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Canine Coat Care: Navigating Dog Dandruff, Skin Allergies, and Other Coat Health Conditions

ProDog’s Certified Canine Nutritionist, Alison Frost, is highly experienced in natural canine wellness. She shares valuable insights into skin and coat health conditions such as dog dandruff, skin allergies in dogs, and others in this expert article.

Alison Frost

Author: Alison Frost

Edited By: Anna Bain

Canine Coat Care: Navigating Dog Dandruff, Skin Allergies, and Other Coat Health Conditions

Skin and coat health issues are among the most visible signs that something’s off with a dog’s internal environment. Dog skin allergies, dandruff in dogs, and other skin/coat conditions can be challenging to treat; usually because they’re not addressed at the root cause.

In this article, I’ll discuss some common coat health issues, potential causes, and how you can help your dog eliminate their discomfort in the most effective way: from the inside out.

Reasons for poor coat condition

Diet 

I always start with a diet evaluation when any health issues present in dogs, including poor coat conditions such as dog dandruff. This is because what a dog eats directly affects all of their body’s systems, including the largest organ: the skin. Lack of certain nutrients in the diet, such as Omega fatty acids, adequate moisture, lack of quality protein and nutrients such as B vitamins and zinc, , can all cause coat issues like dandruff in dogs [1]. 

Feeding ingredients that don’t agree with them, such as potential food allergens or a diet consisting predominantly of highly processed dog foods, can also be responsible.

Health issues

Many health issues include dog dandruff and other poor coat conditions as symptoms, so it’s important to consult your vet in order to rule out anything more serious. Some examples of these might be atopic dermatitis, hormonal imbalance, and certain autoimmune diseases. However, it’s also possible that their issue is as simple as excess sebum production, which is known to cause dandruff in dogs

Environmental factors

Environmental elements also have the potential to cause dog skin allergies or dandruff, as well as other coat health issues. Lack of humidity in the air, grass allergies, harsh dog shampoos, and even cleaners used in the home can all contribute towards the disruption of dogs’ sensitive skin biome, often leading to dandruff, skin allergies, or other coat conditions as a result. 

To discover more about allergens which can trigger skin issues in your dog, read our in-depth guide, Allergies in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, and Solutions from a Canine Nutritionist

Parasites 

Parasites can be responsible for dogs’ dandruff  and poor coat health as well. Certain types of mites mimic the appearance of dandruff in dogs, whilst fleas can cause excessive scratching, leading to bacterial infections and poor coat and skin health. Dogs can also have allergies to certain parasites, which creates an even more uncomfortable situation. If your dog is scratching excessively, have their skin looked at by your vet. 

Also, read my article on How to Help an Itchy Dog for detailed information on why your dog may be itching.

Note: The common practise of utilising chemical parasite control may do your dog more harm than good. There are many useful options for eliminating parasites from your dog naturally, such as ProDog’s Repel; a whole food herbal blend that makes your dog unappealing to pests, in a far safer manner than harsh chemical agents.

Signs of poor coat condition

Smell

One of the key signs that a dog has coat health issues is a change in their usual smell. Of course, all dogs  have a natural odour that we’ve learned to recognise, especially when they’re wet. However, if this smell has become more offensive, changed significantly, or is accompanied by other symptoms such as scratching, excessive licking, or dog dandruff, there’s probably more to it than the classic “dog smell.” The skin beneath their coat is likely irritated, inflamed, or infected; all of which contribute to poor coat health.

Lack of lustre

Another way to tell that dogs’ coats are in poor health is when they lose their natural sheen. Though all dog breeds aren’t necessarily glossy-coated all the time (or any time), noticing your dog’s coat becoming more dull than usual can be a sign of a skin and/or coat problem. This coat condition can be accompanied by other symptoms such as a putrid smell or dandruff, but can also occur as a stand alone symptom.

Dandruff

Dandruff in dogs is a common coat health issue, and can be caused by a variety of factors. Parasites, environmental allergens, food sensitivities or lack of nutrients and dry or oily skin are all potential triggers for dog dandruff. This symptom can also be a sign of underlying health issues, but can often be alleviated with a few diet tweaks. In any case, it’s a good idea to have their skin checked. Better safe than sorry.

Hair loss

Whilst all dogs shed (except for the non-shedding breeds), increased hair loss is a sure fire sign of poor coat health, and sometimes indicates skin allergies in dogs. Hair loss generally occurs in patches across the coat. Other causes include various bacterial infections, atopic dermatitis, yeast overgrowth, or certain endocrine diseases. Hot spots can also cause dogs to lose fur, as their excessive licking strips the hair away over time.

Importance of nutrition in coat health

Nutrition’s critical role

The skin is the body’s largest organ, containing a biome of various bacteria and cells. This biome requires balance in order to remain healthy, but it can be easily disrupted by various factors, including imbalanced gut health. 

The gut contains its own delicate biome, which can also be disrupted by poor diet and environmental elements, amongst other triggers. The gut has a direct relationship with all of the body’s systems, including the immune and inflammatory responses. These both carry the potential to cause coat health issues, as inflammation and dog skin allergies impact the condition of the coat directly.

To discover more about the link between gut health and overall wellbeing read our article, ……….

Considering all of the above, it makes sense that nutrition plays a major role in the health of the skin and coat. 

Quality nutrition allows the body to absorb and assimilate nutrients, directly impacting gut health, immune health, and skin health, which then radiates out to the coat condition.

Feeding dogs the foods they were naturally designed to eat, such as raw animal proteins, healthy fats, bone and organ meats, contributes to their skin and coat health by way of their balanced gut health, while aiding in maintaining their overall health as well.

How a well-balanced diet can help  

Though the nutrients in dogs’ diets are of course important, they should also be served in the appropriate balance. For example, too much fat in a dog’s diet can diminish the benefits of the protein elements, whilst too little creates issues with vitamin absorption. Too much or too little of any one nutrient can offset the balance of the others, which keeps dogs from receiving the benefits that are available when these ingredients are provided in a cohesive way. 

Another aspect to consider is the individuality of each dog, and their unique nutrient requirements. Whilst all dogs benefit from a balanced, species-appropriate diet, some may require more or less of a certain ingredient in order to maintain optimal health. 

ProDog’s raw meals offer various options for dogs of all sorts, whilst also ensuring that the basic nutrient requirements for canine health are met within each recipe. Balanced diets offer prime opportunities for nutrient absorption, which, through encouraging a healthy gut biome, contributes to coat and skin health. 

To learn more about raw dog food read our articles, Beginners Guide to Raw Dog Food and Benefits of Raw Dog Food.

Benefits of a natural raw diet

Gut health

As I just mentioned, gut health is the key to a well-functioning body. In order to maintain gut health and a balanced gut biome, the appropriate nutrition must be provided. When the gut receives the nutrients it requires to function optimally, it maintains its balance and, as a result, its communication with the rest of the body’s systems.  

The canine gut depends on nutrients that are highly digestible. This makes the gut’s job easier, allowing it to absorb and utilise these nutrients in the appropriate manner. Raw, meat-based diets provide the key elements of nutrition that dogs require for optimal gut health, which also impacts the health of the body’s other systems and functions.

Immune system support

80% of canine immune cells reside within the gut, which makes it easy to see why gut health and immune health are so closely linked. When the gut is balanced and healthy, the immune cells are as well, therefore nutrition plays a key role in immune system support. By providing the body with highly digestible, biologically-available nutrients, the gut and immune system can operate in synergy as they were designed to.

As dog skin allergies and coat health issues directly relate to gut and immune health, it only makes sense that a natural diet would promote healing in both of these areas. The most natural diet for dogs is a fresh, whole food diet, containing adequate amounts of lean protein, healthy fats, bones, organ meats, and plant fibre.  

Skin and coat health

As the condition of the gut directly influences the immune system, inflammatory response, and various other systems/functions throughout the body, the skin and coat also benefit from the nutrients found in a raw food diet [2]. The immune system and inflammatory response both affect the condition of the skin, so when these are operating in balance, the skin can also maintain its natural state.

Aside from the close connection between gut, immune, and skin/coat health, the skin also provides an exit for toxins. Overload of toxins can manifest as dog skin allergies and other skin/coat conditions. When dogs are fed a natural, species-appropriate diet free from fillers, preservatives, and other unnecessary ingredients, their toxin load remains lower, allowing the skin to remain healthy and keeping the coat healthier as a result.

Need help with your dog’s diet?

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Natural dietary additions for improved skin and coat health

Omegas

Omega fatty acids are responsible for a host of health benefits in dogs, such as brain, eye, and joint health. A key function of omega 3 is to regulate the inflammatory response, which, as I’ve mentioned, influences the health of dogs’ skin and coat.

Coat nourishing omega 3s can be found in fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel, as well as salmon oil and leafy green vegetables. Meanwhile, hemp seed oil is a good source of omega 6, which plays a significant role in your dog’s skin health by maintaining the skin’s outermost water barrier.

High-quality protein

High quality, raw animal protein is the foundation of a healthy canine diet. Dogs cannot thrive without animal proteins, which provide various health benefits through their rich amino acid content. Dogs’ bodies require protein to operate and maintain the health of various organs and systems, including the skin and as a result, the coat. Feeding a fresh, raw diet ensures their protein needs are met, whereas a dry, processed diet may not [3].

Healthy fats

Healthy fats are also key in promoting healthy skin and coats in dogs. Fats act as chemical messengers that provide energy, maintain the health of cells, and aid in the absorption of essential vitamins and minerals. Raw, high-quality animal fats are best for dogs. They also benefit from quality flaxseed oil, salmon oil, and hemp seed oil, though these should not be their only source of dietary fat.

Increased  moisture 

A lack of dietary moisture can also contribute to skin and coat health issues in dogs, as hydration is key for the body to function optimally, which includes the skin. Dogs can obtain most of their moisture through a raw food diet, which is a great place to start. However, ensuring they have access to fresh water at all times is crucial as well. The addition of bone broths in their food and/or water will also provide increased moisture and hydration, as well as contributing key electrolytes, vitamins, and minerals to their diet. 

Nutritional supplements

Sometimes additional nutrient support is required to help with issues such as dog skin allergies and other skin/coat conditions. In these cases, I recommend various nutritional supplements to increase nutrient density and target the key areas that need extra help. Here are the supplements I often recommend:

Shine 

Shine is our skin and coat conditioning supplement that utilises the support of skin-friendly ingredients such as Omega 3s, essential amino acids, vitamins, minerals, natural detoxifying agents, and antioxidants. It promotes skin and coat health in all dogs, including those with existing issues.

Boost

Boost is another of ProDog’s nutritional supplements I highly recommend for poor coat health in dogs. Its high vitamin, mineral, essential fatty acids, and antioxidant content fills any nutritional gaps dogs may have in their diet, offering their bodies the support they require for optimal health, including skin and coat health.

Protect

ProDog’s Protect is a unique blend of ingredients to support dogs with itchy skin and allergies.These include, probiotics, turkey tail mushroom, turmeric root, quercetin, vitamin C and, among others. It’s designed to alleviate itchiness and allergies in dogs, and is fantastic for skin and coat health issues.

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Dog coat health FAQs

What causes dandruff in dogs?

There are multiple causes of dandruff in dogs, including diet, environmental factors, and underlying health issues, as well as oily or dry skin.

How can I tell if my dog has skin allergies?

You’ll likely know if your dog has skin allergies, as their discomfort will be quite obvious. However, the best way to find out what’s causing your dog to itch is to have their skin looked at by your vet.

What are the home remedies for dog dandruff and itching?

I always start with a well-balanced, raw food diet, which balances dogs’ internal environments and allows their skin to normalise. However, calendula, colostrum paste, coconut oil , and aloe vera gel (from the leaf) are all helpful for soothing dogs’ itchiness topically.

Is dog dandruff a sign of a more serious health problem?

It can be, but not always. I recommend a consultation with a certified Canine Nutritionist to determine if diet may be causing your dog’s dandruff, as well as a skin exam at the vets to rule out other potential concerns.

Can certain dog breeds be more prone to skin allergies and dandruff?

Any breed can suffer with skin allergies or dandruff, however brachycephalic breeds and white dogs like westies and english bull terriers are more prone.

How to get rid of dandruff on dogs’ fur?

Start with their diet. Ensure they’re getting plenty of moisture, essential fatty acids and high quality Omega 3, high-quality animal protein, and healthy fats, all of which should be raw whenever possible. Incorporating these will contribute towards the resolution of your dog’s dandruff. Also a good brush (regular grooming) and quality natural shampoo and conditioner with oils can help.

What dietary changes can improve my dog’s coat condition?

Introducing a raw diet, along with the elements I describe in the “Key natural additions to diet” section will help. Cooling proteins such as turkey, white fish, and rabbit will aid in soothing any skin inflammation.

Are there over-the-counter products for treating dog dandruff?

Yes, but I advise against these whenever possible. They generally contain immuno-suppressive ingredients that may mask symptoms in the short term, but cause further issues down the road and don’t resolve the root cause of dog dandruff.

How can I relieve my dog’s itching from skin allergies?

Dog skin allergies can be improved by focusing on gut health, which influences the immune system and inflammatory response. A fresh, whole food diet is crucial for attaining balanced gut health. The “Key natural additions to diet” section above also lists some helpful foods for this. Also, Dermadog’s Calm Nourishing Balm can help soothe itchy, irritated skin.

When should I consult a veterinarian for my dog’s skin issues?

It’s advised to contact your vet for any skin health issues, as they’re able to examine your dog’s skin under a microscope to determine the cause of their discomfort. A holistic veterinarian can counsel you on dietary adjustments, as can a Canine Nutritionist.

References

  1. Attia, N., El-Sheikh, A., Siam, M. Jan 2022. Zinc Deficiency in Dogs with Special Reference to its Effect on the Coat. advances in Animal Veterinary Sciences;, 10(3):451-711. Doi: 10.17582/journal.aavs/2022/10.3.582.588
  2. Leverett, K., Manjarin, R., Laird, E., Valtierra, D., Santiago-Rodriguez, T., Donadelli, R., Perez-Camargo, G. Jul 2022. Fresh Food Consumption Increases Microbiome Diversity and Promotes Changes in Bacteria Composition on the Skin of Pet Dogs Compared to Dry Foods. Animals;, 12(15):1881. Doi: 10.3390/ani12151881
  3. Dr. Conor Brady, Dogs First. Better Coat Condition in Your Dog. Accessed April 2024.

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