Dog Dry Skin: Causes and Natural Treatments

Every pet parent knows a little itching and scratching is normal. But beyond fleas or other bug bites, it’s not always easy to parse out what health issue could be lurking behind a dog’s case of seemingly harmless dry skin.

If you’ve noticed continual scratching and dry, flaking skin, you may need to look beyond treating only the outside symptoms and take a closer look at the underlying issue that needs attention.

Causes of Dog Dry Skin

Dogs have sensitive skin just like we do. When their immune systems are compromised or parasites hitch a ride and harass them, the epidermis becomes red, inflamed, flaky, scaly, or oily (or a combination). Sometimes a dog’s reaction to the primary irritation can result in sores, which lead to secondary bacterial infections; the worst symptoms are often self-inflicted and caused by the dog’s attempts to end the discomfort by scratching, licking, and nibbling.

You can do some at-home investigating to uncover the source of your pooch’s persistent dry skin, but if you see severe symptoms like sores, vomiting, or a swollen eardrum, it’s best to consult a credentialed holistic veterinarian as soon as possible.

If your dog’s case of dry skin appears minor, carefully consider the following potential causes - whose signs, symptoms, and treatment options we’ll address below:

Fleas and Dry Skin

A flea infestation is the easiest dry skin cause to rule out, and probably your first guess when you see your pup scratching. These little wingless buggers can be spotted with the naked eye, as can the black specks of feces they leave behind, which are called “flea dirt.” Comb through the hair on your dog’s head, abdomen, and tail base for the best chance of confirming the presence of fleas. Your dog may have a hypersensitivity to fleas called “flea allergy dermatitis,” which is an immune system reaction to flea saliva that results in itching and scabbing. Sometimes just one flea bite can cause a negative response; the lack of fleas or flea dirt doesn’t necessarily mean that your dog doesn’t have allergic dermatitis, but if they are present, it’s a good indication that your dog’s dry skin is caused by their presence.

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Dog Mites and Dry Skin

While we’re discussing parasites, there are various types of dog mites that can cause dry skin and scaling. There are four common types of these microscopic, transparent insects that bring dogs grief, and these include sarcoptes scabiei, demodex canis, cheyletiella, and ear mites. We won’t delve into ear mites here since they don’t contribute to dog dry skin, but one of the other three varieties could be the source of your pup’s dryness woes. You may recognize the terms “sarcoptes” and “demodex;” these two types of mites result in sarcoptic and demodectic mange, dangerous skin conditions. Sarcoptic mange (or canine scabies) is also called “red mange” because of the resulting redness and inflammation. Demodectic mange, on the other hand, usually causes patches of hair loss starting at the face and moving back along the body toward the tail.

If you see flakes of dandruff on your pup, she may be playing host to cheyletiella mites, which travel along the surface of the skin instead of burrowing into it the skin or hair follicles (like sarcoptes and demodex). Cheyletiella mites walk around in your dog’s hair, making the flecks of dead skin appear to move on their own; therefore, cheyletiella mites are also called “walking dandruff.”

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Dog Allergies and Dry Skin

If you’ve ruled out fleas and mange, it’s only logical to assume patches of dry skin or flakiness might be attributed to allergies. We’ve already discussed flea allergies, so that leaves two main categories: environmental and food allergies. We know those are pretty broad classifications, so we’ll delve a little deeper into the potential irritants.

Let’s start with food allergies since they are easy to rule out without a veterinarian visit. Food allergies are not uncommon among dogs in this day and age because processed foods contain common irritants, and the preparation and processing techniques often expose dogs to unhealthy amounts of antibiotics. Many packaged foods contain ingredients that dog digestive symptoms simply aren’t intended to process in high quantities. Common allergens you’ll often find listed on dog food packaging include wheat and other grains, soy, eggs, dairy, chicken, beef, and corn. Food allergies aren’t always initially obvious. In fact, your dog can suddenly develop allergies after eating the same food for years.

Symptoms of a food allergy include:

  • Itching, redness, and dryness
  • Oozing skin
  • Eye and nose discharge; red eyes
  • Itchy paws; paw biting/licking
  • Coughing and sneezing
  • Digestive upset like vomiting, gas, bloating, and/or diarrhea

Seasonal/environmental allergies share many of the same skin symptoms as food allergies, but are less likely to result in any digestive symptoms. It’s also quite a bit more difficult to know exactly what environmental or seasonal allergen is problematic for your dog. It could be anything from mold spores to the dog shampoo used at the groomer. But you may be able to solve the symptoms by making general lifestyle changes, such as bathing your dog regularly with a natural soap, trading out harsh home cleaning products like bleach with all-natural ones, and keeping your home as free of dust mites and outdoor allergens as possible with quality air filters.

If you feel certain your dog is suffering from allergies and you don’t know to pinpoint the irritant, a holistic veterinarian will be able to perform skin or blood tests, or they may place your dog on a healthy elimination diet to root out the problem.

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Dry Skin Causes Related to Bacterial and Fungal Infections

Bacteria reside on your dog’s skin without causing any harm. But an open sore or patch of inflammation caused by an allergic reaction can lead to the propagation of bacteria, which will then cause infection and pustules that may have an unpleasant odor. Crusted skin is a main symptom of both bacterial infections and fungal infections like ringworm and hookworm. Don’t mistake a harmful infection with a case of dry skin, or the infection could get worse. Again, if you see skin lesion, pus, or bleeding, make sure to get your pup to a trusted vet right away. Fungal infections can spread on contact, so if you suspect your dog received an infection from a boarding or daycare facility, keep her home and be sure to let an employee know.

Other Causes of Dry Skin in Dogs

If you live in a climate with low humidity, your dog may be reacting to the lack of moisture in the air. Dry winter weather can cause or exacerbate dry skin, as can drinking too little water.

There’s also a chance your pup could be suffering from a genetic condition, like hyper or hypothyroidism, Cushing’s Disease, or diabetes. Weight fluctuation, a dull coat, muscle weakness and lethargy are a few symptoms of these deeper problems.

Natural Treatments for Dog Dry Skin

Now that we’ve reviewed the causes, it’s time to talk about what you can do as a loving pet parent to address your dog’s dry skin and resulting discomfort.

First, if you’re not yet feeding your dog an organic, grain-free diet, free of the allergens mentioned above, it’s time to start. A healthy diet can make a world of difference in your dog’s symptoms and overall well-being. It’s a relatively small change that can have a hefty impact. If you suspect your dog has food allergies, enact an elimination diet by selecting a limited-ingredient food with a single protein source. Once your dog shows signs of improvement from the new food, you can start adding back potential allergens one by one for about three weeks to see if any of them elicit a negative reaction. Make sure to also switch your pup’s treats to all-natural, all meat treats as well. Try to avoid feeding your pooch the same protein for months on end; this is how allergies develop.

One of the best moves you can make for your pup, yourself, and your family, is to switch to non-toxic cleaning, laundry, and hygiene products. Harsh chemicals in everyday products can cause headaches, respiratory illness, and allergic skin reactions, which may be affecting your dog. Use natural flea and tick spray for yard instead of toxic insecticides, and the same goes for your dog’s skin as well; Wondercide’s natural pet parent pack can help gently eliminate not only pests, but your dog’s itching and allergic responses as well. Neem oil, the active ingredient in our Skin Tonic Spray, is a natural antibacterial and antifungal. It soothes itching and skin irritation, and over centuries has functioned as a general antiseptic to relieve troublesome dermatological issues.

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In addition to the gentle and relieving skin tonic spray, you can address your pup’s dry skin with a hypoallergenic shampoo bar with aloe and/or our oatmeal and honey shampoo bar that gently moisturizes skin. It’s best to choose shampoos or sprays that contain no artificial fragrances or astringent chemicals that could exacerbate your dog’s dry skin. Wondercide’s products are safe for dogs with even the most sensitive skin.

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Extra Tips for Preventing Dry Skin

How you can best relieve your dog’s dry skin depends on the causes. But these are always smart tips to keep in mind - tips that will keep your dog’s skin and coat healthy and moisturized.

  • Even if antibiotics help relieve the brunt of your dog’s symptoms, remember that antibiotics can expose the body to fungal infections. Depending on the severity of your dog’s symptoms, it may be preferable to first try treating the dry skin with natural homeopathic remedies and products before resorting to antibiotics or steroids.
  • If you’ve been washing your dog more than once or twice per month with a heavily scented or artificially fragranced shampoo, take a break and see if the dry skin clears up. Speak to your groomer and ask to see which products they use on your dog. You may need to find a groomer committed to using high quality, all-natural products.
  • Avoid harsh chemical flea dips. Even if your dog does have pests (and obviously, you want to get rid of them!), these dips can irritate skin further. There are more natural ways to get rid of pests. Option number one should be to clean everything your dog has lounged on or played with. Wash bedding, blankets, and plush toys with non-scented detergent. Give your dog a thorough, gentle bath and comb through the coat for fleas. See where that leaves you before you resort to the powerful, yet often harmful, dips.
  • Always provide plenty of fresh water for your dog.
  • If you suspect environmental allergies are triggered by going outdoors, provide your dog with a comfy sweater and booties to minimize their contact with allergens like certain types of grass.
  • Buy a HEPA vacuum that will pick up more harmful particulates than a regular vacuum.
  • Try to keep your dog distracted while you wait for your holistic approach to work on their dry skin. You don’t want them chewing on their skin until hair loss and sores occur, so try providing your dog with a natural chew toy that can withstand some wear and tea. And get plenty of exercise; tuckering out your pup with activities can also help distract from the licking, gnawing, and scratching.
  • When you bathe your dog, be sure to keep water out of the ears. Moisture in the ears can lead to ear infections, and dogs with allergies are already more prone to developing them. Be careful when you take yours swimming as well.

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The most important thing to remember is that even choices that seem small can affect your dog’s health and skin. Choose quality, all-natural products and you may see improvement beyond treating dry skin.

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