Dry Puppy Skin: Signs, And Causes And Treatments

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Having a puppy in the family is an exciting time for everyone, but it can also come with new experiences and concerns for pet parents. For example, have you noticed that your puppy seems to have dry skin or flaky patches that look like dandruff? This might be particularly noticeable if your puppy is a dark colour, or you see the flakes where they’ve been lying on a dark bed.

Signs of dry skin in puppies

With any new arrival, we tend to be very sensitive and vigilant to the slightest issues. This is great because the most observant pet parents are the ones who will see when things aren’t quite right early on and get ahead of the game when it comes to treatment.

As you may imagine, the most obvious sign of dry skin in puppies is what looks like dandruff in the fur. It’s a good idea to get your puppy used to being gently handled from a young age. This way you can run your hands over their bodies and part the hair in a few places and check their skin a few times a week. You can also get them used to being handled for things like having their paws dried or their ears and teeth checked. If you do this from a young age, and in a positive way with rewards, it can really pay dividends later in life, and will help with vet examinations too.

In some puppies with short fur or dark fur, dandruff build-up may be very obvious. However, actually looking at the skin is necessary for medium- and long-haired dogs or those that are a very light colour.

You may find a build-up of flakes in some places more than others, like the neck or near the base of the tail. This could be just because they are the places that are harder to reach when a puppy is grooming.

You may also notice your puppy is scratching more than you were expecting them to. This is because a build-up of dry skin can be quite irritating and cause itchiness.

Causes of dry skin in puppies and what to do about it

There are two main reasons your puppy may have dry skin:

  1. It’s normal for puppies. Puppies tend to have slightly drier skin than adult dogs because the sebaceous glands in their skin are still developing. These are the glands that secrete natural oils onto the skin and coat to help keep them hydrated and healthy. If your puppy isn’t scratching all the time and seems well otherwise, you could just try gently grooming them a few times a week. This will help remove the dead skin and also stimulate the glands producing the oils.

  2. Parasites. Puppies can pick up parasites such as mites, lice or fleas from their mums and their environment. Some parasites cause intense itchiness, and the scratching that ensues will cause the flaky skin. Some parasites, called Cheyletiella, look like dandruff. In this case, if you look closely you may see it moving, hence its name “walking dandruff”! It’s important to note that if a member of your family is suffering from itchy skin at the same time as your puppy, then it could be a real possibility that Cheyletiella has spread from puppy to human or vice versa, so it’s in your best interest to check with a vet and also see your doctor.

Seeking help

Your puppy will hopefully be having regular trips to the vet for weighing and vaccinations and so on. If you’re not too concerned, just call ahead and ask for a check of the skin at your next visit. If your puppy seems irritated, is scratching a lot, or is losing hair and has balding patches or scabs, then a vet visit is definitely needed.

Also, talk to your vet about what to feed when you first get your puppy. Optimal nutrition is really important during growth and puppies of different sizes have different needs. Growing is hard work and if nutrition is below par, the skin and coat are often the first things to suffer. Feeding a high-quality, complete and balanced puppy food from the outset will get you and your puppy off to a flying head start.

Reviewed by Dr. Hein Meyer, DVM, PhD, Dipl-ECVIM-CA