Healthy skin from deep within

An easy, regular routine can ensure that your dog has a beautiful coat and a healthy skin. The most common complaint that veterinarians face in their daily practice is skin trouble! Dry, itchy skin, redness, sores, little bumps, pustules, falling hair, typical ‘doggy’ odour are some of the usual signs. Owners tend to give a lot of importance to their pets’ skin and coat condition mainly because skin rashes and falling hair affect the appearance of the dog. What few people realise is that the skin often shows the first signs of ill-health. This, the first article of this series, will focus on internal problems that manifest as skin disorders.

Diet for good health:

Your dog’s diet affects every aspect of his health including alertness, skeletal and muscular development and general vitality, but the first and most common sign of nutritional deficiency is a dry, itchy skin. Unfortunately, Indian dog owners are yet to wake up to the fact that feeding a good commercial pre-formulated dog food is best for the dogs. Only when your dog is on a 100% diet of a good pre-formulated dog food (without any addition of home-cooked food) can you be certain that he is getting all his nutritional requirements in the correct amount and proportion. It is important to understand that feeding an imbalanced diet will lead to serious health problems, some of which may become evident much later in the dog’s life, and are often difficult to treat, like joint disease. Consult your vet on a regular basis to determine the most suitable dog food formulation according to his growth and life stage. How does diet affect the dog’s skin and coat? Simply put, certain nutrients in the daily diet are essential for maintaining a healthy skin and coat, mainly essential fatty acids (e.g. linoleic acid), vitamin E, B vitamins, zinc, calcium and biotin. Certain amino acids, the basic ‘building blocks’ of proteins, also play an important role in skin health.

Your next question may be that if your dog is on dog food alone, does he need additional supplementation? I usually do not recommend popularly prescribed supplementation of calcium + phosphorous + vitamin D. There is always a tendency to over supplement these minerals, resulting in some very serious, irreversible bone and joint defects. If you are feeding your dog on 100% dog food, your dog’s coat may still benefit from correct supplementation. Research done at the Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition, UK, concluded that even dogs fed with 100% dog food show further improvement in skin and coat health when their diet is supplemented with certain nutrients. A good supplement enhances the coat softness and feel, increases coat gloss and helps in better coat scale.

Apart from diet, other internal factors also affect the condition of the dog’s skin and coat, which have been summarised in the form of a table.

Deworming do’s and don’ts:

A dog who is not dewormed regularly also suffers the same problems as a dog with nutritional deficiencies. Internal parasites ‘eat away’ certain nutrients from the dog’s digestive system. The deworming schedule that I recommend is once a month for pups up to the age of 7 months, every two months for pups between 7?and?12 months and thereafter, every three months. Dogs fed home-cooked food, especially meat, will need to be dewormed more frequently. It is best that you consult your vet for a deworming schedule specifically designed for your dog.

The ‘itch-scratch’ cycle:

The reason why skin conditions take so painfully long to treat, is because of the ‘itch-scratch’ cycle. Any of these conditions can make a dog feel ‘itchy’ dry skin, allergy, the presence of loose hair, ectoparasites (ticks, fleas, mange, etc). Every time the dog scratches, he causes mild to severe abrasions or scratches on his skin and also introduces infection-causing organisms into the layers of the skin. As these abrasions and scratches on the skin begin to heal by the process of granulation, it causes an intense itching sensation, which starts the whole vicious cycle all over again. Therefore, when treating any such skin condition, it often becomes essential to give the dog a good anti-histamine for a few days, only to break the ‘itch-scratch’ cycle and give the treatment enough time to start acting. It may become necessary to give an antibiotic. Your vet will be able to advise you on the best course of action for your dog. A beautiful skin and healthy coat starts from inside. No amount of external applications with the best products can give a healthy lustre to an unhealthy dog.

Next issue: Maintaining the lustre, which focuses on bathing and grooming the correct way.

(Dr. Freya Javeri, BVSc & AH (Bombay Veterinary College), MVS (University of Melbourne, Australia) is a member of the prestigious Dog Writers’ Association of America. She was the former editor of Canine Review, the official publication of the Indian National Kennel Club. She is a qualified judge, with a diploma in dog judging from the Animal Care College, UK. She has been judging all-breed championship dog shows since ’98. She is currently practicing as a veterinary surgeon and animal behaviour consultant, specialising in small animals (dogs, cats, birds and exotic pets) with two clinics of her own in Ahmedabad. She can be contacted at 9824433227, email: dr.freyajaveri@yahoo.com)

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