The skin is the largest organ of the body and a barrier that protects an animal from the environment. The skin plays a crucial role in preventing water loss, exposure to contaminants and protection from UV rays, bacteria and fungi; while nerves in the skin perceive heat, cold and pain. The condition of the skin is a good indicator of the health of an animal.
The health and appearance of the skin and coat is impacted by an animal’s genetics, nutrition, health, emotional state and environmental factors. Many conditions and diseases can cause a dog or a cat to lose hair, the coat become brittle or change colour; and their skin to become dry, itchy, scaly or oily. As soon as a pet starts to lose hair, or changes in their coat or skin are observed the animal should be seen by a veterinarian so the cause can be identified, as unfortunately skin disorders are often an outward manifestation of a physical medical condition within the body (Lazarus, 1999).
When an animal’s nutrient requirements are not being satisfied its skin and coat is susceptible to bacterial and fungal infections, parasitic infestations (fleas, mites etc.), keratinization abnormalities, allergies, dermatitis, lesions and alopecia. Dogs and cats also have increased nutrient requirements during certain life stages such as gestation, lactation, growth stages and old age. Poor skin and coat during these stages maybe indicative of an inadequate diet and poor health.
To ensure a healthy skin and coat an animal needs the following in its diet:
· Good quality protein
· Essential fatty acids
· Vitamins and minerals
Without these nutrients, or with insufficient levels of nutrients a whole range of health conditions can occur that manifest as skin or coat problems. Feed your pet a nutritional raw diet and eliminate chemical treatments as much as possible to restore it to full health.
Environmental factors like pollens, pollutants, household cleaning products, insecticides and garden sprays when inhaled or absorbed through an animal’s paws or skin can cause a contact reaction manifesting as a skin or coat condition and even poisoning. Hair and skin changes can be as a result of exposure to a chemical irritant, allergen (e.g. pollen or food), stress, anxiety, bacterial infection, parasitic infestation, nutritional deficiency or medical condition. Blood and urine tests will help identify underlying endocrine, hormonal, immune-mediated or other medical conditions that can cause or contribute to hair loss.
An animal’s emotional state also affects the health of its skin and coat. Stress, anxiety and boredom can lead to an animal biting its skin, pulling its fur out or the fur even falling out by itself. Seek the advice of an experienced dog/cat trainer if your pet is suffering from any of these conditions (refer to the trainers page).
Read our blogs on Alergies, Alopecia (Hair Loss) and Demodex Mange to learn about some of the health conditions that may occur due to an inadequate diet or a reaction to certain foods or chemicals:
1. Billinghurst, Dr. Ian, 1993, Give Your Dog a Bone, 22nd Print, Warrigal Publishing, Bathurst, NSW, Australia
2. Hand, M, Thatcher, C, Remillard, R, Roudebush, P, Novotny, B, 2010, Small Animal Clinical Nutrition, 5th Edition, Mark Morris Institute, USA
3. Lazarus, Pat, 1999, Keep Your Dog Health the Natural Way, The Ballantine Publishing Group, New York, USA
4. Mindell, Earl, RPh, PhD, Elizabeth Renaghan, 2007, Dr. Earl Mindell’s Nutrition and Health For Dogs, Basic Health Publications, Inc, California, USA