HEALTH of SKIN & FUR
There are a number of physical attributes that we can see in our dogs and cats that indicate their health status and breed. A beautiful, quality fur which is the most important one among them usually means that the pet is healthy.
SKIN & FUR
Many symptoms of nutritional deficiency or disease are internal and undetectable to owners. However, the condition of the skin and fur are very visible, obvious indicators that we can use every day.
The skin is the largest organ in the body. It protects the body and fulfils a number of metabolic functions. It is the primary barrier for the body, preventing foreign substances and moisture from entering and it maintains the metabolic balance.
It provides mechanical support for the body, and allows joint and muscles to function correctly. It has an important sensory function, to alert the body to pain and temperature changes, and helps to regulate body temperature through perspiration and vasoconstriction and dilation. It also provides an important endocrine function, by secreting substances into the bloodstream.
There are two main layers to the skin. The outer layer is known as the epidermis, and consists of cells that become increasingly keratinised as they progress towards the outer surface (stratum corneum), where they are sloughed away. The thicker inner layer, known as the dermis, is composed of collagen fibres, interstitial matter and a limited number of cells. It also contains hair follicles, sebaceous glands, blood vessels, nerves and arrector pili muscles. The dermis accounts for most of the tensile strength and elasticity of skin and is involved in the maintenance of normal dermal and epidermal structure and function.
Our pets’ fur is made up of 3 main types of hair, each of which provide different functions. The most obvious type is usually the guard hair, which makes up the outer protective layer. This hair is generally coarse and strong, and is particularly prevalent in breeds such as German Shepherds and Terriers.
The next layer, which usually makes up the majority of the coat, is the secondary hair, which provides insulation, water repellence, and further protection. This hair is thinner and softer. Finally, a layer of very fine, short and soft down hair covers the skin, providing additional insulation close to the skin surface.
Both the skin and fur require a range of nutrients to maintain their health and function.
Rapidly reproducing tissues have a high demand for zinc, hence it is a critical nutrient for the skin. Zinc is also involved in the biosynthesis of fatty acids and the metabolism of vitamin A, both of which are also involved in the health of skin and fur. Chelated zinc is a particularly effective dietary source of this mineral, as it is easily absorbed from the digestive system and transported efficiently to the dermal cells where it is needed.
Copper is required for the conversion of the amino acid tyrosine to melanin, which is required for skin and hair pigmentation. One of the early signs of deficiency of this mineral is depigmentation of the coat. It is also an important component of antioxidant enzymes and hence protects the skin oxidative damage.
VITAMINS A & E
Vitamin A is involved in the repair and maintenance of epithelial cells, and deficiencies and excesses can lead to epidermal conditions such as dandruff, skin infections, hair loss and hyperkeratinisation. Whilst vitamin A can be stored in the body, a good but not excessive dietary supply is required.
As a scavanging antioxidant, vitamin E protects the cell membranes from damage by reactive oxygen species. These harmful substances, such as free radicles, target rapidly reproducing cells, such as those in the skin, and so vitamin E is an important protective nutrient. Also, supplemental vitamin E in excess of the minimum nutritional requirement has been shown to be effective in treating some skin disorders.
This water-soluble vitamin is needed by the body in minute quantities every day and, in healthy cats and dogs, this requirement is usually met by its microbial synthesis in the intestine. In cases of ill health or antibiotic treatment, this microbial production can be reduced, and dietary supplementation is required. Biotin is a key nutrient in keratin synthesis, and deficiencies can cause dermatitis, alopecia and skin depigmentation. It is also required for lipid metabolism in the dermal layers, and so is important for skin integrity.
Skin inflammation can be caused but many factors, including flea bites or environmental pollution and causes the skin to stretch and tighten. This in turn causes it to become hot, dry and itchy, and can also increase the risk of lesions and infection. All of these factors will produce a dull coat, usually accompanied by dandruff and frequent scratching. Omega-3 oils, such as those found in fish oil, reduce the inflammatory reaction but also, since they are integrated into cell membranes, provide strength and flexibility to epithelial cells. They are also involved in the regulation of sebum production, which is the waxy substance secreted from the skin.