A black dog standing outside in the snow with snowflakes on its face.

Tips for Managing a Dog with Dry Skin

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 when examining a dog with dry skin

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.

As the temperature drops and home heating systems kick on, the resulting dry air can rob your dog’s skin of essential moisture and cause dry, flaky, sensitive skin. Dry skin can be just as irritating, itchy and uncomfortable for our dogs as it is for us. So if dry winter skin is making your dog miserable, here’s what you need to know.

A dog’s dry skin in winter can cause dandruff

Simply put, dandruff is dry skin cells that have flaked off of the skin’s surface and are visible either on the skin, in your dog’s coat or anywhere your dog tends to frequent. Known as seborrhea in veterinary-speak, dandruff occurs naturally as new skin cells replace old ones which are then shed into the environment. During winter months, dry skin might not seem like a big deal — although it can be unsightly and very uncomfortable. However, a buildup of dandruff can be a sign of a more serious health problem.

Even if you suspect that your dog’s dandruff is caused by the dry winter weather, it’s a good idea to talk with your veterinarian in order to rule out more serious issues. And if you notice your dog’s dry skin is accompanied by other troubling signs, a trip to the veterinary clinic is definitely necessary.

Tips for managing your dog’s dry skin this winter

Once your veterinarian has confirmed that your dog’s dandruff and itching are caused by dry skin, here are tips for managing his or her skin and coat during cold weather:

  • Brush your dog at least once or twice daily to remove skin flakes and loose hair. Not only will brushing help your dog feel good and keep his or her coat shiny, but it also helps stimulate and distribute the skin’s natural oils that form a protective, moisturizing barrier.
  • Bathe your dog less frequently during winter months since bathing can remove the skin’s natural oils and valuable moisture. If bathing is necessary, use a moisturizing shampoo and conditioner made specifically for dogs. Lukewarm water instead of hot water cleans as effectively but doesn’t dry out the skin as much.
  • Run humidifiers in your home to add some much-needed moisture into the air.
  • Feed your dog a quality, nutritionally balanced food, preferably one with proper levels of essential omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, such as Diamond CARE Sensitive Skin Formula for Adult Dogs. Both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids help maintain healthy skin and may benefit dogs with skin and coat problems. Be sure to talk with your veterinarian before switching your dog’s food.
  • Provide plenty of fresh, clean water to help your dog maintain his or her hydration. Even mild dehydration can contribute to skin flakiness and dryness.
  • To encourage greater water intake during winter months, consider adding warm water to your dog’s dry food or adding a splash of low-sodium broth to the water dish.
  • Keep your dog on year-round parasite preventives. These medications can help prevent external and internal parasites that can impact your dog’s health.
  • 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.

If your dog does have dry, flaky, itchy skin this winter, you should know that you’re not a bad pet parent and that you’re not alone! Seasonal dry skin can be a concern in dogs just as in people — and it’s not a life-threatening condition. Changes in grooming practices, adding moisture to indoor air and a quality dog food can help reduce and possibly eliminate the effects of winter’s dry air on your dog’s skin and coat.

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.

The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.


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