Coat and Skin Health as an Indicator of Nutritional Status

Updated Mar. 12, 2013

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

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...

Help us make PetMD better

Was this article helpful?

Get Instant Vet Help Via Chat or Video. Connect with a Vet. Chewy Health