Nutrients are the chemical substances found in food. Many nutrients are essential for life, and an adequate amount of nutrients in the diet is necessary for providing energy, building and maintaining the body, and its various metabolic processes. The skin functions normally when adequate nutrition is provided. Skin issues are commonly associated with poor nutrition. The skin protects against physical and microbiological damages, and reflects the condition of internal pathological processes.  The skin and coat significantly influence nutrient requirements. Around 30% of protein in food is needed to maintain daily hair growth in dogs with long coat, whereas larger dogs with short coat may need about 10%. Any dietary imbalance in the form of nutritional deficiency, specific nutrient inadequacy or excess, and toxic components can disturb the balance of the skin. Deficiencies of several vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids have clear manifestations on the skin. 

Most commonly occurring skin conditions in dogs: 

  • Allergy (dermatitis, hypersensitivity, flea bite) – swelling & itching, shortness of breath are common signs
  • Bacterial or Fungal infection – which can lead to pyoderma and inflammation in upper layers of skin
  • Parasitic Dermatitis – Parasites can invade your dog, leading to adverse skin reactions accompanying this infestation
  • Food intolerance or sensitivity – adverse reactions to certain ingredients or additives
  • Immune mediated Dermatoses – this is an autoimmune skin disorder due to immune regulation dysfunction
  • Endocrine system disorders such as hypothyroidism also leads to skin disorders in dogs
Apart from this, the skin & coat can be affected by many nutritional factors. Skin conditions can occur when dogs in their nutritionally demanding stage are fed poor quality food or an unbalanced diet. Kibble (commercially available dog food) with nutrient excess or deficits can also cause skin disorders. In such cases, feeding a home cooked food that is balanced for all essential nutrients will ensure nutrient adequacy and better management of skin diseases. 

Signs of Nutritional abnormalities responsible for skin conditions in dogs:

  • Dry, dull coat – with hair that gets easily pulled from root
  • Slow hair growth or regrowth – Diseases that can directly inhibit or slow hair follicle growth include nutritional deficiencies, particularly protein/amino acid deficiency.
  • Change in hair color – Hair color is genetically controlled but can be affected by various extrinsic factors, including nutrition. Change in hair color is one of the most common signs of dietary deficiencies. 
  • Dry scaly patches and crusting – especially visible in areas of friction
  • Poor wound healing 
Nutrient deficiencies that lead to skin diseases are more likely to occur during the life stages when nutritional requirements are highest, or when nutritional needs are unmet for an extended period of time. Nutritional deficiencies can be due to inadequate intake, abnormal absorption or improper utilization of nutrients. 

Nutrients essential for healthy skin & coat in dogs:

  1. Protein – Protein is needed for development of new & healthy hair. Therefore, it is important for a dog’s diet to have appropriate quantity and quality of protein and essential amino acids. Bioavailability and digestibility also play an important role – and hence high-quality animal protein sources are more beneficial than plant protein sources. Inadequate levels of protein in diet will lead to keratinization abnormalities, change in skin’s natural fats and in pigmentation of hair.  This makes the skin more susceptible to fungal or bacterial infections. 
  2. Essential Fatty acids – Characteristic signs of EFA deficiency include scaly & flaky skin, hair matting, loss of skin elasticity, or lack of hair regrowth. This deficiency is reversible by increasing fatty acid levels through supplementation or feeding fatty fishes. Dogs with seborrhea have low levels of Omega-6 which can be met through chicken, eggs or oils such as hempseed oil, olive oil etc
  3. Zinc – Zinc deficiency is associated with delayed wound healing. Zinc deficiency in dogs manifests as alopecia, skin ulceration, dark discoloration, dermatitis, thickening of skin etc. The signs are visible in footpads, areas of friction, tail, ears, abdomen etc. The lesions, however, are reversible with zinc supplementation. Some breeds have decreased ability to absorb zinc, in which case supplemental zinc is necessary.  
  4. Copper – Loss of hair color, or change in pigmentation is common in dogs with copper deficiency. Reduced density, gray & brittle hair or washed-out look can also be observed with copper inadequacy in dogs. Liver is a rich source of Copper, and it’s availability is high in ruminant livers. Excessive level of iron, calcium or zinc in diet will impede copper absorption. 
  5. Vitamin A – Vitamin A (Retinol) is essential for hair growth & health.  Vitamin A responsive dermatosis is common in dogs that are fed vegetarian diets. Dogs with Vitamin A deficiency will have skin lesions, poor hair growth, alopecia, and seborrhoea. 
  6. Vitamin E – Lack of Vitamin E can manifest as greasy & inflamed skin, bacterial pyoderma or flakiness. Lesions improve after Vitamin E supplementation, and a number of other inflammatory skin conditions can also improve with increased Vitamin E in diet. 
Essential fatty acids have anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory properties. When added to diet in an optimal ratio, they work as an anti-inflammatory agent for skin inflammation. B-complex also acts as co-factors in essential fatty acid (EFA) metabolism. Deficiencies in certain B vitamins such as B-12, Folic acid, Biotin can also lead to lesions on your dog’s skin. Organ meats & eggs are rich in B-vitamins. 

Skin conditions linked to nutritional deficiencies can be easily addressed, especially when promptly identified. A food for dogs with skin and hair problems should include the recommended levels of these nutrients in their diet each day. Dietary modifications might help prevent recurrences of many skin diseases. Changing to a balanced home cooked diet that is formulated to include all the essential nutrients will reverse the skin conditions related to nutrient deficiencies in your dog. Nutrition is one of the most important parameters that is involved in modulating skin health and condition in dogs. Dietary factors have a major role in the maintenance of healthy coat and skin. Skin conditions due to lack of nutrients in diet will usually respond quickly to change in food or supplements.