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  • When An Itch Becomes A Scratch: Supporting Your Dog's Skin & Coat Health

    Next time you stroke your dog, take a moment to marvel at their skin and coat. Yes, different dogs have different coat types – from silky to smooth, wiry to fuzzy – but skin and coat condition are closely linked. Not only that, how our dogs look, and feel, is often a good indication of their overall health, wellbeing, and even their nutrition too.

    Super Skin

    Did you know that your dog’s skin is their largest organ? Their skin is a first line of defence against injury, disease, and even UV light from the sun. Skin is also important for helping dogs regulate their body temperature and water loss.

    Our dogs’ skin is also full of sensory nerves that detect and respond to what is going on around them, from temperature to touch. Sometimes these sensory cells become overstimulated, especially if local immune cells are also triggered by invading substances or microbes. If this happens, irritation, inflammation, and itching often results.

    Interestingly, our dogs do have some sweat glands in their skin, but these are few compared to horses for example. This means that dogs have a limited ability to cool by sweating, except from their paw pads.

    The Science of Skin

    Skin consists of several different layers and the structure of our dogs’ skin changes on different parts of their body. For example, paw pads are much thicker and rough to touch than body skin. The distribution of hair growth differs too and some breeds even have very little body hair such as the Xoloitzcuintle, aka the Mexican Hairless Dog.

    The upper surface of skin is called the epidermis and is rich in the protein, keratin. This protein is a strong, fibrous protein and is also found in hair, nails, hooves, and horns. Skin is always renewing itself and dead cells (and hair!) are continually shed. Skin growth starts at the basal layer, from which new cells move upwards towards the epidermal surface. Above the basal layer is a protective and insulating layer of fat - the hypodermis. The hypodermis gives rise to the dermis, and this is where hair growth starts, highlighting the close link between skin and coat health.

    What does healthy skin look like?

    A healthy skin should be soft, smooth, and pleasant to touch, and not overly dry or oily. It also shouldn’t be smelly and your dog won’t be scratching, rubbing themselves, or even shedding hair excessively. .. If your dog has a coat type that can shine, look for that gleam as an indication of health. Any changes to your dog’s skin, unusual hair loss, changes to skin colour, texture or even lumps and bumps would all suggest a quick vet check-up is in order.

    Can I use nutrition to help my dog’s skin and coat?

    Good nutrition, combined with grooming, and bathing (when needed), go a long way to helping keep our dogs’ skin and coat healthy. A nutritionally balanced diet is a good starting point. Because skin and coat consist largely of protein, ensuring a dietary supply of quality, digestible protein is key.

    Other ingredients important for skin health include essential fatty acids, especially omega-3 DHA and EPA, vitamin E, B vitamins such as biotin, and minerals including selenium and zinc. While most diets supply these nutrients as standard, sometimes additional supplementation is helpful, for example if your dog has lots of coat.

    Because our dogs’ skin is constantly renewing itself, any nutritional changes can take about four to six weeks before any effect is seen. This means that you might need to be patient – don’t expect overnight cures and be wary of anysuggestions it is possible.

    Should I use a supplement?

    Supplements may help support your dog’s skin and coat, in combination with grooming and bathing. If your dog shows signs of irritation and itching, seek a proper diagnosis from your vet. Many skin conditions are actually because of fleas or reactions to environmental substances. Ruling these out is an important first step in manging skin health.

    If your dog is already being managed for skin conditions, do chat to your vet about supplement use, as some ingredients may interfere with medication.

    What should I look for in a skin and coat supplement?

    If choosing a supplement for your dog’s skin and coat, look for one formulated to supply key nutrients that may support skin and coat growth, such as biotin. Other ingredients such as the antioxidant vitamins C and E which can help ‘mop up’ free radicals, and curcuminoids (components of turmeric) may also be beneficial.

    Omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA and EPA, are a great way to support skin and coat condition for your dog – feeding oily fish as an occasional treat is one option. Some plant oils can be sources of omega-3s, but marine-derived omega-3 fatty acids, from fish or algae, are used more effectively by our dogs, making them a much better choice.

    Look for declared levels of ingredients and evidence that your dog can digest and absorb them – always ask your supplier or manufacturer if this is not clear. Sometimes prebiotics like MOS (mannanoligosaccharides) are included to support digestion, and piperine (found in black pepper) may enhance the bioavailability of some substances. These might all help effective skin-support.

    Shiny, happy puppers!

    You can tell a lot about a dog’s health just by looking at them. Make sure their skin and coat tell a story of health and happiness. Care, management, and support from inside and out can help our dogs be shiny, happy puppers!

    Science Supplements produce a high specification, canine skin, and coat support supplement.

    Skin and Coat K9 is ideal for any dogs that need a little extra support for their skin and coat health

    For more information regarding our canine supplement range, please contact us

    About The Author

    Dr Jacqueline Boyd, BSc (Hons), MSc, PhD, PGCHE, CHES, FHEA, MRSB | Animal Scientist and Canine Consultant

    Jacqueline is passionate about making the world a better place for dogs and their people, through enhancing peoples’ understanding of what dogs really need and how humans can best help them.  

    Jacqueline has academic, research and industry experience, as well as extensive practical canine experience, thanks to training her five cocker spaniels in a range of disciplines, including gundog work, scent work, heelwork to music, agility and canicross.

    Through her voluntary work with an equine charity, Jacqueline has lectured on aspects on animal health and welfare overseas and she is regularly invited as a guest speaker at key canine events, including Crufts. Jacqueline currently lectures, writes, coaches, and consults on all aspects of canine science.

    Jacqueline’s current research projects include examining caregiver decision making relating to canine nutrition, supplement use to support canine health and welfare, kinematics of sporting dogs, training of conservation detection dogs, and allied projects in equine and poultry nutrition.

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