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Pet Education

Dry skin (dandruff) in your pet: 
common causes and natural remedies

Common causes of pet dandruff
Dandruff or scaly skin may simply be caused by dry, poorly hydrated skin.  This is common as most pets eat dry kibble which is very low in moisture and don't drink enough water every day—leading to constant mild dehydration.  The skin is very sensitive to dehydration and will readily become dry and flaky in appearance.  When pets develop medical problems (such as allergies, infections and diabetes), the skin is often the first to indicate a change in general health by becoming roughened and dry.  If your pet develops dry skin or a poor haircoat, consider the following possibilities and talk to your veterinarian:

  • Dry skin or lusterless coats may indicate a deficiency or an improper balance of essential fatty acids in the diet.  Pet foods are notoriously low in certain beneficial fatty acids.  Fatty acids are relatively fragile and prone to break-down by overcooking or improper storage of dry food.  Pets on fat-restricted (weight loss) diets may be at increased risk for deficiency.
  • Dry or irritated skin may be an adverse reaction to foods containing artificial dyes, additives and preservatives.  True food allergy to specific ingredients can also cause dry flaky skin.
  • Flea allergy, ringworm, mites, mange, yeast and bacterial skin infections (yes, even in indoor pets!) will often cause itchiness, skin redness and possibly hair loss along with dry scaly skin.
  • Seborrhea is a skin condition that causes a greasy, oily or dry coat with very scaly skin.
  • Hormonal or endocrine problems (such as hyper- or hypothyroidism, cushings syndrome and diabetes), immune problems (such as lupus) and skin cancer (such as cutaneous lymphoma) are much more serious causes of skin flakiness and most often associated with other complaints of illness.   

There are many causes of skin flakiness and various tests may need to be performed for an accurate diagnosis.  Most often a skin scrape with microscopic examination at your veterinarian's office is the first step.  Occasionally hair or dandruff culture, allergy testing, skin biopsy and/or blood tests will need to be performed.

Natural Remedies for dandruff
If your pet is suffering from simply dry dehydrated skin, bathing and dietary recommendations can often resolve the problem quite readily.

  • Bathing—Choose only detergent-free shampoo, like Halo Herbal Shampoo, which contains natural botanical oils and extracts that nourish the skin and coat instead of stripping the skin of its essential oils.  Some pets (notably cats!) are not thrilled with bathing and spray-on conditioners can work wonders for dry skin.
  • Diet—A natural high-quality pet food is recommended to avoid adverse reactions that may be associated with foods containing meat meals, preservatives and other artificial poor quality ingredients.  Canned food should be included as part of a healthy pet diet.  Pets are similar to people in that they rarely drink enough water and live in a state of mild dehydration.  Canned food provides vital water supplementation and is excellent for organ (including skin!) hydration. 
  • Supplements—Fatty acid supplements are crucial in all pets with skin conditions.  Fatty acids help eliminate inflammation within irritated skin and help improve skin moisture and suppleness, regardless of the underlying problem.  Many people are familiar with the omega 3 fatty acids, commonly referred to as fish oils.  There are other beneficial anti-inflammatory fatty acids, therefore, I prefer a broader fatty acid supplement such as Halo Dream Coat.  Its combination of six cold-pressed virgin oils (including fish oil) achieves an ideal ratio of anti-inflammatory fatty acids and is a perfect complement to a natural diet.
Depending on your pet's specific diagnosis, your veterinarian may recommend additional therapies but these natural remedies for dry skin will complement most treatment plans.    

 

Donna Spector, DVM, DACVIM, ,is a renowned, board-certified Veterinary Internal Medicine Specialist who has practiced at the Animal Medical Center in New York City and other leading institutions. She is an active member of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association. Dr. Donna has written and lectured extensively on topics including nutrition, diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders, kidney failure and respiratory disease. She is widely recognized for her role as consulting veterinarian to HALO, Purely for Pets, her TV appearances with Ellen DeGeneres and her widely-quoted pet health advice in print and on radio.  Dr. Donna performs medical, nutrition and weight loss consultations for dogs and cats through her web-based veterinary consulting service, www.SpectorDVM.com.

 


 
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