Caring for Your Pet’s Skin During the Winter Season


By the time we reach adulthood, most of us have discovered that winter weather can wreak havoc on our skin. Humidity is low, the outside air is cold and windy, and we’re going in and out of cold to warm and back again throughout each day. Even in homes with great ventilation, our bodies have to struggle to keep up with the temperature and moisture changes that occur throughout the day.

It stands to reason that the body cannot always keep up the necessary balance of chemicals, oils and bacteria the skin needs to stay soft, flexible and comfortable, and the common result is dry, itchy, flaking skin. What is true for human skin is often true for animal skin, as well, and many of the same remedies are useful for both preventing and treating skin problems in dogs.

Bathing and Grooming Your Dog

One of the typical conditions that occur as a result of a change in environmental conditions is dandruff. Simply put, dandruff is often just the normal result of dead skin cells that are visible on the surface of the skin or hair. However, this can become an unsightly or uncomfortable problem when the skin is producing excessive amounts of sebum – a fatty product of the sebaceous glands in the skin – and skin cell turnover increases. The dead skin cells may clump up or remain as patchy layers on the surface of the skin. This problem tends to be more prevalent in the winter.

Unfortunately, for dogs that have sensitive skin, shampooing them can make the problem worse. To avoid stripping the skin’s natural oils or causing chemical irritation, bathing with shampoos or soaps should be limited during the winter months. Simple water baths should be sufficient under most circumstances. If you must bathe your pet, use a moisturizing shampoo for sensitive skin, along with a moisturizing rinse.

If you have already passed the point of prevention and find that you need to treat your dog for irritated skin, oatmeal baths have been a long held and common remedy for soothing skin. There are also specially medicated shampoos for itchy skin, but there are considerations to take into account, such as your dog’s age and health status. You will need to base your skin treatment choices on the type of hair coat your dog has, as well, or whether your dog has layers of skin that overlap. If you have any questions about what type of shampoo or topical ointment to use, talk to your veterinarian or groomer about your best options for treating your dog’s skin.

Using a soft brush on your dog’s hair coat will help to stimulate the hair follicles and natural oil glands in the skin, and remove any patches of skin as you brush across the surface. Removing the dead skin cells and loose hair from the coat will allow the skin a chance to repair itself.

Nutrition and Supplementation for the Skin

Throughout the year, your dog should be receiving a diet that is nutritionally balanced, so that when winter does arrive, her skin is already in the best health. That does not mean that your dog will not still have problems, but they will be minimized and easier to treat, generally speaking.

For example, adequate levels of fatty acids are an essential component of healthy and firm, yet flexible, skin. If you and your dog have already suffered through a tough winter or two, you may want to look into putting him on a special diet that provides additional levels of omega-3 or omega-6 fatty acids specifically for the maintenance of healthy skin. Consult with your veterinarian so you can make an informed choice about which supplemental vitamins and/or foods will be best suited to your dog.

Environmental Considerations

While you cannot control the outside temperatures, and you cannot keep your dog indoors all the time – after all, she has to go outside to relieve herself – you can maximize your indoor air with humidifiers and fans to keep the air circulating so that allergens are not collecting in the air and carpets.

To keep everyone comfortable, both pets and people, avoid as much as possible using room deodorizers, scents, or carpet and furniture cleaning products, since there is no way to air out the chemical traces of these products from the home.

Other Causes of Skin Problems

In addition to winter changes, there are also the usual culprits — dust mites, molds, etc. — which are not being aired out and which may lead to an increase in reactive skin or breathing symptoms, especially if your dog tends to be sensitive under normal circumstances. Your veterinarian can help to diagnose and treat indoor allergies and provide relief in the form of medications, supplements, or special shampoos.

Other potential causes of skin conditions can come from sources such as parasites, underlying health issues like kidney or liver problems, or hormonal or nutritional imbalances. If your dog is not responding to any of the normal treatment methods, you will need to have him examined so that more serious health issues can be ruled out.

It is important to note that if you find your dog scratching non-stop, to the point that damage to the skin is resulting from the excessive scratching, you will need to see your veterinarian immediately, before the skin irrigation becomes a more severe bacterial infection.


Image: Rowena / via Flickr