Your dog’s skin is the largest organ in their body and plays a vital role in protecting it against external damage. Your dog’s diet has a big impact on whether their skin is healthy and functioning effectively.
Your dog’s skin and coat
Your dog's skin and coat make up, on average, 12% of their body weight, and are important organs in their ongoing health and development. Their skin has three individual layers, each with a different function:
• The top layer, or epidermis, provides a barrier to external irritants
• The middle layer, or dermis, gives skin elasticity and resistance
• The bottom layer, or hypodermis, is rich in fat cells and insulation
Your dog’s skin provides critical protection against environmental factors and external parasites that could irritate your pet. Their skin also protects against water loss, regulates their body temperature and is responsible for housing the hairs of their coat. Your dog’s skin, therefore, must be looked after carefully to help support their overall health.
What problems can occur with your dog's skin?
One specific problem is the destruction or loss of a protective biofilm that lies on top of your dog’s skin. This is created by sebum being expressed from the skin, which protects your dog from external irritants. This biofilm, when healthy, also housed beneficial bacteria that help prevent "bad" bacteria from multiplying and causing irritation or other skin problems.
Some breeds of dog have specific problems with their skin. Dog breeds with folded skin, such as Pugs or Bulldogs, can suffer irritation as it’s easier for their skin to harbour bacteria. Smaller dogs known for the quality of their coat can have particularly sensitive skin, and be at risk of hair loss, hair brittleness or loss of coat colour – for example, in Mini Schnauzers or Shih Tzus.
How your dog’s diet affects their skin health
The right diet can help support your dog’s skin in functioning effectively, and it needs to have the right mix of nutrients.
Your dog needs protein to build healthy skin and hair. Ideally, the protein must be highly digestible and from a high-quality source. This makes it easier for your dog's gastro-intestinal tract to digest and absorb the protein. Polyunsaturated fatty acids similarly support the development of skin and hair, and if the appropriate quantities of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids are present in your dog’s food, these can help to manage itching and skin irritation.
Their diet can also protect against external factors by including vitamins A, B and D, and encourage the proper functioning of skin cells with the inclusion of zinc. Copper is also used to help promote colour in their coat.
Dogs can be hypersensitive or even allergic to certain food components, which can result in signs of skin irritation. If you have any concerns about the health of your dog’s skin, consult your veterinarian who will be able to advise you on hypersensitivities, allergies and the best food for your pet.