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Nutrition Nuggets is the newest offshoot of petMD's Dog Nutrition Center. Each week Dr. Coates will use her expertise and wisdom to blog about the intricacies of dog nutrition.

Coat and Skin Health as an Indicator of Nutritional Status

March 08, 2013 / (7) comments

The eyes may be the windows to the soul, but the condition of a dog’s coat and skin give a better indication of his overall nutritional status. The skin is the largest organ of the body and when it is not getting the nutrition it needs, problems are readily observed.

Protein plays a big role in maintaining the health of a dog’s coat and skin. Fur consists of around 95 percent protein. Studies have shown that 25-30 percent of the protein that a dog takes in goes to support his skin and fur. When a dog eats protein, his digestive system breaks it down into its basic building blocks, amino acids, which are then absorbed and used to form the types of protein needed at that time. A lack of sufficient amounts of protein in general or specific amino acids in particular can result in the following symptoms:

  • dull , dry, and rough fur
  • a coat that is thinner than normal
  • brittle fur that breaks easily
  • slow hair regrowth
  • abnormal shedding cycles
  • depigmentation of the skin and fur
  • scaly, crusty, or abnormally thickened skin
  • poor wound healing

Lipids, especially essential fatty acids (e.g., omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids), are also extremely important to maintaining healthy skin and fur. A lack of EFAs in the diet or an improper balance between the various types hinders the skin’s ability to act as a barrier to potential allergic triggers and irritants and can promote inflammation. EFAs also moisturize the skin from the inside out. Signs that a dog may need more essential fatty acids in his diet include:

  • dull , dry, and rough fur
  • increased scaling (small, dandruff-like flakes of skin)
  • secondary bacterial or yeast infections
  • increased shedding
  • thick, greasy skin
  • poor wound healing

Appropriate dietary levels of several vitamins and minerals play a role in the health of a dog’s coat and skin as well. Vitamin E is an antioxidant and modulates inflammation. Vitamin A (e.g., retinol and beta-carotene) is necessary for normal cell growth and differentiation and the keratinization (hardening and thickening) of skin cells. The minerals zinc, selenium, copper, iodine, and manganese are essential to the normal growth and turnover of skin cells and fur.

Nutritionally complete diets made from high quality ingredients will supply ample protein, lipids, vitamins, and minerals to maintain healthy skin and fur for the vast majority of dogs. Some individuals, however, need more. For example, dogs with atopy (a genetic predisposition to allergic skin disease) often benefit from receiving essential fatty acid supplements, and Siberian huskies and Alaskan malamutes are at higher than average risk for zinc-responsive dermatosis, the treatment of which is suggested by the condition’s name.

If your dog has a poor quality coat and/or a chronic skin condition, he first needs a dermatological work-up, but if a diagnosis remains elusive, take a look at his diet.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Eric Isselee / via Shutterstock

Comments  7

Leave Comment
  • Hairy
    03/08/2013 09:55pm

    Isn't this true of any critter whether two or four-legged?

  • Incorrect information
    03/12/2013 02:28pm

    The largest organ OF the body is the skin. The largest organ IN the body is the liver. Your article states the largest organ in the body is skin; this is incorrect. Also,dogs have HAIR not fur. Cats have fur. Your article refers to dogs as having fur. This is incorrect. Your incorrect information regarding these elementary bits of anatomy do not incline me to have confidence in your ability. Trivial perhaps to you, but not to me.

  • 03/12/2013 04:51pm

    Thanks for your comment. We have changed "in" to "of," as that is the more appropriate word to use. Thank you for the correction.

    As to the question of hair versus fur, scientifically the words are used interchangeably since there is no difference in the composition. They are one in the same. Semantically, some people prefer to use fur for some types of hair coats, but it is a vocabulary preference and not a scientific fact. We do appreciate your input.

  • 03/17/2013 06:49am

    Here is a question: what does it mean when the undercoat is growing "through" the top coat? Meaning kind of longer than it should be?

    Top coat looks normal otherwise, but with the undercoat coming through it's feels soft and has funky color.

    We KNOW it's the undercoat, because when she sheds for winter, for the time being the top coat on its own is perfectly normal.

  • 03/17/2013 12:38pm

    Interesting. I haven't seen a case like you describe before, but I'd want to check the dog's thyroid status to start with. If that and a physical were otherwise normal, I'd maybe start thinking about an early form/variant of alopecia X, a seasonal alopecia (if it's seasonal, of course), or sex-hormone imbalance.

  • help
    07/06/2014 09:09pm

    A lady gave me a pom. he has little to no hair on his body and he was covered in fleas. his skin is not raw but has a very slight rash. the base of his tail looks worse. he is VERY skinny. I would honestly go as far as to say malnourished. I think that it is due to malnutrition but would like another opinion

  • 07/07/2014 02:00am

    Something more significant than fleas and malnourishment may be going on. It sounds as if it would be in your Pom's best interests to see a veterinarian.