Help your dog’s itchy skin

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Dry skin (dandruff) in your pet: common causes and natural remedies

by Dr. Donna Spector


Common causes of pet dandruff
Dandruff or scaly skin may simply be caused by dry, poorly hydrated skin.  This is common as most pets eat dry kibble which is very low in moisture and don’t drink enough water every day—leading to constant mild dehydration.  The skin is very sensitive to dehydration and will readily become dry and flaky in appearance.  When pets develop medical problems (such as allergies, infections and diabetes), the skin is often the first to indicate a change in general health by becoming roughened and dry.  If your pet develops dry skin or a poor haircoat, consider the following possibilities and talk to your veterinarian:

  • Dry skin or lusterless coats may indicate a deficiency or an improper balance of essential fatty acids in the diet.  Pet foods are notoriously low in certain beneficial fatty acids.  Fatty acids are relatively fragile and prone to break-down by overcooking or improper storage of dry food.  Pets on fat-restricted (weight loss) diets may be at increased risk for deficiency.
  • Dry or irritated skin may be an adverse reaction to foods containing artificial dyes, additives and preservatives.  True food allergy to specific ingredients can also cause dry flaky skin.
  • Flea allergy, ringworm, mites, mange, yeast and bacterial skin infections (yes, even in indoor pets!) will often cause itchiness, skin redness and possibly hair loss along with dry scaly skin.
  • Seborrhea is a skin condition that causes a greasy, oily or dry coat with very scaly skin.
  • Hormonal or endocrine problems (such as hyper- or hypothyroidism, cushings syndrome and diabetes), immune problems (such as lupus) and skin cancer (such as cutaneous lymphoma) are much more serious causes of skin flakiness and most often associated with other complaints of illness.

There are many causes of skin flakiness and various tests may need to be performed for an accurate diagnosis.  Most often a skin scrape with microscopic examination at your veterinarian’s office is the first step.  Occasionally hair or dandruff culture, allergy testing, skin biopsy and/or blood tests will need to be performed.


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