You meant to give your dog a loving pat on the head. But after crossing the carpet in stockinged feet, you conveyed a spark of static electricity, instead. The same cold, dry air that makes you a walking electrical current in the winter can make your skin — and your dog’s skin — dry, flaky and itchy.
Why does this happen? Cold air holds less moisture than warm air, so in the winter months, there’s typically less water vapor in the air. And that can give your dog dry, chapped skin. How can you make him or her more comfortable?
Rule out other health conditions
Dogs with dry, itchy, flaky skin could have an underlying health condition that’s causing the problem:
- Allergies — Dogs may be allergic to environmental allergens, food, fleas or simply something that comes in contact with the skin, such as a new detergent that was used to wash the dog bed.
- Parasites — Mites and fleas can cause dry, flaky skin.
- Bacterial or fungal infections — Dogs with yeast, bacteria or ringworm infections may share the same signs. In some cases, there may be an unusual odor.
- Endocrine or immune-mediated diseases and some types of cancer — Dry skin may be a sign of hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormone) or hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s disease, or high adrenal hormones), and hair loss can be common.
- Poor nutrition — Feeding a diet that’s not nutritionally complete and balanced for your dog’s life stage could result in skin issues. Certain breeds, such as Siberian huskies and Alaskan malamutes, can also suffer from zinc-responsive dermatosis.
- Harsh shampoos and frequent bathing — Because dogs have a different skin pH than humans, you should never use human shampoos on dogs.
In these cases, the dry skin will typically resolve once the underlying health condition is treated. That’s why it’s worth a trip to the veterinarian to make sure there isn’t another more serious condition involved.
Help on the home front
How can you make your dog more comfortable this winter?
- Add humidifiers to your home. These will convert water into a vapor, making the air more humid. If you don’t have a humidifier, you can place large bowls of water around the house and the water will eventually evaporate into the air.
- Keep your dog on year-round parasite preventives. These medications can help prevent external and internal parasites that can impact your dog’s health.
- Feed a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties and help relieve dry, itchy skin. While you can give oral supplements, ingredient ratios and bioavailability can vary significantly between products. Your veterinarian can recommend a regular diet that contains these important ingredients.
- Groom your dog regularly. Brushing helps remove dirt, flaky skin and loose hair, and helps stimulate oil secretion.
- Use topical therapies. Your veterinarian can help you select the right shampoo, conditioner, spray or spot-on for your dog, and advise you on the best bathing frequency. If using a medicated shampoo, work it into the skin, especially in the armpits, groin area and between the toes, then let it soak for about 10 minutes before rinsing. If necessary, follow with a moisturizing conditioner.
It doesn’t take much to keep your dog’s skin moist and supple during the cold, dry winter months. If you have any concerns, consult your veterinarian.
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