It can be tough to tell if your dog has dry skin issues under all that fur. There are many potential explanations for this ailment, and unfortunately, all of them are very uncomfortable for Fido. Dry and flaky skin on dogs can be hugely frustrating and irritating, leading to your much-loved pet scratching constantly and feeling sore.
Thankfully, dried skin on dogs can usually be avoided by following the appropriate lifestyle and dietary guidelines. Even if your pet does begin to suffer – whether that’s with a nose that’s dry and cracked or a full-on skin rash – there is plenty that you can do about it.
This guide will discuss all of the options that are open to you, and how you can keep your dog’s skin elasticated, soft, and lively.
Table of Contents:
What Are the Most Common Dog Skin Problems?
Dogs can be afflicted by a long list of skin problems, just some of which include:
- Allergic Dermatitis. Just like humans, dogs can be allergic to a wide range of different things. When a canine experiences an allergic reaction it usually results in a rash.
- Acral Lick Dermatitis. This is a condition caused by a dog constantly and relentlessly licking the same patch of skin on their body, often the front paw. Unfortunately, this becomes a catch-22 situation. Your dog licks themselves raw and into pain, and then continues the licking in an attempt to ease their discomfort.
- Acute Moist Dermatitis. These are tiny, angry red blotches on the skin, so they are sometimes referred to as ‘hot spots.’ A considerable number of dogs have acute moist dermatitis, and they could be spawned by a bite from an insect or parasite, an allergy or your dog licking or biting their skin.
- Canine Psoriasis. Dogs are just as likely to develop Psoriasis as humans, and the symptoms are almost identical. Your pooch will experience an excess of cells creating hard, flaky and scaly lumps of skin on your dog’s body that will consistently itch.
- Seborrhea. This leaves a dog’s skin greasy and prone to turning scaly and flaking off – which is why it is often referred to as dog dandruff. Some dogs are born with the condition, while others develop the problem if they’re sick with something else.
- Folliculitis. This is a bacterial condition that leaves a dog looking particularly scabby, bumpy and generally sore all over their skin. It’s rare for folliculitis to emerge by itself, though – it’s usually a side effect of another condition.
- Yeast Infections. Yeast infections are awkward, painful things and a dog living with such a problem will find themselves continually scratching and licking at their ears or toes.
- Ringworm. This contagious virus is named after its appearance, which revolves around a sequence of circular marks all over your dog’s skin. Ringworm has nothing to do with parasitic worm infections.
- This nasty-looking but rarely dangerous condition commonly afflicts puppies, leaving their skin covered in tiny blisters that may burst.
- Hives. These bumpy lesions on a dog’s skin will itch like crazy and drive poor Fido to distraction as he desperately seeks relief. Hives tend to pass quickly, but they can be a big issue while they last.
We’ll discuss all of these possible conditions in more detail throughout this article, providing insights into how you treat any unfortunate outbreaks.
The good news is that while none of these conditions are pleasant for your dog to go through, neither will they have a substantial impact on your pet’s health. Skin conditions can typically be cleared up with a dose of medication prescribed by a vet.
What Causes Dry Skin on Dogs?
Dry skin could have many origins, and many of them are the same as those found in humans.
According to the American Kennel Club, allergies are the most common example, but other possible causes of dry skin include:
- Temperature Changes. A dog will notice if the temperature changes multiple times during a day – for example, taking them out for a walk on a chilly winter’s day and returning to a house that’s being heated by air conditioning.
- Parasitic Infestations. If your dog has fleas, mites, ticks or a variety of other parasites, their skin may end up drying out as a result. Keep on top of preventative treatments for these unwelcome visitors.
- Poor Nutrition. If your dog is not getting everything they need from a balanced diet, their skin will suffer as a result. If your dog’s skin has started to dry out all of a sudden after changing their food, you should speak to a vet to learn more about the ideal diet for your dog.
- Sickness. There are health concerns that may lead to dry skin on a dog, including Cushing’s disease and hypertension.
If you notice that your dog is struggling with their skin, the first thing that you should do is track down precisely what is causing the problem in the first place, and take the appropriate action. If it’s an allergy, then keep your dog away from whatever sparked such a reaction. If it’s a lifestyle issue, change up your dog’s routine.
Should I Bathe a Dog That is Prone to dry Skin More Often?
No, excessive bathing could be a contributing factor to a dog’s dry skin, especially if you are using a harsh and perfumed shampoo.
Once a month is the optimum amount of times to bathe your dog correctly, using a soft and gentle shampoo designed for pets or babies. Any more than this is pushing your luck, and potentially causing a problem.
That doesn’t mean that you need to ignore Fido’s need for a wash in between scheduled showers, though. You can always use wet wipes or a spray-on dry shampoo to top up your pooch cleaning to avoid the telltale dog smell that offends the noses of friends or family members that may not be canine lovers (not that we care what they think.)
Dog Breeds Prone to Skin Conditions
Some dogs are more likely than others to experience skin conditions – including dry skin.
If your pet falls under one of the following breed banners, you’ll have to be particularly vigilant about maintaining the health of their skin:
- Poodles. These curly canines often suffer from a condition called granulomatous sebaceous adenitis, which is typically hereditary. This disease makes the dog’s skin oily and leads to fur falling out.
- Spaniels. These dogs face a two-pronged attack on their immune systems; their long, floppy ears, which allow a great many bacteria to attach themselves to your pet, and their sensitivity to poor quality meals. If you bring a Spaniel into your home, always feed them a breed-specific food that’s recommended by a professional.
- Bulldogs. The skin of these pooches is covered with folds, meaning that there are plenty of opportunities for bacterial infections to work their way into the equation. Any Bulldog will need regular grooming to stay healthy and avoid dry skin.
- Dobermans. A Doberman is the dog most likely to live with hypothyroid, which means in turn that they are liable to struggle with dry and itchy skin. If you suspect that your canine companion has an underactive thyroid, get them to a vet for a course of medication.
- Hairless Breeds. Unsurprisingly, any hairless breed is more likely than most to struggle with skin conditions. If you bring one of these animals into your life, ensure that you have done all the appropriate research to make them comfortable.
Sometimes it’s just sheer bad luck that a dog is struck down by dry skin, or a result of their genes. One positive is that the same cures that can be used on any other hound also apply to these breeds, so your dog need not struggle and suffer unnecessarily.
Allergic Dermatitis in Dogs
Allergies are a significant problem for canines, as our guide to how to recognize allergic reactions in dogs explains in details.
Sadly, our pets are surrounded by things that could be sparking allergic reactions – including, but not limited to:
- Food and Treats
- Soaps and Shampoos
- Plastic (including food and water bowls)
- Grass and Plant Life
One of the most common allergies in dogs is allergic dermatitis, which typically results in a rash covering every inch of your dog’s skin. While these are rarely life-threatening, they will be hugely uncomfortable and cause a great deal of itching – and, of course, dry skin. What’s more, when a dog’s skin dries out it can be stretched and broken quite easily, especially if they have sharp claws that may cause permanent damage.
If your dog experiences an allergic reaction that results in a rash, get them to a vet. It won’t be a matter of life and death, but tests will need to be run to assess what is causing the problem, in addition to a medical remedy that the vet will prescribe. Beyond that, all you can do is keep your pet away from whatever spark such a reaction in the future in an attempt at preventing such suffering before it occurs again.
Seborrhea in Dogs
If your dog has dry skin and dandruff, they’re living with a nasty case of dog seborrhea. This condition is either a secondary disease that acts as a symptom of something more severe, which could vary between an allergic reaction right through to an endocrinal disease that will require surgery or an unfortunate inheritance from a canine parent.
Seborrhea is also the condition that leads to the famous ‘dog smell’ that so many complain about. This is a result of your pet’s glands creating an excess of sebum, an oily secretion with a very distinctive aroma. Sebum may manifest as dry scales (known as sicca) or oils (aka oleosa), but the result will always be the same – angry, inflamed skin that flakes off in the form of dandruff.
Treatment for seborrhea usually revolves around a specialist shampoo that your vet will be able to recommend, or even prescribe in more severe cases. If your dog is leaving a white trail behind them, even if they are not exhibiting any outward signs of distress, you should make an appointment with your vet. There is nothing to gain by ignoring such a treatable but ultimately unpleasant condition.
Folliculitis in Dogs
If your dog has dry, flaky skin and scabs, they will be struggling with folliculitis. You may also notice an outbreak of acne or other pimples all over your dog’s face or body with this condition, not unlike those that plague teenaged humans.
It may look unpleasant and feel a little scary, and your dog will undoubtedly be uncomfortable, but the good news is that folliculitis is very common and thus eminently treatable. As always, you’ll need the help of a vet to clear it up as they will need to take many tests to decipher the root of the problem.
However, once a professional is satisfied that they understand why your pooch is struggling with the condition and no further health concerns are present they’ll usually prescribe a special shampoo or topical cream.
Unfortunately, it may be a few weeks before the condition is finally kicked, so follow some of our advice on treating skin conditions at home to make your pet as comfortable as possible in the meantime.
Yeast Infections in Dogs
If you live in a hot and humid area, you’re more than likely familiar with the danger of yeast infection within a dog.
These are extremely common in all kinds of pets, with typical symptoms of a yeast infection being:
- Dry, Cracked, Greasy or Oily Skin.
- A Distinct, Disagreeable Smell.
- Continually Rubbing and Shaking Head.
- Constant Licking and Chewing at Paws and Feet.
- Excessive Drooling.
- Losing Hair in Patches.
- Rubbing and Scratching Dry and Irritated Skin.
Your vet will be able to prescribe a treatment that will keep the yeast infection at bay and eventually cure it, but what’s more important is to learn about the underlying cause. Much like an allergic reaction, a yeast infection can typically be prevented through avoidance. Allow your vet to run as many tests as they deem necessary. Your pooch might not be talking to you for an hour, or so afterward, they’ll be grateful in the longer term when they no longer suffer from unpleasant infections.
Impetigo in Dogs
Impetigo comes with a laundry list of other names, including puppy pyoderma and juvenile pustular dermatitis. As these names suggest, it’s a condition that primarily revolves around younger dogs. Thankfully it’s not typically fatal, but it is hugely important that you get it dealt with; impetigo is painful and highly contagious.
Impetigo is a bacterial infection caused by Staphylococcus, meaning that it may commonly be referred to as a staph infection. That’s pretty frightening to hear, but the truth is that bacteria – both good and bad varieties – will surround a puppy at all times.
The condition occurs when the balance becomes skewed, and as puppies have immature immune systems that are not yet strong enough to battle infection, their skill will dry out, become covered with a rash, pimples and pus-filled blisters. Naturally, your puppy will attempt to scratch and bite at these, magnifying the problem even further.
If your puppy has been struck down by impetigo (which can usually be avoided if you ensure that their living areas are washed continuously – puppies tend to make a lot of mess!), book a vet’s appointment post-haste. As we said, your dog’s life won’t be in danger, but they will be in pain and struggling during their crucial developmental years, which could make them anxious and problematic as they enter adulthood. The advice may be to watch the condition and use home remedies until it passes by itself, or in more severe cases a cream or antibiotics will be prescribed.
My Dog Has Dry, Flaky Skin and is Losing Hair
More often than not, this is a result of your dog being infested with fleas or other parasites. This is why it’s so important to keep on top of your dog’s anti-pest treatments – they will bite and scratch at their skin constantly, eventually resulting in patches of bare skin.
If your dog is itchy and losing hair at the base of their tail (or anywhere else on their body that’s within range of their teeth and claws), take the action laid out in our guide to this very subject before it’s too late. Fur may grow back, but your dog could do permanent damage to their skin before it does so.
Bumps on a Dog That Itch
As described in our segment describing common skin problems in dogs, hives can be a serious concern for canines. We have a whole guide dedicated to what causes hives on a dog’s skin, which we recommend that you investigate for more information.
In summary, these itchy bumps usually tend to arrive and disappear within 24 hours of each other, but they suggest a serious reaction to an allergen or stress – and they can leave scars on your dog’s skin if Fido is tempted to scratch enough to break open the sores.
If your dog has an outbreak of hives, it is advisable to make an appointment with a vet to run a handful of tests. Hives are rarely dangerous in and of themselves, but they could be pointing to a more severe health problem or an allergy to something that your pet will regularly encounter in their everyday life.
My Dog’s Skin is Peeling Like Sunburn
Well, firstly, can you be sure that your dog is not suffering from sunburn? As we explain in our guide to how to prevent a dog’s paws from burning on a hot pavement, canines are very likely to catch the sun’s rays as they bounce from the sidewalk onto their exposed bellies. If you fear that the sun has burned your dog’s skin, you should try to ease their discomfort with aloe vera gel and make an appointment with the vet as a precaution.
Another potential explanation for feeling skin on a dog is a fungal infection. This isn’t to be taken lightly, as it means that a foreign entity has made its way inside the body of your dog is now causing a profoundly unpleasant reaction. Thankfully, a vet will be able to treat this without too much fuss, usually with a course of antibiotics or an anti-fungal cream that can be applied topically.
My Dog’s Ears are Dry and Flaky Inside
If your dog’s ears are dry and flaking, the explanation is usually the same as anywhere else on the body; an allergic reaction, a struggle with their diet or an infestation of parasites. Alternatively, it may be a contamination of some kind – for more information on how to treat an infection, take a look at our guide on what to when my dog’s ear smells and has brown discharge.
If you have concerns about your dog’s ears, you could wash them independently of a full shower. This could be done several times a week, using a bar of unscented soap or specialist ear wipes that you can pick up from a pet store. It’s always worth checking your pet’s ears with regularity anyway, and mites and other pets may attempt to set up shop within if left to their own devices.
How Can I Prevent My Dog from Getting Dry Skin?
If you take the appropriate care, your dog will not have to worry about developing dry skin – and thus you won’t need to apply any remedies to fix the issue.
- Groom Your Dog Regularly. If you remain on top of grooming your dog through brushing their coat, you’ll be able to keep an eye on their skin as you’re doing so and spot any potential problems quickly. It’s also a great way of bonding with your canine companion!
- Feed Your Dog a High Quality, Balanced Diet. As we have been at pains to point out, diet is hugely important to a dog’s general well being – especially as pertains to their skin. A vet will be able to advise as to the ideal diet for your dog and run tests that will confirm whether they have any allergies that you should be aware of. You could also consider dropping some supplements or herbs into your dog’s food. Turmeric is safe for canines and is particularly effective at improving the flexibility and quality of the skin (as well as preventing arthritis!)
- Regulate Your Dog’s Body Temperature. Constant fluctuations in temperature can play havoc with skin, whether that’s dog or human. If it’s the depths of winter outside try to avoid making your home the temperature of a sauna – this will dry out skin in no time at all.
- Use Natural Soaps and Shampoos. Dog skin can be considerably more sensitive than human, so when you are forcing Fido to take a bath against his will avoid anything too perfumed or artificial. Dog shampoos are designed to appeal to humans as we’re the ones that purchase them, and while the idea of a fruitily-scented pooch is appealing, perfumed products can wreak havoc on a dog’s skin.
- Use Herbal or Organic Parasite Repellents. It’s unlikely, but it’s possible that your dog is struggling with a reaction to their flea or tick treatment. If you think this might be the case, don’t skip a dose; that’s a fast track to allowing fleas to settle on your dog, and once these tiny parasites start to make themselves at home and lay eggs they’re tough to shift. Instead, look for an entirely organic or natural remedy rather than formal medication. Lemon juice is an example of this, though as dogs are naturally averse to citrus, you may struggle to get close enough to apply a liberal layer!
Sometimes, however, it’s unavoidable that your dog’s skin will start to dry out. If that’s the case, follow our advice below on some of the remedies that you can use to add moisture and flexibility to Fido’s flesh again.
What Can I Put on My Dog for Dry Skin?
There are an abundance of potential solutions for dry skin if your dog is suffering from the condition.
If you’re seeking a home remedy for dry skin, you could do far worse than any of these options:
- Coconut Oil. Cold-pressed, extra virgin coconut oil is a genuine superfood for dogs – and it’s hugely tasty, too! Allowing your pet to lap at a little coconut oil each evening before bed (not too much – it contains a lot of fat, and therefore calories) or rubbing it straight onto their skin will do wonders for a dog’s skin and fur.
- Olive Oil. It can be a little greasy, and your dog will no doubt spend hours attempting to lick it off, but olive oil is hugely nourishing for a dog’s skin. Look for an extra virgin product though, or your dog may end smelling dangerously like a garden salad.
- Baking Soda. A paste of baking soda and water that is rubbed on your dog’s skin, or a cup of powder placed in a bath that your pooch can submerge themselves in, will calm down itching, irritated dry skin.
- Apple Cider Vinegar. You can mix this product up with water (make sure it’s heavily dilated – at least 50/50) and spray it over the dry areas of your dog’s skin. This will calm down any itching and moisten the skin, though obviously, you’ll have to be very careful not to get it into your dog’s eyes.
- This is a fantastic homemade remedy for treating a dog with dry, itchy skin. Make up a paste and rub it all over your dog, leave it on for around 20 minutes and rinse it off in the shower, or pour it into bath water for Fido to lay in; your pooch will soon be soothed.
- Epsom Salt. Add some of these salts to your dog’s bath, and they’ll soon find their inflamed skin starting to calm down. Epsom salt is going to be hugely painful if it makes its way into an open wound though, so don’t take this tack if your dog has scratched their skin so much they’ve broken the surface. You’ll also have to prevent them lapping up too much of their bath water.
Of course, preventing your dog from struggling with the problem in the first place is better – but any of the solutions above will help them make a full recovery and restore Fido’s quality of life in no time at all!
Dry skin can be a real bind for many canines. Sure, it’s not life threatening like some conditions, and it won’t even leave them struggling to run, jump or play like others, but it’s still not fun at all to be itching all over your body all day, every day. Can you imagine anything worse?
Take the steps that you need to keep your dog’s skin supple and moist, and prevent them from drying out. Just make moisturizing part of your pet’s daily routine, alongside walkies and bathroom breaks. Before long it will become second nature – and you’ll never need to worry about whether your dog is uncomfortable again.