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During the winter months a dog's coat and skin can become dry and damaged both from a change in the environment plus a decrease in appetite and food consumption. Most dogs are much less active in the winter and tend to eat less overall, which can result in minor nutritional deficiencies that show up in the coat. Often the decrease in food also causes decreases in the intake of fatty acids as well as proteins, both which are essential for a nice shiny and healthy coat.
In addition to a change in the physical appearance of your dog's coat, you may also notice that they seem to be constantly scratching. Many people mistakenly presume that their dog has some type of food or environmental allergies or that they have somehow been infested with fleas or mites. In reality the itching is often due to the decrease in humidity in the house from the cold temperatures outside and the hot air inside. Air that his forced through your furnace system is literally stripped of all moisture which then leads to dry skin for both you and your dog. Just like people get dry, flaky, itchy skin in the winter, so does your dog. Unlike you, your dog is not able to apply lotion to help soothe the irritation; all he or she can do to relieve the irritation is scratch.
Basically the first thing to check is that your dog is free from fleas, mites or other skin parasites. If the itching seems to be over the entire body and if the dog is not scratching to the point of lesions or wounds, it is likely to be dry skin. Using a humidifier in conjunction with your forced air furnace or simply in the one room that the dog sleeps in can really help this problem. You may also find that your winter skin and dry patches are also greatly reduced.
Any areas of irritation or open skin need to be carefully cleaned and routinely dabbed with an antibacterial solution to prevent any types of secondary bacterial infection. It is not advisable to cover the area with either cream or bandages as this can actually prevent the healing process from properly occurring. If in doubt consult with your vet and follow all recommendations for treatment.
Dull hair is typically a dietary deficiency so make sure that your dog is getting food that is at least 24% protein. Look for foods with highly digestible protein such as beef, chicken or lamb and use foods that don't contain meat in the form of meal or by-products if at all possible. Some food manufacturers are beginning to put Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty oils into food which can really help with coat condition, joint movement and overall health. Always stick with a good, reputable food manufacturer and avoid discount foods brands or those that are offered at really low prices. These foods are often mostly filler and inferior proteins, leading to poor digestion and absorption of the small amount of nutrients that are actually in the food.
It is also important to avoid suddenly switching your dog's food over the winter. Make any transitions from one food to another slow and gradual. The same is true if you are adding any type of supplement or adding some raw foods to the diet.
Occasionally even with well balanced foods dogs just stop eating as much over the winter since they are less active. If your outside dog is now more of an inside dog or if you have decreased your walks, runs or hikes, be sure to add some additional exercise to bring the dog's activity level back up. Once you are able to do this you will typically find that the dog starts eating more and the coat and skin go back to their original healthy, shiny appearance.
Hormonal problems and imbalances can cause a dull coat and dry, flaky skin. These issues are typically most common in intact females, however other dogs can also have hormonally associated health problems. A blood test by your vet can determine if there are any problems, some which can be caused by tumors or cancers in the reproductive system. Usually these types of coat conditions will start to occur in the spring and fall but may not be really noticeable until the winter months when drying conditions in the house make the situation much more noticeable.
Bathing your dog in the winter, especially if he or she is having any problems with dry skin or dull coat quality, should be very limited if at all. Bathing removes any natural oils from the skin and can result in a worse overall condition. If you do need to bath the dog for some reason, use only gentle, dog quality shampoos that are designed to be gentle on sensitive skin. There are several types of dog shampoos that contain aloe vera, oatmeal and combinations of different herb and plant extracts that can help to soothe and moisturize the skin. Always follow up with a dog coat conditioner and dry the dog thoroughly. There are also spray in treatments that include soothing and natural ingredients to both strengthen the hair and moisturize the skin.
Regular grooming that helps to stimulate circulation to the skin as well as move the oils from the roots of the hair through to the ends is often a good solution. Use a soft bristled brush for the outer coat and a pin brush on the inner coat. Always groom in the direction of hair growth and avoid pulling on knots or tangles, this will only irritate already sensitive skins areas.
There are several different supplements in the forms of powers and gel capsules that can fed to the dog with food to help with nutritional health. In most cases these supplements can be somewhat effective, especially if they contain the Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. If you are wondering which supplement is best for your dog, talk to your vet or animal nutritionalist.
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