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The Importance of Your Pet's Skin and Coat and the Role of Diet

A lustrous coat signals vitality and can indicate the health status of a pet. Pets with a dry, flaky, or unkempt coat may be suffering from conditions. Your pet's coat consists of thousands of hairs produced in hair follicles. Because hairs are under constant environmental stress, they are continuously shed and replaced. Anyone who has ever cleaned up after his or her pet can attest to the volume of hair shed each day! Seasonal shedding, which also occurs to replace the coat, is affected by the outside temperature and hours of daylight each day (the photoperiod). However, dogs who spend much of their time inside, exposed to a more consistent climate and electric light, may shed year-round. What roles do my pet’s skin and coat play in his health? Besides being pretty to look at, your pet's skin and coat play vital roles in their health; they functions as an important part of the immune system and are critical to maintaining proper hydration. The following are some of the basic functions of the skin and coat:

  • Protection. The skin and coat provide a barrier that protects a dog or cat from external objects, chemicals, and environmental stressors. In simplest terms, the skin and coat protect the internal organs from external threats. The skin also contains nerves and nerve endings that help a pet sense heat, cold, pressure, and pain. Additionally, the coat protects pets against chemical damage, trauma, ultraviolet light, and contact with hot surfaces.

  • Immunity. The skin also functions as an important part of the immune system. If the skin's immunity is compromised, infections and potentially serious diseases caused by harmful bacteria could occur.

  • Thermoregulation. A healthy coat helps keep a pet's temperature properly regulated by providing an insulating layer of fur. A healthy coat can efficiently regulate body temperature by moving hair follicles to bring hairs closer together to insulate or allow air to enter under looser hairs to cool a dog. A pet can also warm herself by shivering.

  • Hydration. You may not realize it, but your pet's skin is critical in maintaining proper hydration. Water loss through the skin can severely impact your pet's health. Dogs do not have sweat glands, so excess water loss through unhealthy skin often causes health problems. Excessive water loss through the skin also affects the amount of energy a pet needs to maintain his metabolism.

  • Nutrient storage. The skin also serves as a storage site for several nutrients. Protein and amino acids are present in the skin, as are collagen fibers and enzymes. Dog hair is mostly made up of protein. Up to 35% of a dog's daily protein intake is used to maintain her skin and coat.

How can I keep my pet’s skin and coat healthy? Nothing affects the condition of your pet's coat more than his food. Diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids, protein, vitamins, and minerals play an essential part in caring for your pet's skin and coat.

  • Omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA) help protect the skin and coat and keep it shiny. EPA helps combat inflammation. Sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fish and algal oils and flaxseed.

  • Linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid found in corn, soy, flaxseed, and other nuts, is a key nutrient in maintaining a healthy coat. Many pets with dry, flaky skin are often deficient in linoleic acid. Dandruff, thin hair, discolored hair, increased shedding, and poor healing are all associated with low linoleic acid levels in the skin and diet.

  • Zinc is especially important in the skin because of the high cellular turnover rate caused by constant shedding. In addition, zinc helps reduce water loss through the skin. Pets who are fed low levels of zinc develop hair loss, skin infections, and a dull appearance.

  • Biotin and B vitamins play important roles as cofactors in many of the body's metabolic processes, including fat metabolism. This is important in the skin because biotin and B vitamins are involved in aiding linoleic acid function in the epidermis and dermis.

Recent research has shown that adding omega-3 fatty acids, linoleic acid, and zinc in combination increases coat gloss and decreases dry, flaky skin (dander).

Proper grooming can also help keep your pet's skin and coat in good shape. For information on grooming or bathing your pet, feel free to stop by the shop or give us a call at 847.247.4809. What is my takeaway message? The key to a healthy coat begins with your pet's diet. If you are concerned about how your dog or cat's coat looks, ask your veterinarian if an underlying nutritional or medical condition is to blame. With a clean bill of health, proper diet and grooming, your pet will be well on his way to looking as good as any movie star dog!

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