Keeping your companion animal’s skin healthy and coat shiny can prove challenging. Even though you might already feed a quality food, and brush and shampoo regularly, there’s more to this area of pet care than you might think. Veterinarians will tell you that the condition of the skin can be a good indicator of a pet’s overall health and nutrition status. That’s why wise pet parents should monitor their companion animal for any of these tell-tale signs …
• Dry, flaky skin or a dull, brittle coat
• Oily, foul smelling skin or a matted coat
• Thin coat, excessive hair loss or red, blotchy skin
• Excessive scratching (especially, seasonally)
The skin is the largest organ in the body and requires proteins and other nutrients. It’s not surprising that subtle changes in the amount of nutrients supplied to the skin can have a noticeable affect on its overall condition.
Fortunately, many pets eat complete-and-balanced pet foods that meet the nutrient profiles specified by expert panels and regulatory bodies. However, there are other factors that can lead to nutrient deficiencies. Pet foods that are improperly stored in the home, or in warehouses for many months without climate control prior to entering your home, can have reduced nutrient availability. Deficiencies may also arise when an animal is unable to digest, absorb or utilize nutrients as a result of genetic, environmental or stress factors, or some diseases. Even if your companion animal eats a nutritious diet, her skin takes a backseat to the rest of her organs … in essence, only receiving the “leftovers”. Therefore, I believe it’s important to supplement with additional nutrients, to help your furry one achieve skin and coat health.
Here are the top five essential nutrients you should consider for optimal skin and coat health:
1. Omega-3 Poly-Unsaturated Fatty Acids
The importance of balanced supplementation of omega-3 fatty acids cannot be stressed enough. Omega-3 fatty acids play a structural role in cell membranes, help resolve inflammation and are vital for maintaining normal skin structure and function. Omega-3’s are fragile molecules and prolonged storage or improperly balanced vitamin E can deplete levels of fatty acids in food and supplements. Signs that your pet may be suffering from a deficiency of these nutrients include a dull, dry coat and dander.
2. Vitamin E
Vitamin E is an antioxidant vital to the maintenance of skin cell membrane stability and protection against free-radical damage. Also, vitamin E interacts with many nutrients while in the body, including omega-3 fatty acids, to promote optimal skin health.
Zinc is critical for regulating different aspects of skin cell metabolism. Its presence is involved in skin cell replication. Zinc is essential to the body’s response to disease and inflammation and is involved in the metabolism of another crucial skin nutrient, vitamin A. Signs of a zinc deficiency include: a dull, dry coat; localized redness; hair loss; and scales that appear on the legs, around the mouth or on the eyelids.
4. Vitamin A
Vitamin A is involved in skin cell growth and repair. It is essential to maintain the integrity of the skin barrier and the proper growth of hair and nails. Vitamin A also supports the production of healthy oils in the skin. Both deficiency and excess vitamin A can lead to skin problems such as hair loss, poor coat quality and increased susceptibility to bacterial infections, which is why the correct balance of vitamin A is so critically important in the diet.
5. Vitamin B
The B-complex vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin, d-pantothenic acid, niacin, pyridoxine, B12 and biotin) work in concert with the nutrients mentioned above to coordinate energy metabolism and synthetic processes. B vitamins are water-soluble, and therefore can’t be stored in the body. The balanced daily intake of these vitamins is vital to overall health. Dry, flaky dander and hair loss are the signs most consistently associated with B-vitamin deficiencies.
An important take-away from this discussion is that all these nutrients, while each important in their own right, work in concert with one another, and with other nutrients in the body. That’s why it’s incredibly important that these nutrients be provided in a balanced, holistic way. As you can see, some of the deficiency symptoms overlap (e.g., a dull, dry coat and dandruff could signal a deficiency of any or all of these nutrients). I urge you to choose a balanced skin-and-coat supplement, and to work with your veterinarian to ensure that your companion animal is receiving all the nutrients he or she needs to shine.
Thank you for everything you do to make the world a better place for companion animals,
Dr. Jane Bicks, DVM