What To Do For Dogs With Dry Skin?

By Chyrle Bonk, DVM April 07, 2020

Maybe it’s the constant itching or maybe it’s the dullness of your dog’s coat and the dandruff popping up that has you concerned. Dry skin in dogs can come about for a number of reasons, none of which should be overlooked. If dry skin has your pup feeling uncomfortable, here’s what you need to know to get a handle on it.

What Causes Dry Skin In Dogs?

Dry skin in dogs often isn’t just dry skin. It can be a sign of something much bigger that is going on. Our initial response might be to put lotion on the dry skin similar to what we would do for our own skin, but the cause of the dry skin in our pups may take a little more investigating.

  • Allergies

A big cause behind dry skin in dogs is allergies. Allergies can be due to many things, and it’s often hard to pin point the exact cause. Dogs can be allergic to things in the environment like dust, pollen, or grasses. They can also be allergic to ingredients in their food, like chicken, beef, eggs, or grain. Some of the more unlucky dogs can actually be allergic to flea saliva, making one bite from those nasty little pests cause an itchy and dry skin cascade that’s hard to ignore.

  • Infections

A dog’s skin is susceptible to more than just allergies. Infections from bacteria or fungi can also cause itchy, dry, scaly skin. Depending on the cause, the problem may be isolated, such as mild ringworm, or it may be widespread on your pup causing itching and flaking all over. Infections are usually secondary to an underlying problem, so don’t let them go unchecked.

  • Parasites

Fleas aren’t the only creepy-crawlies that can leave your dog’s skin dry and itchy. Dogs can also get mange, lice, and walking dandruff. These little buggers are very contagious and some even to humans. So be sure to get your pup checked out if you suspect a parasitic infection is the reason for their dry skin.

  • Systemic conditions

In some cases, a dog’s dry skin may be part of a very large and serious issue like Cushings, hypothyroidism, an auto immune disease, or even cancer. Along with the dry skin, these issues may present with dry and brittle hair or hair loss as well.

  • Nutritional deficiencies

Commercial dog foods aren’t all created equal and some dogs may require slightly different amounts of certain nutrients in order to stay healthy. For dogs on homemade diets, it may be even harder to achieve the right balance. If your dog’s diet is lacking in protein, fat, or essential omega fatty acids, it could lead to dry skin and brittle hair.

  • Others

We all love the smell and feel of our pups that just took a bath. However, too much bathing can actually cause dry skin, especially if you’re using harsh shampoos or aren’t rinsing their coat thoroughly. Moreover, a dog’s skin also tends to get drier in the cold winter months due to the lack of moisture in the air as well.

How Can I Tell If My Dog Has Dry Skin?

Dry skin doesn’t look the same in every dog. Some dogs may only experience one symptom, while others may be hit in full force with every symptom under the sun. A lot of what determines what your dog’s dry skin will look like depends on the cause of it in the first place. With that in mind, dogs with dry skin may experience itchiness. This itchiness can be localized or spread out over the whole body. They may also have a rash that accompanies the itchiness that can appear as redness, red bumps, or even scabs and crusts, especially if they are scratching pretty hard.

The skin may also appear scaly or flaky and have noticeable dandruff. Sometimes, infections can leave your dog’s skin with an odor. Dry skin may be accompanied by hair loss as well. Dry skin can lead to dry hair that becomes brittle and easily broken. Systemic issues, like Cushing’s and hypothyroidism, will appear with tell-tale symmetrical hair loss on both sides of the body, partially due to dry skin and brittle hair.

What Can I Do If My Dog Has Dry Skin?

In order to fix dry skin in dogs, it’s best to know what is causing it. This will often take a visit to the veterinarian in order to rule out parasites, allergies, and systemic diseases, but there are things that you can try at home. First of all, make sure that your dog is getting a complete and balanced diet. If you’re feeding a homemade diet, check with your veterinarian to make sure it contains all necessary nutrients. If you’re feeding a commercial dog food, make sure it’s a quality one. Your veterinarian may advise you to supplement omega fatty acids with fish oil or other products.

It’s okay to bathe your pup, just make sure that you’re using a mild shampoo, rinsing it out completely, and not bathing too frequently. If your pup is itching due to seasonally dry skin, you can try a moisturizing shampoo or conditioner and place a humidifier in your home as well. For dogs with itchy, allergy skin, an oatmeal shampoo may help temporarily soothe their dry skin.

Dry skin can be treated medically with a variety of options, depending on the cause. For parasites, your veterinarian will prescribe an anti-parasitic medication, usually a topical, to get rid of any creepy-crawlies. Skin infections may take topical or systemic antibiotics or antifungals to clear the skin. Systemic diseases, like Cushing’s and hypothyroidism, will take lifelong medications to resolve symptoms. Treatment for these conditions will take time, so don’t expect to see instant results. Always follow your veterinarian’s treatment recommendations.

Allergies can be a tough one to treat, even if you know what your dog is allergic to. For those of us in the dark about what triggers your dog’s allergic response, it’s going to be even harder. For food allergies, an elimination diet can be beneficial, where you feed very limited ingredients and then start adding foods back in until the symptoms are seen. For environmental allergies, limiting your dog’s exposure can help. However, it usually takes a combination of antihistamines, anti-inflammatories, avoidance, and immunotherapy to completely resolve dry, allergic skin.

Can Dry Skin In Dogs Be Prevented?

If your dog is experiencing dry skin due to cold, dry weather, then boost the humidity. Humidifiers in your home can make a big difference, especially if you’re using a heating system. You should also keep your pup on a monthly flea preventative. Fortunately, many of the topical flea treatments also take care of some mange and mites, so it can cover most of your parasitic bases.

Regular grooming and baths with a mild shampoo will help remove dirt and debris that could be causing irritation and itchiness. This will also give you a chance to get a good look at the health of your dog’s skin and coat. Feeding quality dog foods that provide the proper amounts of protein and fats will help their skin be healthy from the inside out as well. Take your pup to the vet anytime you’re worried or concerned about your dog’s dry skin.

When Should Your Dog With Dry Skin See The Vet?

A little itchiness here and there is usually no big deal. When you need to worry is when the itching becomes excessive to the point where your dog (and you) can’t sleep, eat, or do anything else because of it. You should also take your dog in if they develop a rash, an odor, hair loss, or any other symptoms, like not eating or lethargy.

Your veterinarian will perform a full body exam, including the skin. They may take skin scraping and blood samples to rule out infections, parasites, and systemic diseases. Trial and error treatments may be required, so be prepared for repeat visits.


Dry skin in dogs usually isn’t a stand-alone issue. It often occurs as a result of something bigger that is going on with your dog and the condition should never be taken lightly. See your veterinarian anytime you’re concerned about your dog’s dry skin, or if you’ve tried some at-home treatments without success. Don’t let your dog’s dry skin turn them into an itchy, flaky mess. Try to figure out the cause of the problem to properly treat their dry skin as soon as possible. 

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