Nutritional Supplements for Dogs with Skin Conditions
There are numerous supplements on the market that claim to cure allergies and other chronic skin conditions. While there are no “cure-all” supplements, there are many skin conditions which may benefit from nutritional supplements.
Zinc is an important nutrient for maintaining cellular replication, which can play a significant role in the maintenance of healthy skin, hair, and claws. There are several formulations of zinc supplements for dogs, however, some are absorbed better than others and vomiting is a common side effect. Zinpro® is a commonly used veterinary zinc supplement tablet.
Zinc responsive dermatosis results in skin changes which include:
- Dullness of the hair coat and alopecia
- Crusting of the skin
- Recurrent secondary skin infections
Skin lesions are often noted at pressure points, the footpads, mucocutaneous junctions (lips, nose, etc), and lower limbs. Individuals with low-zinc levels may also have systemic changes, including decreased appetite (anorexia), weight loss, and eye issues.
There are two main forms of zinc responsive dermatosis:
- Syndrome I. This syndrome most commonly affects northern breed dogs, primarily Alaskan Malamutes and Siberian Huskies. It results from decreased intestinal absorption of zinc, despite being fed a diet with sufficient zinc levels. This disease is treated with oral zinc supplementations. Supplementation is usually long term in this syndrome. Dosing and formulation should be recommended by your veterinarian.
- Syndrome II. This syndrome is most commonly seen in dogs with rapid growth, like Great Danes, Doberman Pinschers, German Shepherds, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Boston Terriers, Labrador Retrievers, and Beagles. This form of zinc deficiency results from diets that do not provide enough zinc based on growth needs, over supplementation by other vitamins, or high levels of phytates (component of plant seeds) in the diet, which decrease absorption of zinc. Diet changes and/or zinc supplementations are generally recommended with this syndrome.
Melatonin is a commonly used sleep aid in humans, however, it can also play an important role in the regulation of hair growth in dogs. It is naturally produced by the pineal gland (found in the brain) and affected by the amount of daylight (also known as a photoperiod). Levels of melatonin increase seasonally, which accounts for the normal increase in hair growth in the colder months.
Below are some hair loss disorders that may respond to melatonin and lead to increased hair growth.
Melatonin and Alopecia
- Alopecia X is thought to be a hormonal imbalance which results in progressive hair loss. It is commonly seen in plush-coated breeds like Pomeranians, Chow Chows, Keeshonds, Alaskan Malamutes, Samoyeds, and Miniature Poodles. The hair loss is commonly seen on the body and tail, with normal coat remaining on the limbs and head. There may also be darkening of the skin (hyperpigmentation) and dandruff (scaling) on the balding areas. Secondary bacterial infections are also common. Unlike other hormonal causes of hair loss (hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease), Alopecia X is a primarily cosmetic disease with no systemic changes noted. Melatonin has been shown to help with hair regrowth in 40 – 60% of Alopecia X cases.
- Canine flank alopecia (seasonal flank alopecia) results in cyclic (often seasonal) alopecia generally seen on the flank region. The areas of hair loss are generally non-inflamed, not itchy, and often hyperpigmented (darker skin coloring). The lesions are often seen on both sides of the body. Breeds commonly affected include Boxers, English Bulldogs, Schnauzers, and Airedale Terriers.
- Post clipping alopecia is defined as lack of hair regrowth within 3 months of clipping. It is commonly seen in Alaskan Malamutes, American Eskimos, Chow Chows, Keeshonds, Siberian Huskies, Samoyeds, and Pomeranians. Hair may take up to 24 months to completely grow back, but melatonin may reduce the time of regrowth.
Melatonin supplements are generally tablets. The dose is based on the weight and size of the dog. Although typically well-tolerated, it is important to avoid any fast-dissolving tablet containing xylitol, which is toxic to dogs.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids have numerous beneficial effects on all body systems, however, their anti-inflammatory effects are commonly utilized in allergic dermatitis in dogs. Use of Omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to promote anti-inflammatory mediators, which lead to a decrease in skin inflammation associated with allergies. Fish oil and flaxseed oil are common sources of Omega-3 fatty acids. While they are generally well-tolerated, they can have rare side effects like diarrhea, so it is worth speaking to your veterinarian about the best dosage and formulation for your pet. Omega-3 fatty acid supplements generally come as capsules or liquids and are dosed based on the weight of your pet.
Probiotics are commonly used to improve intestinal health by promoting “healthy” bacteria in the gut. They are also thought to help modulate the immune function of individuals taking them. The use of probiotics to decrease allergic development and symptoms is the focus of much new research. The most common probiotic species are Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Enterococcus. Probiotics are available in many different formulations from powders to capsules. Dosing of probiotics is based on the colony-forming units (CFUs) per dose, which is the amount of live bacteria in a supplement. There are several veterinary specific formulations, including FortiFlora® and Proviable®-DC.
Vitamin A is a naturally occurring retinoid which aids in the normal growth, development, and turnover of skin cells. When the timing of skin turnover is abnormal, scaling or dandruff is commonly seen.
Supplements usually come in capsules and are dosed as international units (IU) per kilogram of weight. Like other vitamins, you can overdose vitamin A, so it is important to discuss dosing with your veterinarian before starting.
Vitamin A is commonly used in canine seborrheic (scaling) disorders to help improve skin cell turnover. Vitamin A-responsive dermatosis is seen in Cocker Spaniels, Labrador Retrievers, and Miniature Schnauzers. In addition to scaly skin, these dogs may have crusting, comedones (blackheads), and ear infections.
Although supplements for specific diseases can be beneficial, most commercial dog foods are well-balanced and cover basic nutritional needs. Before starting any supplement, you should discuss the risks and benefits with your pet’s veterinarian.