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One of the most common reasons for visits to the veterinary clinic is for skin or coat problems. Sometimes vet bills pile sky high as some skin ailments can be very persistent.
Indeed the problem must be treated, but more importantly, the root cause should be identified for a long-term solution. The causes can be boiled down to the following:
Items 1 to 3 can be prevented by addressing your dog’s diet, or by giving it supplements to boost its immune system and to compensate for what is lacking in its diet.
The following are some of the most common skin problems affecting dogs:
The extent of shedding depends on the breed. Some breeds such as Siberian huskies, Alaskan malamutes, samoyeds and pomeranians experience seasonal shedding, and there is no need to fret over this. But sometimes stress, poor nutrition or illness can cause a dog to lose more hair than usual. If abnormal or excessive shedding persists for more than a week, or you notice patches of missing fur, check with your veterinarian.
Mange is caused by tiny parasites called mites. Sarcoptic mange or canine scabies is highly infectious in dogs, but the parasites don't survive on humans. The symptoms to look out for are intense itching, red skin, sores and hair loss. It usually affects a dog's ears, face and legs. Demodectic mange can cause bald spots, scabbing, and sores, but it is not contagious between animals or people.
These are tiny insects that move very fast and are hard to spot. Flea droppings or eggs are usually visible in a dog's coat. Fleas cause excessive licking or scratching, scabs and hot spots.
Symptoms are incessant scratching of the ears or licking and chewing its toes, irritated, itchy or discolored skin. It is caused by fungus.
This bacterial infection causes sores, bumps and scabs on the skin. It is easier to see in shorthaired dogs. In longhaired dogs, the most obvious symptoms may be a dull coat and shedding with scaly skin underneath.
This bacterial infection is most common in puppies. It causes pus-filled blisters that may break and crust over, usually on the hairless portion of the belly.
This is actually a contagious fungal infection that causes circular patches that can form anywhere, but are usually found on a dog's head, paws, ears and forelegs. Inflammation, scaly patches, and hair loss often surround the lesions.
These are hard lumps on the skin. They may or may not be cancerous.
Dogs can have allergic reactions to various things. They may scratch relentlessly and have an ugly rash.
Symptoms are dandruff or greasy skin. The causes can be genetic, or a complication of another medical problem, such as allergies or hormonal abnormalities.
It can be caused by an infection, or a metabolic or hormone problem.
This can be due to a number of problems: allergy, mange, other skin diseases, dry weather. Often it is nothing serious. Feeding your dog high quality food, a fatty acid supplement or installing a humidifier might help.
This is a skin condition caused by compulsive, relentless licking of a single area, usually on the front of the lower leg. The area then becomes worse.
Also called acute moist dermatitis, they are small areas that appear red, irritated and inflamed. They often feel hot to the touch. Hot spots are the result of a wide range of conditions.
The least common cause of skin problems is due to lupus, an autoimmune disorder where the body’s immune system attacks its own cells. Lupus can cause skin lesions or infections that won’t heal and kidney problems. It can be fatal if untreated.
You should bring your dog to the vet’s if you see it scratching or licking itself excessively, or if you notice any changes in your pet's coat or skin, such as scaling, redness, discoloration or bald patches. Once the cause is identified, most skin problems respond well to treatment.
The best type of supplements are, of course, those made from natural ingredients. But before you buy any supplement, you should examine what you’re feeding your dog.
Ideally, dogs should eat a diet that’s relatively high in protein and low in processed carbohydrates, says Dr. Michael Dym, an American homeopathic veterinarian. He states that dog owners should cut down on inflammation which often starts in the gut before giving their pets supplements.
Choosing high quality food should always be the first step. Look for food that lists meat, poultry or fish as the first ingredient, and avoid food with ingredients labeled as “byproduct” and “meal,” with the exception of flaxseed meal.
The next step is choosing the right supplement. Itchy skin is usually caused by inflammation or dryness. Here are a few common supplements recommended by veterinarians.
According to VCA Animal Hospitals, Omega-3 fats in fish oil can help to reduce inflammation in dogs. Fish oil is safe for consumption as it can complement medicinal treatments for itching.
These fats can also be used to treat skin disorders such as seborrhea or seborrheic dermatitis. However, too much fish oil can also have adverse effects.
It can improve many dog skin conditions including itchiness, dryness, and reduce allergic reactions. The oil can be applied directly to your dog’s coat, cracked pads, cuts and sores.
Coconut oil can also be added to food. Do this slowly – about a quarter teaspoon per every 10 pounds of body weight. Too much can cause diarrhea.
Because coconut oil is high in fat content, it is not recommended for overweight dogs or dogs with pancreatitis.
These are not to be confused with probiotics. Digestive enzymes aid digestion by breaking down protein, starch, fat and fiber.
Digestive enzyme supplements are usually in the form of a powder, used for treating a variety of health problems including itchy skin.
This is sometimes prescribed for dogs suffering from environmental allergies. Quercetin is a flavonoid – a plant-based compound with antioxidant, antihistamine and anti-inflammatory properties.
Yucca extract may be an option for dog owners who want to avoid giving their pets steroid medications. It is a natural cortisone in a plant.
Healthy fats play an important role in keeping your dog’s coat in good condition. Although few dogs develop dull coats because of nutritional deficiencies, such problems do occur.
Most of the time it is due to low-quality commercial dog foods, improperly balanced homemade diets or low-fat diets. Frequent baths can also cause loss of oil from the skin.
Puppies are easily affected by very low-fat diets. They develop coarse, dry hair and skin lesions that become prone to infection.
Omega-6 fatty acids contribute a shine to the coat. Most dog foods are already high in Omega-6 but if your dog’s favourite food does not contain enough of this nutrient, you can give supplements.
Vegetable oils are also a source of omega-6 fatty acids. However, these must be fresh, and not expired as oils that are kept too long can go rancid and become less effective.
The same goes for dog food that contains essential fatty acids. These tend to be oxidized when exposed to air for months.
Zinc deficiency can cause crusting on the skin. This disorder exists in two forms:
Symptoms of the disorders include reddened lesions followed by hair loss, crusting and scaling around the mouth, chin, eyes, ears, pressure points, footpads and scrotum.
Proper nutrition can enhance coat color although genetics and breeding are the main factors.
Studies have shown that black hair color can be restored by increasing the concentration of the amino acids tyrosine and phenylalanine in diets. The amount of amino acids needed are at least twice the minimum required for normal growth.
Sometimes dogs with white coats start to develop pinkish or reddish stains. Their coat color improved when fed a test diet with mildly decreased tyrosine, phenylalanine and copper.
Not all supplements are equally effective. Some of them are tailored for specific issues, so it’s important to consider these important factors when choosing a supplement:
Dog supplements are not as regulated as they should be, so it’s important to only buy those that have some form of safety reassurances. You can look out for “FDA approved”, “made from natural ingredients” or “USDA certified organics”.
It is better to avoid cheap and dubious supplements that have no official confirmation rather than risk your dog’s health.
There are so many different formulas out there with different active ingredients. Some combine a few of the active ingredients together for increased potency.
Some supplements are chemical-based and some are made from natural ingredients. Ideally, go for organic.
Since a dog suffering from skin issues may already be in a weakened state, it is a good idea to choose supplements that contain no chemicals, fillers, artificial preservatives or colours.
Supplements come in the form of pills, powder and liquid. Most dogs hate swallowing pills unless they are yummy enough to be eaten like a treat.
If your dog is a picky eater, liquids or powders would be a better option. At least you can mix it into your pet’s food.
The right diet, nutrients and sometimes nutritional supplements can have a significant benefit in improving or resolving certain skin disorders. Dog owners should never self-prescribe supplements. Always consult your veterinarian because excess of certain nutrients or vitamins can just be as harmful for your pet.
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