What to Feed Your Dog for Healthy Skin

Jennifer Coates, DVM
By Jennifer Coates, DVM on Jun. 5, 2015

One of the first things that people notice about dogs is the condition of their skin and coat. This isn’t too surprising since the exterior of a dog is out there for all the world to see and touch. Some skin conditions require medical intervention to resolve, but if you simply want to maximize that glow of good health, diet can play a significant role in maintaining the look you want for your dog.

When picking out a dog food with an eye towards skin and coat health, I primarily look at two nutrients:


Research has shown that around 25-30% of the protein a dog take in goes towards maintenance of the skin and coat. This may seem excessive until you take into consideration that skin is the largest organ in a dog’s body and 95% of fur is protein. A poor coat is one of the first symptoms that develops when a dog isn’t taking in enough high quality protein.

Foods designed to maximize the health of a dog’s coat and skin should contain at least 21% protein on a dry matter basis. That is 15% more protein than the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) minimum for adult dogs. Next, look at the ingredient list. An animal-based protein (e.g., chicken, lamb, or egg) should be first since the amino acid profile of these ingredients better match a dog’s needs than do plant-based sources of protein (although dogs can thrive on carefully formulated vegetarian diets if necessary).


Fats, particularly essential fatty acids (EFAs), are also vital for maintaining healthy coat and skin in dogs. A diet that supplies enough fat and the correct balance of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids can

  • moisturize the skin from the inside out,
  • reduce inflammation, and
  • improve the skin’s ability to block the entry of allergens and irritants from the environment.

When picking out a food to improve a dog’s coat and skin, look for options that provide around 10-20% fat on a dry matter basis (this is well above the 5% AAFCO minimum for adult dogs). Information about essential fatty acids does not have to be provided on dog food labels, but some manufacturers are doing so. Coldwater fish (e.g., salmon) and to a lesser extent flaxseed and their oils add essential fatty acids to the diet of dogs, so finding them on a food’s ingredient list is a good indication that these important nutrients are included.

After ensuring that a food contains the amount and type of protein and fat needed to maintain a dog’s coat and skin, a quick check for the vitamins and minerals that are also essential is in order. Vitamin E, Vitamin A, zinc, selenium, copper, iodine, and manganese are all needed to control inflammation and/or maintain and grow new skin cells and fur.

After a month or two of eating a food that meets all these benchmarks, dogs should have noticeably healthier skin, better coat quality, and the glow that is a sign of overall well-being. 

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: alison1414 / Shutterstock

Jennifer Coates, DVM


Jennifer Coates, DVM


Dr. Jennifer Coates is an accomplished veterinarian, writer, editor, and consultant with years of experience in the fields of veterinary...

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