It’s a question that I am asked very often in the course of practice, but as for an affliction, dry skin on a dog is actually a rare occurrence indeed.
Most people are quite surprised to learn that the white flakes that they see on their pets’ coat are more likely to be associated with excessive oiliness. Simply taking the opportunity to run your hand through the coat will reveal the presence of oils on your fingertips. Often you will detect an unpleasant odor that is associated with this type of skin problem.
Skin grows from its underside; an area called the dermis. As new cells are made in the dermis, they push their way upward. As they rise, the cells flatten out, and, by the time they reach the epidermis, they have been totally compressed. To make room for the new cells, the cells that rest on the surface begin to peel off. Because the cells are so small we can’t see them, but when the process is accelerated, groups of cells fall off. It is these groups of cells that we see as flakes!! The process of flaking should almost always be associated with an irritated skin.
At the same time, the oil glands in the skin respond to the same irritation by producing more oil. Bacteria living on the skin utilize this oil as food, and the resultant waste products that are given off result in the all too familiar body odor. Bathing will temporarily remove the bacteria and their odors, but if the underlying cause of skin irritation is not addressed, the oil will reappear, the bacteria will repopulate and the odor will return.
Due to the efforts of the manufacturers of dog and cat foods, fatty acid deficiency is a thing of the past. Any of the major brands of pet food found in the markets will provide more than adequate nutrition.
An additional word about flea shampoos. These products are simply shampoos that have had an insecticide added into the basic formula. They are affective in both cleaning the coat and skin as well as killing any fleas that might be on your pet. There is no residual repellant effect because in the process of rinsing all the remnants of the shampoo are flushed away. Excellent products now exist that make flea control effective and convenient to do. The best products are available through your veterinarian.
The causes of skin irritation can vary. Allergies, infections (bacterial and fungal), hormonal disturbances as well as contact with irritating substances can all cause the skin to react. Consult with your local veterinarian for the advice that will benefit your pet.
Dr. Baum has been the owner and Chief of Staff at Center-Sinai Animal Hospital, Los Angeles, California since 1979. The hospital has been serving the Los Angeles community for over thirty years.