bathe your dog no more than twice a month, as excessive bathing can dry out your dog’s skin and make the problem worse. Your dog’s skin may also benefit from a moisturizing spray or lotion that is made specifically for dogs.

Cause #5: Cold weather

  • Symptoms: Cold or windy weather -- especially when combined with the dryness caused by indoor heating systems -- can really take a toll on your dog. If their dry skin is caused by seasonal changes, you will see an onset of symptoms like itching and flaking as the weather begins to turn.
  • Treatment: Limit the time that your dog spends out in the cold and switch to a moisturizing shampoo, like one that contains soothing oatmeal. Brushing your dog’s coat will help to stimulate oil production, and natural products like tea tree oil, calendula extract, fish oil, or vitamin E can be applied directly to your dog’s skin. Adding a tablespoon of olive oil to your dog’s food 2 or 3 times a week can also help to clear up dryness.

Cause #6: Fungal and bacterial infections

  • Symptoms: Certain conditions can make your dog susceptible to fungal and bacterial skin infections. In addition to scratching, dog’s with infections may also exhibit irritated skin (hot spots, redness, crusting, or thickening), hair loss, sores, and scabs.
  • Treatment: Fungal infections are treated with antifungal medications, and bacterial infections are treated with antibiotics, however, the underlying condition that made your dog’s skin susceptible to the infection must also be treated.

Cause #7: Thyroid diseases

  • Symptoms: Conditions such as hypothyroidism can cause your dog’s skin to become dry due to lack of essential hormones. Your dog’s coat may appear dull and brittle, and you may see excessive shedding. Skin thickening and darkening, lethargy, weight gain, behavioral changes, and intolerance to exercise are other common symptoms of hypothyroidism.
  • Treatment: Dogs with thyroid problems are commonly treated with thyroid hormone replacement drugs.
More on Dog Skin Health

Common Dog Skin Issues
Symptoms of Alopecia In Dogs
Dog and Cat Dermatitis: Itchy Skin in Pets

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

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Dog Dry Skin at a glance

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  • 1Dry skin is itchy and uncomfortable, and dogs will scratch, lick, and bite to relieve their symptoms
  • 2Dry dog skin may appear red, flaky, scaly, or otherwise irritated
  • 3There are many causes of dry dog skin, and the treatment will depend on the cause