Skin & Hair Care for Your Pets
Your pet’s skin is the largest organ of their body, and has many important functions. It acts as a barrier, shielding their insides from infection and dehydration. Temperature and pressure sensors in the skin give them information about the world around them. The hairs that grow from its hair follicles keep them warm.
There are a number of medical conditions that affect the skin of both dogs and cats. What can you do to keep your pet’s skin in good health, and reduce the chances of them needing veterinary care for a skin disorder?
Here are four things that you can do, that will keep your pet’s skin and coat looking and feeling good.
- Nutrition. What you put in your pet’s food bowl definitely affects the condition of their skin and coat. Inexpensive foods contain cheaper ingredients, and may have a poorer nutrient profile. This can result in a dull coat and dry skin. Feed your pet the best food you can afford. Have a look at the ingredient list on the packet; ingredients are listed in descending order of weight. Ideally, the food you choose should have meat or meat protein in the first three items on the list. Check that it has undergone an AAFCO (American Association of Feed Control Officials) feeding trial. This will reassure you that your pet is getting all the nutrients they need, and in the right amounts. Their whole body, including their skin, has the best chance of staying healthy.
- Parasite control. Most dogs and cats have fleas. When they are bitten by one of these little insects, their skin itches. They will bite and scratch at the itchy spot, leading to hair loss and trauma. Regular flea control will prevent this from happening. Only 1% of your pet’s flea population is on their body, the other 99% are in their environment as eggs, larvae and pupae. This means that you must also treat your pet’s bed, your carpets and your back yard.
- Minimal bathing. Cats are less likely to be bathed regularly, so this doesn’t apply to them as much as it does to dogs. If you wash your dog too often, and use the wrong products, the natural oils in their coat will be removed by the soapy shampoo. This results in dry skin and a brittle coat. When dogs have healthy skin and coats, they don’t smell, and any dirt and dust just brushes off them. This means that they don’t need bathing very often. Ideally, wash dogs when they are dirty, which may be as little as once a month. The only time you should need to wash your dog frequently is if they are being treated for a skin infection with a medicated shampoo. These products often need to be used once or twice a week. Use the right product for your dog. In most cases, a mild soap free shampoo is a good choice, because it won’t dry out their coat. Don’t use human shampoo on your dog, because it isn’t suitable for their skin and often causes even more problems.
- Prompt veterinary care. It’s easy to tell if your pet has a skin disorder, because the problem area is right in front of you every time you pat them. You’ll notice hair loss or reddening of their skin, or you may feel crusts or scales as you run your hands over them. As soon as your dog or cat develops any changes in their skin or coat, take them along to your veterinarian for a check up. It’s easier, and cheaper, to treat skin problems before they become severe.
There are other reasonably common parasites such as Demodex which can cause skin problems and hair loss. Your veterinarian will help you get these under control.
If your dog or cat has unhealthy skin, it doesn’t just look bad, and feel unpleasant to touch. At the very least, it is uncomfortable for them, and if extensive enough, it can make them feel quite ill. If you follow these guidelines, you’ll keep your pet’s skin and fur in good condition and cuddle time will be fun for both of you.Written by Dr. Audrey Harvey © September 13, 2011 Dr. Audrey Harvey is an Australian veterinarian who has looked after dogs and cats for 20 years.