Nutrition For Healthy Pet Skin and Coat

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Find food that fits your pet’s needs

Find a dog food that fits your pet’s needs

Find a cat food that fits your pet’s needs

There are plenty of pet food brands that advertise their brand of cat or dog food for a healthy coat, but how do you really know which will provide the right nutrition for your pet? As a responsible pet parent, you want to feed your dog or cat food that helps them thrive. Looking for a few key items on a pet food label might help you know if the food you choose promises a certain benefit. However, choosing a dog or cat food for a healthy coat isn't the only way to make sure your pet's skin and coat are in top shape. Learn how nutrition, environmental factors and grooming can all keep your pet looking sleek and feeling perky.

Orange kitten scratching ear with bag leg.

Itching to Find the Perfect Food?

Maybe your dog or cat has already shown signs of sensitive or itchy skin, or maybe you are looking to change to a food that promotes all-around good health, skin and fur included. Whatever the reason, be careful not to focus on just one or two key ingredients or needs. Some pet parents look for high levels of fat in cat or dog food for a healthy coat. Although ingredients like fish oil are common in cat food for a healthy coat, for example, your furry friend still needs a good balance of vitamins, minerals, protein, and carbohydrates. The truth is, well-rounded meals will already protect most cats and dogs from skin and coat troubles. Beauty really does start on the inside.

If you do look at the ingredients and nutrient profiles on your pet food packaging, here are some of the more common nutrients that help promote healthy skin and coats in pets:

  • Omega-6: This nutrient is a fatty acid that helps give shine to your pet's coat and replace essential oils in their skin.
  • Omega-3: This nutrient, typically found in ingredients like fish oil, has an anti-inflammatory effect that can help to relieve itchy or inflamed skin. It’s a common ingredient in pet foods formulated for dogs with allergies.
  • Biotin: This B-complex vitamin helps promote healthy tissue growth.
  • Copper: This nutrient helps maintain hair colour and keeps the coat soft and shiny.
  • Vitamin E: This vitamin is a natural antioxidant that helps protect your pet's skin against free radicals that could be damaging to skin cells.

However, if you've been feeding your pet a quality food with a good balance of nutrients and you still notice drier skin, dandruff flakes or dull-looking fur, it may be time to talk to your veterinarian. Your pet might need a change in food or ingredients. However, never make any changes without first talking to your vet.

The first thing to look for in a pet food to promote healthy skin and coat is one that is made with high-quality ingredients and promotes complete, balanced nutrition. This alone can help promote a more luxurious and lustre-filled coat. If your pet is scratching a lot or has persistent skin issues, it's a good idea to talk to your veterinarian to help determine the next steps. They can help determine the cause of the itch and recommend a food formulated for sensitive skin, or a dietetic food specially formulated to promote healthier skin and coats.

What Does a Healthy Coat Look Like?

What signs should you look for in a healthy coat? For starters, you should get to know your pet's unique characteristics. Be sure to do a head-to-paws check daily for both cats and dogs, and brush your pet at least once a week. For dogs, brushing more often (even daily) helps spread natural oils throughout the coat and untangle mats. Cats (and your carpet) also benefit from reduced hairballs and the cuddle time they get from being groomed.

Cats are devoted self-groomers, so an unkempt coat may be a sign your kitty isn't feeling their best. Osteoarthritis could be leading to painful joints and preventing your cat from grooming certain spots, and a dull, greasy or matted coat can also point to health problems or a lack of essential nutrients. A stressed cat can also over-groom and end up pulling out tufts of their own fur.

Grooming needs for dogs tend to vary by size and breed. The PDSA explains that a dog with long hair or a plush coat, like a husky, may need daily brushing, while a short-haired dachshund may be fine with a weekly brush. Blue Cross says it’s best to leave as much time as possible between washing to avoid drying out your dog’s sensitive skin. Unless they’re particularly dirty or they roll in something smelly, they recommend letting the natural oils in your dog’s coat do most of the work. Dogs with thinner, light-coloured skin can also be more susceptible to skin irritations like insect bites, seasonal allergies and, notes the PDSA, sunburn. If you have a lovable mutt, reading some guidelines for caring for short and long hair can help establish a baseline.

When brushing your cat or dog, keep an eye out for:

  • Clumps of fur falling out or bald patches
  • Dry, red or irritated skin
  • Sores or rough areas
  • Greasiness
  • Little black or white specks, which could be ticks or flea eggs

If none of these things appear, your pet likely has a healthy coat. However, if you do notice any of those symptoms, it's time to look deeper to determine the cause of your pet's coat issues.

Orange and white long-haired dog being brushed.

Still a Head-Scratcher? Talk to Your Vet

If you notice your pet scratching their ears or constantly licking themselves, it's possible something in their surroundings is causing the irritation. Your vet will be able to look at the condition of your pet's coat and skin and determine if additional testing is needed. For dogs with irritation and itchy skin, the Merck Veterinary Manual explains that your vet will look for common causes like parasites (fleas, ticks or mites), bacterial infections, fungal infections, seasonal allergies or environmental irritants. You can help your vet narrow down the possibilities by taking an inventory of any new cleaning products, air fresheners, colognes or soaps you've introduced into your house, or any changes you’ve made to your pet’s routine, e.g. a new walking route. Depending on the cause, your pet may need solutions like antibacterial medication, antifungal shampoo or antihistamines.

If your vet rules out all outside factors, they may recommend reviewing the contents of your pet's current and past foods. They might suggest feeding a special food to determine if your pet has a food intolerance or allergy, or supplementing your pet's nutrition with a missing vitamin, antioxidant or fatty acid. Since nutrition plays a key role in skin and coat health, it is important to keep your dog or cat on any special meals your vet recommends. Even if the condition improves, do not go back to other food without first discussing it with your vet. Don't spend months or years searching for dog food for a healthy coat; get your pet to the vet early and often to manage any skin and coat issues.

You are the start of a healthy future for your pet, inside and out. Through good nutrition, proper grooming and regular vet checkups, you can keep your dog or cat's coat and skin healthy and vibrant for years.

Contributor Bio

Chrissie Klinger

Chrissie Klinger

Chrissie Klinger is a pet parent that enjoys sharing her home with her furkids, two of her own children and her husband. Chrissie enjoys spending time with all her family members when she is not teaching, writing or blogging. She strives to write articles that help pet owners live a more active and meaningful life with their pets.


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