Dry Skin in Dogs

Pet Care & Safety
yellow lab puppy scratching ears

Does your dog keep you up at night scratching a relentless itch? Does he constantly lick his feet or rub his back on the floor? Do you notice any dandruff or skin irritation on your dog? Does he have hair loss or crusts visible? Dry skin, and consequently itching, is a very common cause of concern and frustration for owners and can be caused by a number of different problems.

Why Is My Dog Itching?

Itching is one of the most common reasons owners take their pets to the vet. Itching, or pruritus, is an unpleasant sensation which causes one to scratch the area affected. For pets, itching may be in the form of biting, licking, rubbing, and scratching. The severity can range from occasionally to constant to self-trauma.

What Are Some Common Causes of Dry Skin In Dogs?

  1. Environmental changes: humidity changes, artificial fragrances, etc.

  2. Allergies:

    fleas, foodseasonal and non-seasonal airborne allergies, contact allergens

  3. Parasites: fleas, mange mites, ear mites, walking dandruff

  4. Hormone disorders: hypothyroidismCushing’s disease

  5. Skin infections: bacterial, fungal, parasitic

When Do I Need to Go to The Vet?

Some pets are extremely sensitive to parasites. Dogs may develop a condition known as flea allergic dermatitis, which causes dry skin and itchy crusts. Mites, such as demodex, sarcoptes, and cheyletiella mites (walking dandruff), can be intensely pruritic. Ear mites are also exceedingly itchy and highly contagious to other pets.

If your pet is constantly scratching and uncomfortable, a vet visit should be in order. If the dry skin is accompanied by redness, crusts, a thinned hair coat, patches of hair loss with or without self-trauma, an odor develops, or pain is observed when scratching, veterinary care should be sought asap.  A physical exam will be needed to determine the underlying cause of a dog’s skin problems.

Treating Dry Skin in Dogs

Your vet will be able to identify or test for the common causes of dry skin in dogs and provide appropriate treatment options. Treatments could include injectable, topical, and/or oral medications to ease discomfort. Feeding trials with prescription diets may be pursued if food allergies are suspected. Referral to a veterinary dermatologist for a skin workup should be considered if warranted.

My Dog Doesn’t Have Fleas. Why Do I Need Flea Control?

Fleas are classically known for causing skin irritation and itching. Some dogs are extremely sensitive to a single flea, such as with flea allergies. In these pets, the saliva from a flea will send them into an itchy rage for weeks. These dogs may have dry skin with or without crusts, and/or thinned hair or loss of hair near the tail base. Aggressive flea biters may even quickly eat a flea once bitten.  Consequently, owners may never see evidence of a flea infestation in their own home. All pets in the household should be flea treated.

My Dog Has Never Had Allergies Before. Why Now?

Unlike people who can have allergies as a child and grow out of them with age, dogs tend to grow into their allergies over time. Most environmental allergies tend to occur between one and three years of age. Itching may be the only sign, but secondary skin infections or ear infections may occur. These allergens are typically steroid responsive, but newer allergy medications with fewer side effects are now available for more long-term usage. Dietary changes and/or allergy testing are also available options for itch relief.

Minor itching can be treated at home with antihistamines and occasional hydrocortisone medicated shampoos.

My Dog Is Itchy and I’m Itchy. Could It Be Contagious?

Yes! Sarcoptic mange causes hair loss and constant scratching with the potential for self-mutilation. It is also transmissible to humans. Fungal infections, such as ringworm, can be itchy and shared with all the household furry pets and humans. Good hygiene is always important if a contagious condition is suspected.

What Can I Do to Help Relieve My Dog’s Dry Skin at Home?

  1. Add a humidifier inside the home during winter months to increase humidity

  2. Strict flea control on both the pet and in the environment is crucial to eliminate fleas

  3. Eliminate standing water in your yard to reduce mosquito populations

  4. Feed a high-quality, well-balanced, and age-appropriate diet to your pet. Make sure the AAFCO symbol is on the bag

  5. Fish oil supplementation may help the skin barrier heal itself when dry

  6. Purchase a gentle dog shampoo and conditioner. Regular grooming may help reduce inflammation and soothe irritated skin. Towel dry to absorb excess moisture from the hair coat after bathing and avoid blow dryers. Make sure to clean in between the facial folds of short-nosed dog breeds. Aim for routine bathing once monthly (if needed), as more frequent bathing could strip the natural hair coat oils and cause dry skin

  7. Medicated shampoos, if prescribed by a veterinarian for at home usage, should be allowed to have contact for 10-15 minutes before rinsing. This allows the active ingredients to be most effective. Your veterinarian will determine the frequency of bathing based on your pet’s underlying conditions. Long term usage will vary from patient to patient.