The body is a complex organism made up of many different systems that work together in harmony to keep itself alive. When we think of “Metabolism”, we usually think of weight loss or gain, but really, metabolism is the act of being alive.

Many chemicals, enzymes, vitamins and minerals play a part in the health of the body that shows in the lovely coat, or lack thereof, and bright and beautiful eyes. We all know that good nutrition plays a part in a healthy body, but let’s explore how it affects the skin and coat of the creatures that we groom and care for every day.

Skin is mostly made up of fats, minerals and collagen. When the needs of the skin have been met nutritionally, the result is a beautifully formed coat of hair that is full of texture, color and life. Protein, vitamins, fats and minerals all play an important part in keeping the skin healthy. A healthy skin provides a healthy haircoat. Skin, and by extension, the coat, is a barrier that keeps toxins, pollutants and UV rays out and moisture, fat and minerals in.

Research has shown that protein that comes from an animal source has all the essential amino acids that a dog needs to maintain health, while protein that comes from a plant source is missing some important parts of these types of acids. Our domestic dogs are true omnivores and can tolerate both plant and animal material in their diet. The thing that separates domestic dogs from their wild ancestors is their ability to tolerate carbohydrates in a way that wolves and wild dogs cannot. Cats are true carnivores and require an animal based diet. Cats can’t convert carotene to retinol so the vitamin A that is present in plants is unavailable to them.

Zinc, copper, biotin, vitamin A and E, and riboflavin are essential for tissue repair, pigmentation, protection against free radicals and proper processing of fats and proteins. Fatty acids also play an important role in the health of the skin. Omega–6 or linoleic acid is responsible for keeping the fat content in the skin at optimal levels. Omega–3 or alpha–linoleic acid has anti-inflammatory effects. Too much or too little of any of these important pieces of the diet can have serious consequences in the skin and hair.

There is an ongoing debate in our industry (raging, flaming, bridge burning etc.) about the quality, safety, nutritional soundness of certain brands, raw versus processed, home cooked, dehydrated and so on. It is not the aim of this article to weigh in on any of these dietary choices for our pets but to encourage the understanding and use of topical nutrition.

Good nutrition in the breakfast and dinner bowl is always a good start to a healthy skin but many groomers are unaware that good nutrition is just as important on the outside of the pet as well as inside. There are myriad ways in which the skin can become imbalanced. Internal diet, systemic disease, environmental changes and climate controlled living quarters are just a few of the many ways these imbalances can occur.

Proper skin care can help balance the skin and promote better hair growth, better oil retention and virtually eliminate skin issues, even if the skin is affected by an inner disorder. Through the use of topical minerals, vitamins and fats(conditioners), we can help support the skin from the outside. When you give the skin what it is lacking it will respond.

Proper skin care is: Detoxify, Cleanse and Hydrate. All dogs and cats require a sebum layer for the skin to stay supple and the hair shafts to be smooth and closed. When this is disrupted, we begin to see oiliness, dryness, scale and crusts. All dogs and cats need oils, minerals and collagen but they need them in different proportions. The shorter the coat, (or hairless) the more oils are needed. The longer and finer a coat is, the more collagen is needed. Double coated breeds and primitives lay somewhere in the middle with a need for minerals.

Detoxification can be achieved with cosmetic clays, such as bentonite clay, dead sea mud, and oils, such as ginkgo, emu, and camellia. There are a few excellent commercial preparations available for various skin issues.

Cleanser or shampoo should address the issue that the individual pet is presenting. Bacterial needs an antibacterial, fungal issues need an anti–fungal, allergies, which are protein based require a quality protein shampoo.

Hydration or conditioner is a necessary step for all pets that have been shampooed. We must replace the protective oils that were washed away by bathing in order for the skin to perform at maximum health. With the many choices in products and formulas that are currently available, there is no coat that must be left dry and unprotected after a shampoo. Vitamin and mineral sprays are also a good way to boost the cutaneous immune system and can be used daily for pets that have open skin or extreme dryness or damage.

I have found that the same vitamins, minerals and fats that are good for the inside of the pet are also good for the outside when found in the ingredient list in products that are used during the grooming process. It is important to remember that dogs and cats are individuals, even within the same breed. Part of being successful in topical nutrition and therapeutic grooming is being able to experiment, keep your mind open to new processes and do your research. ✂