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Flaky skin - nutrition & parasites

Updated: Nov 13, 2023

Flaky skin - nutrition & parasites

Pets suffering from dry flaky skin tend to also be very itchy and are often seen to be rubbing themselves on carpets or furniture to relieve the itchy sensation. Depending on the severity of the itch other symptoms of an allergy may also be present along with the flaky skin such as hair loss and redness or inflammation of the skin. As with all allergies identifying the cause of the dry flaky skin and other symptoms rather than simply treating it topically with ‘conditioning shampoos’ or random anti-parasitic agents is essential for a long term resolution.

Pets suffering from dry flaky skin are commonly those on commercial pet food diets and suffering from an omega 3 fatty acid deficiency. Transitioning to a raw, species appropriate diet with supplementation to address this and any other nutritional imbalances which contribute to dry skin and an over active immune system will often resolve the issue [1]. The use of an omega 3 supplement such as flaxseed or fish oil is recommended along with an appropriate Vitamin E supplement, these should always be provided together as the Vitamin E protects the pet from the oil becoming rancid within the body. It can take up to 2-3 weeks to rectify an Omega 3 deficiency, this should be discussed with the pet owner as they may be expecting an ‘instant fix’ particularly if the pet has previously undergone injections or medications to resolve the dry skin or other allergy symptoms. Probiotics can also be useful as they aid the digestive system; plain organic Greek yogurt provides a healthy option for pets whilst also providing a good medium for any other supplements such as kelp to be delivered[1]. A healthy addition of Vitamin C and antioxidants to the diet can provide a very speedy response for the pet as it supports the immune system and the pets general health [2].

In addition to nutrition, carefully examining and combing the coat can dislodge parasites and skin debris for closer examination and determination of any anti parasitic required. Particular attention should be paid to any areas particularly affected by flaky skin or that the pet is scratching at repeatedly. The presence of just one flea can be enough to trigger flea allergy dermatitis with some pets particularly sensitive to the saliva which is injected into the skin when the flea bites them [3].

There are a couple of different mites which are worth noting when examining for skin allergies, the sub-surface mite and the follicular mite. The subsurface mite sarcoptes prevalent in dogs and diagnosed as sarcoptes mange, tends to begin in the ears before spreading all over the body. It can be extremely difficult to identify as it is only visible in skin scrapings viewed under a microscope. The approach taken by local vets in New Zealand is to treat for Sarcoptes mange ‘just in case’, whenever an infection is suspected, as it’s simpler and easier on the pet than undergoing skin scrapings and identification.

The follicular (or fur) mite, the Cheyletiella yasguri which can be found in dogs and the Cheyletiella blakei found in cats, causes mild irritation and excessive shedding of the skin i.e. flaky skin. The mite is somewhat larger than the sub surface mite and is visible to the naked eye, although a magnifying lens can be a useful tool. They can be easily dislodged with a thorough brushing to dislodge before examining the resulting debris to reveal their presence. [3].


[1] Billinghurst, I. 1993. Give Your Dog a Bone. Bathurst, New South Wales: Warrigal Publishing. [2] Syme, B. 2011. Scientific Guide to Natural Nutrition. Southbank, Australia: Vets All Natural Pty Ltd. [3] Bush, B. M. 1991. Elementary Parasitology. In D. R. Lane, Jones's Animal Nursing, 5th ed. Oxford, England: Pergamon Press.

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