Nutrients such as protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals are important players in the skin and coat health of dogs. To understand the role of these nutrients, it is necessary to start by understanding skin and hair.
The purpose of skin and hair is to block things from leaving (such as water or heat) or entering (such as viruses and bacteria) the body.
The hair coat is composed almost entirely of protein. If the animal's diet doesn't contain adequate protein quantity and quality, hair may fall out, or become dry, weak and brittle.
Skin is made up of squamous cells, flat cells tightly packed together. These cells have tough membranes that are composed of proteins and fats. Without proper amounts of these nutrients, cell membranes weaken, allowing water to escape and bacteria and viruses to enter more easily.
Essential Amino Acids and Fatty Acids for Dogs
Proteins are found in both animal-based and plant-based ingredients. Animal-based proteins contain all the essential amino acids dogs need, whereas plant-based proteins may contain only some essential amino acids. Animal-based proteins help dogs achieve optimal health.
Fats can also be found in both animal-based and plant-based ingredients. They are incorporated into skin cells as fatty acids. There are two essential fatty acids for skin and coat health. Linoleic acid maintains skin and coat condition in dogs. Without enough linoleic acid dogs may experience dull, dry coat, hair loss, greasy skin and increased susceptibility to skin inflammation.
Both of these essential fatty acids are omega-6 fatty acids and are found in animal tissues like chicken fat. Linoleic acid is also found in some vegetable oils, such as corn and soybean oils.
Most commercial dog diets contain more than adequate amounts of omega-6 fatty acids. Because these fatty acids can be converted to compounds that increase susceptibility to skin inflammation, it is important to balance the amount of omega-6 fatty acids in the diet with omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce susceptibility to inflammation.
Omega-3 fatty acids are found in oils from fish and some plants (canola and flax).
IAMS research has found that combining fat sources in the diet at a ratio of 5-10 omega-6 fatty acids to 1 omega-3 fatty acid results in excellent skin and coat health.
Vitamins and Minerals That Dogs Need
Vitamins and minerals are essential for the development of healthy skin and hair coat. The best way to provide these nutrients is through a complete and balanced diet containing appropriate amounts of essential vitamins and minerals rather than through supplements.
|Vitamin or Mineral||Importance to Skin and Coat Health|
|Vitamin A||Necessary for growth and repair of skin|
|Vitamin E||Protects skin cells from oxidant damage|
|Biotin||Aids in the utilization of protein|
|Riboflavin (B2)||Necessary for fat and protein metabolism|
|Zinc||Necessary for fat and protein metabolism|
|Copper||Involved in tissue pigment and protein synthesis|
Changes in Coat Condition
Diet is often believed to be a factor when changes in skin and coat condition are noticed. The most common causes of these changes, however, are season and life stage.
As cold weather approaches, most dogs grow a thick coat to help keep heat in and cold air out. As the weather begins to warm up, they shed the thick, heavy coat.
Most puppies are born with soft fuzzy hair, but as they age, a coarser coat grows. Pregnant or lactating dogs also may experience a change in coat condition or hair loss. And, as with humans, the hair on dogs may thin out and become coarser and white as they reach their senior years.
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Keeping Your Senior Dog Healthy and Active
It depends on the breed of dog, but your pet's senior years generally begin at age 7. Louise Murray, DVM, director of the ASPCA's Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital in New York City and author of Vet Confidential (Ballantine, 2008), tells you what you need to know to keep your older dog spry and happy.
Senior Dog Health: Preventive Health
At this stage, Murray recommends taking your dog to the vet twice a year. "So much can happen to an elderly dog," she says. Your veterinarian can take blood annually to test liver and kidney functions. "Discovering problems early is extremely important," she says. Your vet can be on the lookout for conditions that often affect older dogs, such as anemia and arthritis.
Senior Dog Health: Urination, Bowel Movements, and Appetite
Pay attention to what might be subtle changes in your dog's habits: Is she drinking more water or urinating larger amounts? These behaviors might indicate a liver or kidney problem. Have your dog's bowel movements shifted? This could indicate a digestive issue. Diabetes or digestive problems might cause your dog to eat more but still lose weight. Knowing the dog's patterns can help the veterinarian determine a course of treatment.
Senior Dog Health: Flea, Tick, and Heartworm Medicines
Continue to use preventive medicines.
Senior Dog Health: Dental Health
Clean your dog's teeth daily. If she has tartar buildup, you might need to have her teeth professionally cleaned at your vet's office, which requires sedating your pet.
Senior Dog Health: Exercise
Your dog is probably less active, so steady, moderate exercise is best for her now. Don't turn her into a "weekend warrior" who, after lying around on weekdays, accompanies you on a 10-mile hike on Saturdays. This is especially hard on an older dog's joints.
Senior Dog Health: Diet
Your veterinarian might wish to put your dog on a senior diet, such as IAMS™ ProActive Health™ Senior Plus. These formulations contain nutrients specifically geared toward older-dog health.
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