Healthy Skin & Coat From the Inside Out - Groomer to Groomer

Healthy Skin & Coat From the Inside Out

By Dr. Jennifer Adolphe

The skin is a pet’s natural barrier to the outside world. As one of the body’s largest organs, the skin plays many vital functions to keep pets healthy. It protects the underlying internal organs, bones and muscles, provides sensory information, and acts as part of the immune system to guard against pathogens and external threats to health and safety. As part of the skin, fur also acts as a barrier and protects the skin, maintains body temperature, and contributes to the esthetic appeal of pets. Excellent grooming and proper nutrition ensure the health and beauty of a pet’s skin and coat.

Choose a High Quality Food

The first step to helping your clients achieve a coat that glistens and skin that is smooth and supple is guiding them to choose a high quality dog food. When it comes to ingredients, select foods that have their ingredients sourced from trusted partners as close to the manufacturing facility as possible to ensure freshness. Whole food ingredients, like fresh meats, fruits, and vegetables, provide the essential nutrients, antioxidants, and plant-based nutrients to support
optimal health.

It is also important to select a food that has detailed nutrient information readily available. Choose a brand that has consumer support available so your clients can pick up the phone and talk to someone who can help them with nutritional problems or questions should
they arise.

Fats and Essential Fatty Acids

Fats are a necessary part of a balanced diet for dogs and play a key role in the maintenance of the skin and coat. For most healthy dogs, a diet that provides about 12 to 18 percent fat on a dry matter basis is best for health and maintenance. Fats are made up of building blocks called fatty acids. There are certain fatty acids that pets require from their diet because their body cannot make them. These are called essential fatty acids and include omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Including both types of fatty acids in your pet’s diet is important because these fatty acids are metabolized in the body into substances that affect inflammation. Omega-3s are considered less inflammatory than omega-6s and may help pets experiencing irritated and inflamed skin.

Linoleic acid is an omega-6 fatty acid that is considered to be the most important essential fatty acid for dogs and cats. It plays a critical role in skin health by maintaining the outermost water barrier of the skin. In addition, many other important molecules in the body are made from linoleic acid. Dietary sources of linoleic acid include chicken fat and canola oil. Arachidonic acid, another omega-6 fatty acid, is found in fats from animals and fish, such as chicken, lamb, and salmon.

Omega-3 fatty acids are important for normal metabolism and optimal health. ALA is considered an essential fatty acid in dogs and cats and is found in oils from flaxseed and canola. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosaheaenoic acid (DHA) are marine-based omega-3s found in de-boned salmon, salmon oil, and algae extract. Animals can make EPA and DHA from ALA, though the rate of conversion is low. For optimal health, it is recommended that dietary sources of all three types of omega-3 fatty acids are consumed.


Fur is mostly made of protein, thus adequate protein is vital to ensuring a healthy coat. Proteins are the building blocks of your pet’s body and consist of chains of amino acids joined together. There are 22 amino acids that dogs and cats require, but they can only make 12 of these (i.e. non-essential amino acids). The remaining 10 are essential amino acids that pets must get from food.

Complete and balanced pet foods must contain all of the essential amino acids in amounts that meet the requirements for cats or dogs. Protein and essential amino acid requirements can be met by animal protein sources, complementary plant sources, or a combination of both animal and plant sources. Good sources of protein that are commonly used in pet foods fall into three main categories: meals (e.g. chicken meal, lamb meal), fresh meat/fish/poultry (e.g. de-boned turkey, de-boned venison) and plant-based protein (e.g. pea protein, corn
gluten meal).

Vitamins and Minerals

Vitamins and minerals are required in the diet in minute quantities, but they serve many important functions in maintaining a healthy skin and coat. In particular, deficiencies of vitamin A, vitamin E and zinc have been implicated in skin conditions in some genetically susceptible breeds. However, the vitamin and mineral content in complete and balanced pet foods are more than adequate to meet the requirements of healthy pets.

Vitamin and mineral supplementation is used in kibble and canned pet foods to balance the nutrient composition and to ensure the healthiest pet foods possible. These supplements act like a ‘nutrition insurance policy’ to provide essential nutrients in the correct ratios required by dogs and cats. While nutritionists formulate pet foods to use nutrient-rich ingredients that minimize the need for supplementation, nutrition science tells us that optimal nutrition cannot always be achieved by natural food sources alone, making supplementation of pet
food necessary.

Adverse Food Reactions

Pets that experience itchy skin, irritated eyes, frequent ear infections, chronic vomiting or diarrhea, and/or paw licking may be having an adverse reaction to food. Most food allergens are proteins, so this is the component to consider when trying to determine the offending ingredient. The length of time a pet has been on a food does not seem to affect the risk of developing adverse food reactions. A pet can react to a food after just one feeding, or after many months or years on the same food. With adverse food reactions seemingly on the rise among dogs and cats, many pet parents are looking for solutions. Limited ingredient diets with novel protein and carbohydrate sources, hydrolyzed protein diets, and home-cooked elimination diets have all been reported to be useful in treating adverse food reactions.

The Recipe for a Beautiful Coat

In addition to regular grooming, proper nutrition is fundamental to maintaining a healthy skin and coat. For pets with irritated skin or a coat that lacks luster, consider adverse food reactions as a potential cause. Although all components of a diet play a role in health maintenance, fats, protein, and vitamins and minerals are particularly important for creating a glistening coat to bark about! ✂

Dr. Jennifer Adolphe graduated with her Ph.D. in companion animal nutrition from the University of Saskatchewan. She previously completed a master’s degree in human nutrition and is a registered dietitian with the College of Dietitians of British Columbia. Her Ph.D. research examined the effect of carbohydrates on metabolic and cardiovascular health in lean and obese dogs. Adolphe is the recipient of more than 20 awards and scholarships for her academic work. Her work in the pet food industry has focused on product development and ingredient procurement. She is currently the senior nutritionist at Petcurean Pet Nutrition, a Canadian, family-owned company committed to offering superior quality pet foods.

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