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How your dog's diet affects their skin

Adult Golden Retriever standing indoors eating from a silver bowl.
As the largest organ in their body, your dog's skin is the first defense against external irritants. The right diet with the right mix of nutrients is an essential step to contribute to good health.

Your dog's skin is the largest organ of their body and plays a vital role in protecting it against external damage. Your dog's diet has a big effect on whether their skin is healthy and functioning effectively, and as such, should not be overlooked.

Your dog's skin and coat

The skin and hair on your dog makes up, on average, 12% of their body weight, and it's a hugely important organ 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

As well as these, your dog's skin provides critical protection against environmental factors and external parasites which 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.

Adult long-haired dog sitting in a field with a puppy.

What problems can occur with dogs' skin?

One specific problem is the destruction or loss of a protective biofilm which lays on top of your dog's skin. This is created by sebum being expressed from the skin, and it houses beneficial bacteria which protects your dog from external irritants. This biofilm, when healthy, also prevents "bad" bacteria from multiplying and causing irritation or other skin problems. Although this function works to fight against external issues when it comes to your dog's skin, it's produced and controlled in part by internal reactions to their diet.

Dogs can be hypersensitive or even allergic to certain food components; if these are part of their diet, it can cause skin complaints. This includes histamine—found in tomatoes, spinach, cheese and pig liver—and tryptamine, which is found in chocolate and cooked cheese. Certain grains can also be a cause of skin conditions resulting from hypersensitivity in your dog.

Some breeds of dog have specific problems with their skin, which is important to be aware of. Dog breeds with folded skin, such as pugs or bulldogs, can suffer irritation as it's easier for their skin to harbor 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 color—for example, in miniature 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 therefore from a high-quality source. This makes it easier for your dog's gastro-intestinal tract to assimilate to the protein, while avoiding risks of hypersensitivity and resulting skin conditions. Polyunsaturated fatty acids similarly support the development of skin and hair, and if the appropriate quantities of omega 3 and omega 6 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 develop the strength of color in their coat.

If you have any concerns about the health of your dog's skin, consult your vet who will be able to advise you on hypersensitivities, allergies and the best food for your pet.

  • Healthy skin and coat

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