As summer recedes and the holidays approach, the change in seasons is welcome for many reasons. After a hot summer, relief from mosquitoes, humidity, soaring temperatures and summer allergies has finally come. But for many dogs, fall and winter don’t mean a lack of skin problems, but rather different kinds of skin problems.
Like many people, dogs are sensitive to the lack of moisture in the air. Dry skin is itchy skin and itchy skin left untreated can lead to dandruff, licking of the feet and belly, and secondary infections from damage done by toenails and teeth.
Maintaining the integrity of your dog’s skin will go a long way in keeping your furry loved one comfortable throughout fall and winter.
Some points to consider:
SHAMPOO: Shampoo washes away dirt, but it also strips the natural oils from the skin. Over-shampooing can exacerbate dry skin. Unless your pet has gotten truly dirty and stinky, we recommend shampooing no more than once a month during the cooler season, and using a conditioning rinse in between to add moisture. If your dog has muddy paws after a walk on a wet day, rinse the feet and underside with warm water and skip the shampoo. The most important factor in a dog shampoo is pH. Many shampoos available at pet supply stores or chain stores are not pH balanced and will irritate your dog’s skin. If your dog is on a grain free diet and is sensitive to grains in his food, skip the oatmeal shampoos! Oatmeal is widely touted as being a remedy for dry skin, but you don’t want to topically apply a grain to the skin of a dog that is maintained on a grain free diet! When the weather gets nasty and roads and sidewalks are salted, brief footbaths after walks can help prevent irritated feet. For large dogs, rinsing the feet in a walk in shower works great; small dogs can stand briefly in shallow water in a tub or sink. Rinsing the feet is much more effective than wiping with a cloth.
ALLERGIES: Many allergy sufferers have problems year round. As the seasons change, so do the allergens. Since Baltimore doesn’t get a lot of snow, if any, and we don’t have sustained below-freezing temperatures, allergens from summer and fall can persist in the environment and make your pet miserable. Other winter allergens include mold and dust mites, both of which can thrive inside your house’s ventilation system. While shampooing is not a cure for allergies, it does remove allergens from the surface of the skin and provide temporary relief. After bathing, a very thin coat of coconut oil on the haircoat acts as both a moisturizer and a barrier against allergens. Jackets and sweaters also work well as a barrier, while keeping your pet cozy on chilly days.
EARS: Ears should be treated as an extension of the skin and cleaned with an acidifying cleaner with aloe. Avoid harsh products like hydrogen peroxide or alcohol. In addition to be extremely uncomfortable, or even painful, for your dog, these agents don’t provide the right pH inside the ear and can make infections worse.
NUTRITION: BSAH recommends all pets eat a grain free low-carb diet. These diets come in many varieties and price points. For winter months, canned food can be added to the diet for extra moisture. Just to be sure to adjust your pet’s total intake so there is no weight gain. Food allergies usually manifest as recurrent skin, ear and anal gland infections, so removing grain and other potentially allergenic ingredients from your dog’s diet can help his skin.
SUPPLEMENTS: For pets with chronic dry skin, we recommend supplementing a grain free diet with fish oils, which help increase the body’s threshold for allergies. Fish oil supplements are widely available, but not all are created equal. We recommend a veterinary version that is formulated specifically for dogs. We also carry a product called Dermoscent, a topically applied essential oil that works with the lipid layer of the skin to repel allergens and microbes, and which has a moisturing effect.
Once your dog’s winter skin care needs are taken care of, bring on the snow! Happy winter from all of us at BSAH!