A dazzling, shiny coat is a great indicator for the health status of your dog or cat. Pets with a dry, flaky, or poor coat condition may be suffering from a disease (thyroid, Cushing's kidney or liver), or nutritional disorders. One of the main ways a veterinarian assesses the health of a dog or cat is by the condition of their coat and skin.
The skin and coat form the largest organ in dogs and cats, it accounts for around 10% to 15% of their total body weight. The skin is made up of the hypodermis (contains mostly fat), the dermis, and the epidermis.
The dermis, made up of collagen, is the largest portion of the skin, it contains sebaceous glands and hair follicles. The sebaceous glands secrete sebum (an oily substance) which coats the hair and skin providing lubrication and protected. The epidermis contains specialized skin cells which produce keratin - a waxy substance that covers the epidermis to prevent the loss of water through the skin.
Coat hairs are under constant environmental stress, your pet's coat consists of thousands of hairs that are continuously shed and replaced. Seasonal shedding, which also occurs to replace the coat, is affected by the outside temperature and hours of daylight each day. Dogs and cats who live mostly indoors live in a more controlled consistent climate so they, may shed year-round.
Your pet's skin and coat play major roles in their health. They’re 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 is a protective barrier against chemicals, and environmental stressors. The skin and coat protects 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 to regulate your dog or cats temperature by providing an insulating layer of fur. A healthy coat efficiently regulates body temperature by moving hair follicles to bring hairs closer together to insulate or permit air to enter under looser hairs to cool a dog or cat. A pet can also warm herself by shivering.
Hydration. Your pet's skin is critical in maintaining proper hydration. Water loss through the skin can severely impact your pet's health. Dogs and cats do not have sweat glands, so excess water loss through unhealthy skin (transepidermal water loss) 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 is a storage system for many nutrients. Protein, amino acids, collagen fibres and enzymes. Dog and cat 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. Linoleic acid and other fatty acids are stored in the skin and are present in the phospholipid bilayer to provide flexibility and fluidity to the skin. Fatty acids protect pets against inflammation. Minerals such as zinc, copper, selenium, and manganese are found in relatively high concentrations in the skin because of they are necessary for several biologic reactions that occur in the skin. Fat-soluble vitamins A and E may also be stored in the skin. Vitamin A is necessary for cell production and maintenance, and vitamin E is an antioxidant that helps protect the skin. B vitamins are found in the skin but are not stored there because they are water soluble.
How can I keep my pet’s skin and coat healthy?
Nothing affects your pets coat and skin health more than diet. Diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids, protein, vitamins, and minerals are the essential part in the health of 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. Linoleic acid 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 receive 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).
If the nutrients are not digested well and are of poor quality, not only will they be unavailable to meet the body's needs, but they will also cause the liver and kidneys to work harder to eliminate the indigestible waste products.
A dog whose diet is inadequate to meet his dietary needs will have a dull, dry hair coat and will often shed excessively. For more information about dog nutrition related to specific conditions, it is recommended that you read the appropriate client education handouts and discuss the best nutrition plan for your dog with your veterinarian
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 and a proper diet, your pet will be well on his way to looking as good as any movie star dog or cat!