Dog Food For Skin


"Dog food choice is an important consideration for both the skin and coat. Dog skin and coat condition are an immediate sign of a healthy dog. For most dogs, a high quality AAFCO approved commercial dog food such as those named below are all that is needed.

However, for dogs with skin and coat problems, nutrition is a tool that can be used to bring a dog back to health. Considerations include the role of trace elements (minerals such as iron, zinc, copper and iodine), essential fatty acids (omega-6, omega-3), vitamin A (regulates sebum production which combats canine seborrhea and skin flaking), B Vitamins (strengthens the skin barrier. Dog food for skin health should also be selected to prevent problems such as a dog food allergy."


Dog food for skin plays a role in the health of your pet, as the skin is the body's largest organ. Healthy skin will create a barrier against disease, and will help to avoid other issues such as dog skin itch (pruritis) and flaking (seborrhea). It helps your dog achieve the appearance of not only healthy skin, but a healthy coat as well.

Dog Food Choice Affects Skin Health
Dog food that contains the correct balance of fatty acids and B complex vitamins supports a healthy skin barrier. This barrier of overlapping cells helps to prevent infection and allergens from entering the body and reduces water loss.

Symptoms of Unhealthy Dog Skin

There are several symptoms of unhealthy dog skin including:

  • Dry, flaky skin
  • Red, irritated skin
  • Scaly skin or scabs on the skin
  • dog skin scratching or excessive licking
  • A dull, dry-looking coat

Dog Skin Supplements

Research has shown that several nutritional components found in dog food or that are found in supplements, can play a direct and positive role in dog skin health. These include:

  • Vitamin A: This vitamin (also known as retinol) is a fat soluble vitamin that affects canine skin keratinization, which refers to the production of dog skin flaking. Flaking results in itch and scratching (called pruritis). Found in animal foods such as eggs and meat as well as in some vegetables. Protects against skin diseases. It helps the skin function as a barrier to bacteria and viruses.

    Vitamin A can cause a problem in Cocker Spaniels called Vitamin A responsive dermatosis. Cocker Spaniels that have this condition form skin scabs and the skin has a foul odor. This problem has an unknown (idiopathic cause).

  • Vitamin B: there are several B vitamins that are considered essential for forming a healthy skin barrier. This includes Niacin (B3), Thiamine (B1), Riboflavin (B2), Pantohenic acid (B5), Biotin (B8), Folic Acid (B9), Cobalamin (B12) and Choline. These are found naturally in meat based foods, milk, eggs, and in some vegetables. Different B vitamins protect against skin problems such as dermatitis (inflammation of the skin). Biotin is important in skin integrity.

  • Vitamin E: Found in dietary fat. Necessary for healthy skin, muscles, and immune system. Also protects against heart disease and cancers. Keeps skin supple and hydrated.
  • Essential Fatty acids - Lipids or fats make up the sebum, which is the skin's natural moisturizer given off by the sebaceous glands. It is believed that Omega-6 fatty acids in particular (polyunsaturated fatty acids or PUFA) have a role in normal sebum production. When combined with Omega-3 fatty acids, it helps to reduce skin inflammation and scratching. These types of acids are found in beef and poultry fat, some plant foods oils, and fish oil, these are present in many commercial pet foods. They help your dog have a thick, glossy coat and also healthy skin.

    If your dog has dry, itchy skin and a dull, dry coat, he may be lacking an essential fatty acid. Dry dog foods may lose their fatty acid content that have been stored for a long time or stored in high temperatures. If you believe this is the case, an owner can try supplementation with a product that has a combination of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids such as Only Natural Omega 3-6-9. This product is also fortified with Vitamin E, an important consideration since increased use of Omega-3 requires more of this vitamin since the fatty acids make it more difficult for the body to absorb this vitamin. Follow the manufactures directions as too much supplementation can result in gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea. This combination of oils is preferable to the use of natural fish oil alone. 

  • Protein: Protein plays an important role in dog coat condition and in skin cell renewal. The most important proteins are amino acids (methionine, cysteine). Each strand of hair contains 90% protein. Found in animal foods, soy products, and legumes. Contains B Vitamins and fatty acids necessary for healthy skin, muscles, and heart. 

  • Zinc: Note that calcium supplements may interfere with the absorption of zinc, an important element in dog skin health. In studies, when calcium supplementation was removed, dog skin health also improved. Zinc supplements may help dogs with a chronic skin problem or canine immune deficiency. Zinc can be found in supplements such as Vetri-Science Derma Strength.

Suggestions for Commercial Dog Food for Skin

Read the label on the dog food package to see what is in the food. You can also visit the website of the dog food manufacturer for more information. Feeding your dog a commercial AAFCO certified (check the label) dog food will provide the proper nutrients needed for skin health. Foods that are not AAFCO certified (most well known foods are), may not. Expensive is not necessarily better, though, so take the time to read the label.

For healthy dogs, there are several options that provide the required vitamins and Omega-3/Omega-6 fatty acids required for dog skin health. These include:

There are also several veterinary formulas available that are formulated for dogs with specific skin problems including:

Home Prepared Dog Food for Skin

Feeding your dog table scraps will probably not provide him with the proper nutrition. Some people prefer to prepare homemade food for their pet, and this is fine, but take the time to research nutritious recipes that will provide your pet with the proper nutrients.

It is important that dog food for skin diets prepared at home have the following food components:

  • Protein: Some type of protein source, such as from a meat/animal source or from a vegetable protein such as tofu
  • Essential fatty acids: Acids required include linoleic acid, which usually is provided via a vegetable oil or similar type of supplement
  • Calcium and phosphorus: A dog's diet needs both of these elements in high concentrations. Supplements such as bone meal and calcium supplements can provided the necessary levels
  • Minerals and Vitamins: Diets with liver or a whole egg should have the necessary levels of minerals of vitamins. If not, a supplement is needed. 

There are approximately 40 food components that need to be in proper balance for dog food for skin or dog food in general for that matter. Be sure to consult a veterinarian or veterinary nutritionist if you prefer a home made dog food diet.


Dennis Jewel, Hills Pet Nutrition, Inc. Science and Technology Center

Nutrition, skin health and coat quality
Dethioux, Fabienne DVM, MRCVS

Skin Diseases of Dogs and Cats
Melman, Dr. Steven A.