Like some of us humans, dogs can also have very sensitive skin. It serves much the same function as our own skin, yet it is even thinner. So, the overall health of the skin is essential to the overall health of the dog and understanding how it functions and how to prevent damaging it is key.
‘Atopic dermatitis’ is a common disease in dogs – called eczema in humans. Atopic is defined as a form of allergy in which a reaction such as eczema may occur. Such symptoms can be seen in dogs that develop rashes, rub their faces, chew their paws and scratch a lot. However, these symptoms can also develop through other means such as disruption to the skin’s microflora.
Veterinary dermatologists have said there is no quick fix for such atopic skin disorders once they have occurred and that working with the dog’s health and immune system through overall wellness and nutrition over a long period of time is advised. Protecting the skin and its microflora to prevent the onset of skin issues in the first place is strongly advised.
You will probably have heard the expression ‘hair of the dog’ but the skin of the dog is just as important to your canine friends. As well as acting as a barrier to protect the dog, the skin provides movement flexibility and elasticity. It also allows the emittance of hormonal chemicals that will, for example, tighten up the hair follicles making the dog appear to be larger – which, in first meetings or confrontational situations, is all important in the dog world, not unlike humans ‘puffing themselves up’ on occasion!
The outer layer called the ‘epidermis’, is made up of compacted dead skin cells at the surface which shed continuously. A dog’s epidermis shed rate is much quicker than the human rate and is impacted by nutrition, disease and overall health. This cell turnover is important in regulating the number of microorganisms on the skin’s surface.
The average epidermis for a dog is 3-5 cells thick with the thinnest areas being on their belly, arm pits and groin, though even the padding on their paws is still thinner than human skin, which is on average 10-15 cells thick.
Below the epidermis is the ‘dermis’, the thickest layer of skin which supports and nourishes the epidermis. It contains the sebaceous glands that secrete sebum (fatty acids, lipids) into the hair follicles and onto the skin. This sebum protects the skin and gives the coat its sheen. The dermis also contains the apocrine glands that produce and secrete pheromones, not perspiration for regulating body temperature, as is commonly thought.
Unlike humans, dogs don’t perspire and to release heat quickly, they pant in order to dissipate heat and cool down their blood. As dogs use their coat to cool themselves down through conduction, convection and thermal regulation, it is crucial to consider the skin’s microbiology and hygiene. Each dog breed has its own distinctive skin characteristics. This is also influenced variables such as geography, nutrition and lifestyle of the animal.
Negatively impacting the dog’s skin microbiology can cause a variety of fungal and bacterial skin disorders. Not maintaining a properly acidic skin environment is one of them, you read the results of a more detailed study here if you wish.
There are a lot of factors to consider when you are grooming your dog with sensitive skin, first and foremost you should ensure that you are using a acidic based shampoo (see below) and also one that preferably has gentle ingredients such as an oat protein base to aid and soothe their skin.
To avoid disrupting a dog’s healthy skin microflora, we need to look at ph - which is the scale for the acidity or alkalinity factor.
The pH of a dog’s skin can vary depending on the location of the body. the breed, sex and colour. Quality professional dog shampoos are formulated to be acidic to neutral, as it is safer to apply acidic products and avoid creating an alkaline environment which would then encourage fungal infections.
As alkalinity can disrupt the healthy microflora of the skin and damage the coat and so products that are alkaline need to be avoided at all costs! These include dishwasher liquids, often used as a so-called ‘remedy’ to kill fleas. However, this liquid has a typical pH 8-9 with harsher cleansing agents than shampoo, so will create an alkaline environment and actually make dogs more vulnerable to flea infestation.
Alkaline bleach water solution is also used by some dog owners to treat fungal infections. Baking soda (pH 8.3) that some recommend to apply in order to neutralise deer or skunk scent is not a good idea, but replacing it with neutral clay or corn-starch is far better and far safer.
Any alkaline solutions are inappropriate for dogs and will impact their overall health. Once the microflora balance is disrupted, the development of disorders can start. The same can be said for traditional, cold process soaps, often made into dog shampoo bars as well as soap shampoo bars for humans – you can read more on that here.
Unfortunately soap bars are hugely alkaline with a typical pH 9-11. So aside from the damage caused to the dog’s skin by disrupting the microflora balance, studies have found cold process soap causes damage to the hair shaft and leaves an alkaline residue in the form of calcium salts that accumulate in the hair strands.
This is made worse in hard water areas when the hard water minerals react with the soap causing deposit known as ‘soap scum’. If a dogs coat is not rinsed properly and, under these circumstances only, this can only compound the problem.
Often there is a misconception that bathing a dog regularly is the cause of skin issues. However, it is not the regularity but the type of product that is being used. If a pH balanced product is frequently used it is protecting rather than stripping the skin lipids and will result in a healthy skin and coat.
Possibly more significant, especially to dog owners who themselves are sensitive or allergic to dust and pollens, is that indoor bathing can also reduce the allergens in the home by removing these pollens and dander from the dog’s coat resulting in a more hygienic home environment.
Therefore, dog shampoos that are formulated similarly to good human shampoos, i.e. pH balanced are going to be the best, focusing on gentle cleansing and surface tension reduction. You will find our deodorising, cleansing dog shampoo bars here - is one of the best dog sensitive skin shampoos in the UK.
Here is a helpful guide on the best way to shampoo your dog without causing them distress or alarm.
Where to begin? Well it's probably best to make life as comfortable as possible for yourself first so, if you have a raised tub of any sort then this will certainly make life easier on you and your back, although whether this is viable will also depend on the size of your pet too!
Small dogs can be cleaned in your kitchen or laundry room sink. For larger dogs, depending on the weather, you have the option of using your indoor facilities such as your walk-in shower or bathtub or, if warm enough, outside using a garden hose.
Obviously, for both you and your pet's sake, do ensure you keep him/her calm, safe and secure during the process. That means keeping the water at a good temperature and if you are using a tub, they're slippery to pets so, put a towel in the bottom. If you have someone to assist you, then all the better to soothe your pet.
Make sure that you keep your dog's eyes and ears shielded (with your hands or otherwise) from any pouring water.
Regardless of the type of shampoo used, it is best not to get any on/around your pet's head - if you have to, then tip their head upwards so the head is tilted back and rinse away from the eyes!
If you are using one of our Luxury Pet Shampoo Bars just lather the bar directly on your pet's coat, lather in all over (except the head!) and then rinse thoroughly. You will find this is much simpler than using and holding a bottled liquid shampoo and, of course, no plastic!
Then wash their head area gently, and carefully, with a wash cloth; keep this cloth afterwards just for your pet!
When you are done with the wet stuff, towel dry your pet or, if they are fairly 'relaxed' about the whole process, you can even try blow drying - but if the latter method, keep the heat on a low setting! Just make sure that your pet is totally dry when you think you have finished ensuring that they do not get a cold or a chill.
For more general help and advice or if the matter is of a more urgent or medical nature then do not hesitate to contact your local veterinarian.
So, isn't it time to give your pet a treat then both of you will really feel and smell the difference.
Happy bath times,
PS. And while you're here, why not read more about why that antiperspirant you have been relying on might just be doing you more harm than good - find out why in our Definitive Guide To Aluminium Free Deodorants for 2020.
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