What you need to know about your pet’s skin
5 amazing things about pets’ skin
- Dogs’ coats can be made up of up to 600 hairs in every centimetre, but cats can have up to 1600 hairs in every square centimetre.
- Every 22 days or so a dog’s skin renews.
- Dog and cat skin tends to be pH neutral – compared to human skin which is slightly acidic. Frequent washing of a pet with human shampoo can cause their skin to become dry and itchy. This is why you should use dog or cat-specific shampoo.
- There are three groups of bacteria that can exist on cat and dog skin without causing problems or actual skin disease – resident bacteria can be established in various different parts of the skin, transient organisms are deposited on the skin and live there for a short time and nomads take advantage of changes in the skin, grow and can establish large colonies then leave again.
- Dogs and cats shed their hair in a mosaic pattern – with shedding peaking in spring and autumn. The period of active hair growth is called anagen; the period when hair is resting in the follicle is called telogen and at the end of that time hair is shed.
Pets shedding hair
No matter how well loved a pet is, their ability to shed hair is sure to cause some gnashing of teeth by the person responsible for vacuuming. Shedding is a natural process because each hair has a limited lifespan. Old hairs are replaced by new hairs in a mosaic pattern and shedding is most influenced by day length and temperature. For most dogs shedding is most active in spring and autumn. Genetics, hormones and other factors, such as stress, all influence the hair replacement cycle. Removing the old hair by brushing is still the best strategy when it comes to preventing shed hair from being deposited all over the home. The Furminator is a great tool for removing loose hair!
Petfoods and hair shedding
A poor quality diet can be a cause of stress and therefore hair loss, so if your dog or cat does shed lots of hair you can try feeding a better quality diet and there’s no doubt that healthy eating makes a big contribution to overall health.
Some pets do have higher than normal nutrient requirements for particular nutrients – this can occur as a result of breed differences, lifestage and lifestyle requirements. A diet that would normally be adequate in normal circumstances might occasionally not suit a particular individual. In some of these cases supplementation can help. Always ask your vet for advice before adding supplements to petfoods that are otherwise ‘complete’ to avoid the risk of some nutrients being given to excess.
Some pet owners feel that they need to feed lower protein diets to their pets – especially to dogs. Protein is an underestimated nutrient when it comes to skin and coat. About one third of the protein a dog eats is needed just to keep skin and coat in good condition.
Fatty acids and dog and cat skin
Oils can be useful to improve fine skin scale if the condition is due to a relative or absolute deficiency of essential fatty acids. An absolute deficiency means the pet isn’t being given enough, a relative deficiency occurs because a pet is unable to absorb enough oils, even though there is theoretically enough in the diet. Dry diets tend to be lower in fats and oils than canned food and if they are stored incorrectly – for too long or in a warm or damp environment – the level of fatty acids can be reduced.
What kind of oils may be useful? Fish oils and linseed oil (sometimes called flax seed oil) are thought to be useful for skin and coat condition. Fatty acids may be of benefit to dogs or cats with particular kinds of skin conditions. This has led to the growth of fatty acid supplements containing borage oil (starflower oil) and evening primrose oil.
Some experts have the view that certain supplements may have to be given at high doses to control skin problems, such as the allergic skin disease atopy but always follow the advice given by your vet. While it’s clear that some pets with skin problems can benefit from these oils, overall the jury is still out on whether these are actually that beneficial for the skin of healthy adult pets that are already receiving enough essential fatty acids in their diets.
Skin problems in cats and dogs
Skin problems are very common in dogs and cats but sometimes it can be difficult to identify the root cause. It has been suggested that as many as 90% of skin problems in cats and dogs are associated with fleas if not caused by them. Much of the flea lifecycle occurs away from the pet and just jumping on and biting the pet might be enough to trigger a reaction. That means you might not always see a flea on the pet but it could still cause the skin problem.
A good first step is to treat your pet for fleas using an effective product appropriate to the species. NEVER be tempted to use dog flea products on a cat. Make sure that any product is used as directed and used with the recommended frequency (this is usually monthly for spot-ons but please check the leaflet).
Vets can perform a number of basic diagnostic tests when faced with a skin problem. Scrapes of the skin surface and coat brushings are useful to find parasites, eggs or flea dirt (the droppings left behind by fleas). Plucked hairs can show if there is damage to hair tips caused by itching.
Other causes of skin conditions include allergies, bacterial and yeast infection and mites such as sarcoptic mange. Some of these conditions can be quite serious and cause considerable distress or even be spread to owners, so it’s always wise to seek veterinary advice at an early stage.