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Dog Nutrition for a Healthy Coat

Experts offer diet tips to keep your dog’s skin and coat healthy.
By
WebMD Pet Health Feature
Reviewed by Audrey Cook, BVM&S

Dogs are a pleasure to pet, especially when they’re blessed with healthy skin and lustrous fur. But some dogs are plagued with itchy, flaking skin and lackluster coats. What can you do to restore your dog’s shiny coat?

Essential Fatty Acids: Key to a Healthy Coat

Healthy fats play an important role in keeping your dog’s coat in good condition. Fortunately, few dogs develop dull coats because of nutritional deficiencies, although veterinarians occasionally see such problems.  

“With the ready availability of quality pet foods, it is very difficult for a pet to have a nutritional deficiency of any kind,” says Wendy Brooks, DVM, a diplomate of the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners. She also owns the Mar Vista Animal Medical Center in Los Angeles and serves as educational director for the web site VeterinaryPartner.com

Reputable commercial dog foods typically contain enough nutrients, including essential fatty acids, to maintain healthy skin and a shiny coat, says Florida veterinarian Dawn Logas, DVM, a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Dermatology.

In contrast, dogs on low-quality commercial dog foods or improperly balanced homemade diets -- for instance, a dog that eats mostly chicken -- may not get enough nutrients to keep a healthy skin and coat.

Low-fat diets are risky, too. “The obvious coat problems from deficiencies would be a dandruffy, dull coat from an omega-6 deficit if the pet is eating an extremely low-fat diet,” Brooks says.

In fact, puppies that eat very low-fat diets develop coarse, dry hair and skin lesions that become prone to infection.

But diet isn’t the only culprit when it comes to irritated skin and dull coat. Dogs that scratch themselves frequently or are bathed too often can lose oil from their skin. Though these dogs don’t have a true dietary deficiency, supplements can often remedy the problem. “I see a lot of dogs that probably could use more fats in their diets,” Logas says.

Omega-6 for Dog Coat Care

“Most dog foods, fortunately, are very high in omega-6 [fatty acids],” Logas says. “Those in themselves can be helpful just to give a shine to the coat, add some luster back, and help replace the oils in the skin.”

Vegetable oils are also a source of omega-6 fatty acids. Pet stores sell omega-6 supplements, but “honestly, sunflower oil or safflower oil works fine,” Logas says. For a small dog, stir in one teaspoon of oil per meal, she says. For a large dog, give one tablespoon per meal.

Just make sure that the oil is fresh, because oils that are kept too long can go rancid and become less effective, Logas says.

The same goes for dog food that contains essential fatty acids, which can oxidize when exposed to air. “You don’t want to have dog food open and around for months and months,” Logas says.

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