For this week’s blog, I want to discuss the largest organ your pet has… their skin. Well, technically, this blog is going to discuss their fur and skin. I will be discussing why it is important to not overlook coat and skin issues, the difference between healthy/unhealthy coats/skin and tips on keeping their coats healthy.
All animals (including you) shed – both skin and hair. Skin cells live approximately 22 days – meaning about once a month, dead skin flakes are replaced by new skin cells. For most dogs and cats, virtually all of their skin is covered with hair. A healthy animal will not excessively shed. Regardless of what type of fur they have, their coat is relatively smooth, soft to the touch and shiny. One of the very first and subtle signs that your pet isn’t feeling 100% is by their fur. If their fur is dry, full of dandruff, brittle, dull, greasy and/or odorous, you should be calling your veterinarian. If you notice your cat is not grooming itself, this is a serious red flag for you! Definitely schedule an appointment today!! These are all signs that there is something medically wrong with your pet.
Here is a good visual for you to see. It is a picture of one of my cats, Angelo. The first photo is when he was a healthy 3 years old. The second photo was taken approximately 8 weeks before he passed away – he had hyperthyroidism and gastrointestinal issues. Notice the difference between a smooth, shiny coat in the first photo versus the rough, dull coat in the second one.
Health conditions and diseases that can affect the hair coat:
Hormonal imbalances and other metabolic problems like Cushing’s disease and thyroid disease can affect your pet’s coat. The only way to confirm or rule out these issues is by doing bloodwork. If caught early enough and treated regularly, your pet’s coat can recover to its former glory.
We all experience stress and know how it can do a number on your body. When your pet becomes stressed out – especially stress factors they cannot escape from – can lead to massive shedding with huge clumps of fur falling out.
External parasites: Fleas, ticks, and both types of mange mites can produce an itchy feeling on your pet. When your pet scratches and chews at itself, this can cause the hair to thin out and become patchy.
Intestinal parasites cause malnutrition. Due to not getting enough nutrients, the coat becomes unhealthy.
Ringworm causes patches of missing hair. Since this fungal infection can be passed from pets to people, it is very important to know if your pet has ringworm.
Regardless of what typed of allergies your pet has, it can cause red/itchy/crusty skin and patches of hair loss.
Tips for keeping your pet’s coat healthy:
Good Quality Food:
I want to give you a little analogy. Think about when you are eating. Do you feel a little different when you eat a healthy, well-balanced meal versus eating fast food? I know I do. The same kind of thing happens with your pets. The better quality of food that you feed your pet will show throughout your pet. An inadequate diet that doesn’t meet your pet’s nutritional needs can create a dull, dry hair coat. Typically, you will see less shedding from your pet with a well-balanced diet.
Yearly Wellness Exams:
Make sure your pet has a wellness exam at least once a year. These yearly check-ups will keep a detailed record of your pet’s health throughout its life. There could be a slight change in your pet’s appearance or health that you may not have noticed but having the previous year’s health notes, can inform everyone that something is off. This is especially important when you have a senior pet – it is recommended they have bi-annual visits since conditions can sneak up on senior pets more quickly.
All pets need to have a good grooming regimen. Starting a good grooming regimen early (puppy and kitten stage) will get them used to the grooming process. Regardless of your pet’s age there are a lot of benefits for both you and your pet to have a good grooming regimen. First and foremost, it creates a bonding time between you and your pet. If you have a kitty that really loves you, you know how they will “groom” you – by “grooming” them back shows them you love them just as much. A proper grooming regimen includes brushing your pet’s coat and bathing. Brushing your pet’s fur has a lot of benefits. Besides stimulating blood circulation, it helps maintain a healthy coat and skin. Brushing removes the dead skin cells and fur. By brushing your cat(s) it helps to minimize the amount of fur that is swallowed by them as they groom themselves, thus lessening “hairballs”. How often the grooming regimen happens depends on: breed, age, life style, type of coat, health status and weight of your animal. Most overweight pets are unable to clean themselves and will require you to take additional steps in keeping them clean. If you have a pet that hunts, plays in ponds/rivers/mud or other outdoor activities, they may require more baths than a complete “couch pet(ato)”.
Before I get into discussing a generalized grooming regimen for dog and cat breeds, I want to mention the products used for baths. Dogs should only be bathed in a shampoo that is strictly formulated for dog use. Cats should only be bathed in a shampoo that is strictly formulated for cat use. Human skin has a different thickness and PH level than dogs and cats and our shampoo (even baby shampoo) is too harsh for their skin. A hypoallergenic shampoo without any additional perfumes is the best choice for regular baths. If your pet has a skin condition, they may require a medicated shampoo that is prescribed for their particular disorder. There are pet conditioning products that are also available that can restore lost moisture to the skin and minimize the development of dandruff after the bath. Typically, they recommend not bathing your pet more than once a month – unless there is a medical condition that requires more frequent bathing.
Short haired cats and single layer coat dogs (examples: Chihuahuas, Maltese, Poodles, Great Danes, Mastiffs) have some different requirements depending on their particular breeds. For example, breeds like the Maltese and Poodle will also need to get “haircuts” but the time between when a Maltese needs a cut differs from when the Poodle does. A generalized time between grooming and bathes is every 6-8 weeks. You should be brushing your short haired pet once a week. Long haired single layer dogs should be brushed at least twice a week to control the amount of mats that can develop.
Long haired cats and double layer coat dogs (examples: Akita, Chow, Husky, Bernese Mountain Dog, Great Pyrenees, Golden Retriever, Lab, Schnauzer, Pomeranian, Shih Tzu, Yorkie) require more grooming. Due to having a thick undercoat, these guys and gals have seasonal shedding cycles usually right before summer and winter. It is definitely recommended to bathe them during their shedding season. Brushing twice a week helps to pull the dead undercoat hair – which can cause painful matting.
Dogs with allergies require more bathes.
**SPECIAL SAFETY NOTE: It is becoming all too common for pet owners to apply essential oils to their pets. But this can cause more harm than good. Essential Oils can “skate” the line for FDA regulations. Meaning some essential oils do not have to have an FDA approval to be sold in the US. Also, not all products labeled “organic” or “all-natural” are safe to use. Many plants contain materials that are toxic, irritating, or can cause allergic reactions when applied to the skin. For example: lemongrass – in any form – is toxic to dogs and cats. Generally speaking, if a pet product lists essential oils, they are greatly diluted. The 100% essential oils should never be used on your pet. The oils can be absorbed into their bloodstream and damage vital organs, namely the liver and kidneys.**
Flea and Tick prevention:
Keeping your pet on year-round monthly flea and tick preventative will help decrease the chances that your pet will develop flea-related hair loss.
Supplementing your pet’s diet with Omega 3’s and 6’s fatty acids, not only benefits their skin and coat but there are studies that show they have benefits for the heart. Just make sure you discuss with your veterinarian the proper dosage for your pet. Too much can cause GI upset and too little doesn’t help.
In certain canine alopecia (hairloss) cases, Melatonin has helped with hair growth. Again, discuss with your veterinarian the proper dosage for your dog.
Winter time blues:
Just like with humans, your pet can suffer skin irritation from dry winter conditions. A lack of humidity in our homes can dry out their skin. By providing a humidifier in the area where your pet spends a lot of their time can replenish their lost moisture.
Remember, you are your pet’s advocate. If you have noticed a change with your pet, no matter how silly you think it may be, let your veterinarian know these changes. It could be a sign that there is an issue with your pet’s health.