By Fernando Vergara, DVM, PhD(c)

Bright and soft fur not only shows how cute our pets are but also tells us about their overall health condition. Any skin and coat changes, even small ones, can affect their overall health. In this article, you will find the necessary tips to know how to protect the skin of your pet properly.

What should I know about the skin and coat of my pet?

The skin is made up of three layers: the hypodermis (The hypodermis is the bottom layer of the skin in your body.), which is the first and deepest layer and includes largely adipose tissue, also known as subcutaneous tissue; the dermis (The thick layer of living tissue below the epidermis which forms the true skin.), which is the middle layer and contains hair follicles, glands, and blood vessels; and the epidermis (The surface epithelium of the skin, overlying the dermis.), which is the exterior and also the most protective layer. In dogs and cats, the skin and coat form the biggest organ, constituting 10% to 15% of the total body weight of our pets.

Thousands of hairs are generated in the hair follicles that make up your pet's coat. Hairs constantly shed and are replaced because they are exposed to environmental stress. The amount of hair that is shed every day may be attested to by anybody who has ever tidied up after their pet.

The ambient temperature and the number of hours of light each day influence seasonal shedding, which also happens to replace the coat (aka photoperiod). Cats and dogs who spend most of their time indoors and in stable temperatures and lighting may shed all year.

 

Does the skin and coat play any role in my pet's physical well-being?

The short answer is an absolute yes. Your pet's skin and coat serve several purposes. The main skin functions are:

  1. Immunity and physical barrier: The skin is the largest organ of our pets' bodies and the first defense mechanism of our beloved animals. Simply put, the skin and coat shield the internal organs against any outside threat. A pet's skin also has nerves and nerve endings that allow it to feel pressure, heat, cold, and pain. The coat also shields dogs from contact with hot surfaces, UV rays, stress, and chemicals. Keeping the natural pH of our pets is very important as well.
  2. Temperature regulation and hydration: Intact skin and healthy fur will provide good isolation from weather changes and temperature. Our pets have the ability to move their hair to allow cold air to enter or move their hair follicles close to their bodies to prevent heat loss. Also, as a protective layer, the skin helps to keep the right hydration of the body. Any disruption on it (ex, burns) will compromise the hydration status of our animals.
  3. Nutrient reserve: It is not the first property we think of, but the skin stores several nutrients. It's a source of fat-soluble vitamins (A and E) and several minerals such as copper, selenium, zinc, and manganese may be stored in the skin. These molecules can serve as antioxidants, coenzymes, and/or cofactors for essential physiologic processes of our pets. Moreover, in combination with UV light exposure, the produces the necessary vitamin D necessary for several body processes, for example in bone metabolism and in overall immunity.

 

Now that we recognize how important the skin is, what can we do to protect it better?

The environment (ex, seasons) may be very harsh on the pets' skin. Winter is now around the corner, and besides the use of protective clothing, we must pay attention to the products we use on our pets to protect their skin adequately.

As it was mentioned before, the skin's pH is an important element to keep in mind when we use any product on our pets. The pH is the acid/basic balance using a scale between 1.0 to 14.0 (1.0 is extremely acidic and 14 is extremely basic). Cats' and dogs' skin pH is near-neutral pH (~7.4). Hence, maintaining this value near the physiological pH expected is essential for the normal function of this organ.

Shampoos and other skin and coat products may influence positively OR negatively on the pH. Many skin products tend to be acidic as they help to reduce the microorganism load in the skin. Unfortunately, this may dysregulate the skin's normal function and lead to opportunistic infections.

Using the right and balanced pH products with the inclusion of natural components may be of great benefit to this organ. Natural products, such as Matico or Dragon's blood, are known for their great antioxidant and regenerative properties. Using these products, will ensure that one of the most beautiful and most important parts of our beloved pets will be well protected.

 

What is the take-home message?

The skin is the largest organ of the body and has several functions. We can influence positively but also negatively if we don't pay the right attention to the products we use on the fur of our animals. Using products well-developed to protect the natural balance of skin and coat avoids the risk of developing unnecessary distress in our animals and is one of the keys to success in having healthier and happier pets.

Related sources to go deeper:

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