We all love the look and feel of a healthy, shiny coat on our pets, but as with our skin in winter, there are times when our furry friend’s coat can become dry and flaky. In more severe cases, the skin can become very inflamed and there may be hair loss and infection.
To understand how to best look after our pet’s skin and coat it is important to first understand how the skin behaves and what it is made up of.
The skin is vitally important and often gets taken for granted – it is actually the largest organ on our pet’s body! As well as being a protective barrier, it also regulates body temperature and provides the sensation of touch.
Now for the scientific part …………There are three layers to the skin: The epidermis (outermost layer) , the dermis (middle layer) and the subcutis (innermost layer).
The epidermis provides protection from dehydration, trauma, infection and toxic insult. It is made up mainly of toughened cells called keratinocytes, which are continuously formed in the lower layer of the epidermis and shed from the top layer. It takes 7 days for dogs to replace all of their keratinocytes! These cells connect together to provide a strong barrier. If these cells are damaged the skin loses its protective effect. Another cell in the epidermis, the melanocyte, provides pigment in the skin and coat and protects against UV rays. Langerhan’s cells are the immune cells of the skin. They are often over stimulated in animals with allergies. Merkel cells provide sensory information about touch, temperature and pain.
All of these cells lie over a basement membrane which connects the epidermis to the dermis and provides another protective barrier. This layer is often damaged in immune mediated diseases such as pemphigus.
The dermis provides nourishment for the outer layer of the skin and has a network of connective tissue containing blood vessels, nerves, sweat and oil (sebaceous) glands and hair follicles. Collagen and elastin which provide elasticity of the skin are made in the dermis. Variance in dog and cat’s coats can be attributed to a variable number of hair follicles and the type of hair. Hair follicles contain both a guard hair and several under hairs. Guard hairs are courser and thicker while under hairs are finer and softer. The hair coat provides important insulation against the cold and heat as well as providing physical protection from trauma and the sun.
The subcutis contains muscle and fat. The muscle is often observed as a skin twitch when touched and the fat provides insulation and nourishment for the skin.
Changes to the skin and coat can often give us early clues of underlying diseases elsewhere in the body. Inflammation of the skin (dermatitis) can be a symptom of parasitic infestation, bacterial or fungal infections. Unfortunately, much like with us humans, we also can see cancerous change happen frequently in our pets skin. That is why it is so important to get any nrw or growing lumps and bumps examined and checked as soon as you notice them.
With all the different pet breeds and variations in coat types, it can get confusing as to what is the best way to care for your pet. The good news is that the basic requirements are the same for all animals.
The cornerstone of all animal health care is a good quality diet. In particular, a diet with the correct ratio of Omega -3 to Omega-6 fatty acids is very important. Most premium diets have been formulated to maintain a healthy skin and coat but in some cases, additional supplementation with Omega-3 is required. Before considering adding anything into your pet’s diet, it is a good idea to see us to confirm the best product to use and the dose required.
Another important part of your pet’s health is to make sure all external parasites have been eliminated. Fleas in particular, are one of the most common causes of skin disease we see, particularly through the warmer months. Thankfully, there are many new and convenient products available for both dogs and cats so there is really no need for our beloved pets to suffer from fleas ever again.
Grooming is also something that should be part of our routine for our pets. For a short-haired dog or cat, this can be as simple as a weekly brush to remove loose hair. Longer-haired pets will require more frequent maintenance and specific tools to remove their undercoat, while the non-shedding breeds need regular haircuts to keep them in optimal condition and looking their best.
Bathing should be performed every 7-14 days depending on the breed of dog ( cats generally dont need bathing as they are so fastidious about their own cleanliness!) When washing your dog, don’t forget to use a soap-free shampoo that is specifically formulated for animals. Many medicated washes can dry out our pet’s skin so please check with us to find out the best option for your pet’s skin type.
Hopefully this has helped to clarify a few things about our pets coats and skin and will help you to optimise their health. If you ever need any further advice or information on your pet’s coat – please feel free to call in and see us, or give us a ring on 3353 6999.