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Skin and coat problems are the number one reason why pet owners take their animals to a veterinarian. From allergies to dry skin, to infected ears or excessive shedding, the majority of veterinary complaints are on the outside of the dog.

Why are skin and coat problems so common among dogs?

A likely culprit is overall poor skin health. Skin is a huge organ and in order to function correctly, it needs a lot of nutrients, including protein, fatty acids, mineral and vitamins. In addition, hair requires a lot of protein to grow and maintain a shiny appearance. If the body perceives that it isn’t getting enough nutrients, the skin is the first to suffer, and the first problem pet owners notice.

If your pet’s hair is dull, it may be that your pet is not getting enough of the right nutrients. The old adages holds well here – we are what we eat, and you get what you pay for. If you are feeding a grocery store brand dog food, it may be that your pet experiencing a nutrient deficiency, and the first place you will see it is in the hair coat.

If you are already feeding a high-quality diet and your pet’s coat health is still poor, your pet could have an underlying medical problem.  Hormonal conditions, such as hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease both affect hair and skin.  Talk with your veterinarian – an examination and simple blood tests can rule out any underlying conditions.

Skin allergies are another big cause of itchy, red skin and ears. Common signs of allergies include chewing, scratching, licking the paws or rubbing the face, and itchy, red ears.  Flea allergy and inhalant allergies (atopy) are by far the most common allergies seen in dogs and cats and can make them miserable.  Food sensitivities, such as protein allergies or grain sensitivities, are much rarer. Allergies can also lead to secondary skin infections, which cause odor and redness.

You are probably wondering what you can do to promote healthy skin and coat in your pet. The easiest thing you can do is build healthy skin from the inside out.  Feeding a quality pet food produces results – you would be surprised at how much your pet’s hair and skin improve with just feeding a high-quality diet. Read labels, and choose a food that has a high-quality protein, antioxidants, a proprietary blend of vitamins and minerals and omega-3 fatty acids. Avoid artificial flavors, colors, corn and wheat ingredients, as these can contribute to food allergies.

Consider giving your dog a balanced supplement that provides the additional nutritional support needed for optimum skin health, especially if your dog suffers from excessive shedding, dandruff, or skin allergies.  Choose a supplement that has balanced omega-6 and 3 fatty acids in ratios of 10:1 to 5:1.  Properly balanced omega fatty acids are thought to help the skin retain moisture and ease the effects of histamine released in response to allergies. Other supplemental ingredients that are beneficial for skin health include zinc, and vitamins A, D and E.

If your pet suffers from flea allergies, use a topical flea medication that kills fleas when they come into contact with the fur on all your pets. Vacuum frequently and treat the yard and bedding to eliminate fleas in your pet’s environment.

If you have an itchy pet, use an oatmeal shampoo to calm itchy skin and wash off any environmental allergens, such as pollen, mold or dust mites. Use a topical spray in between shampoos. Herbal ingredients like aloe vera, lavender, and calendula all calm the skin and are safe and non-toxic if your pet accidentally licks the spray off.  If you are still having problems with itchy skin, then it is time to see the vet.