Image via iStock.com/CBCK-Christine
By Deidre Grieves
Humans use a variety of natural oils to help with issues ranging from preventing heart disease to softening the skin. Certain oils can be beneficial for our four-legged friends, too—especially for dog skin conditions.
“Skin conditions in pets can be caused by any number of issues,” says Dr. Katy Nelson, veterinarian at the BelleHaven Animal Medical Centre in Washington, DC, and host of "The Pet Show With Dr. Katy." “These include allergies, external parasites, endocrine diseases (such as hypothyroidism), poor nutrition, bacterial, yeast or fungal infections, or even cancer.”
If you’d like to use a natural oil or oil supplement for your dog’s skin condition, it’s important to consult a veterinarian to identify the type of oil-based treatment that will work best for your dog’s particular problem.
“There are many causes of skin conditions in dogs, and they often manifest in similar ways,” says Dr. Janet Roark, owner of Hill Country Mobile Veterinary Service in Austin, Texas. “So skin conditions should be evaluated by a veterinarian for a diagnosis.”
Fish Oil for Dogs Provides Omega-3
If you’re looking for safe oils for dogs that can be given orally instead of topically, fish oils are a good option and have a variety of benefits. “High-quality fish oils contain DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) that are beneficial to skin health,” says Dr. Angie Krause, a holistic veterinarian based in Boulder, Colorado.
Fish oils, as well as krill and squid oil, contain omega-3 fatty acids [DHA and EPA are both omega-3 fatty acids], adds Dr. Nelson, which can assist dogs with a variety of ailments due to their anti-inflammatory properties. “These are found highly concentrated in cold water fishes,” she says, “and when used as a nutritional supplement, can have beneficial effects to the skin, joints, eyes, heart and gastrointestinal system.” Omega-3 fatty acids also help maintain the barrier properties of the skin and prevent excessive water loss and drying.
If you are looking for a fish oil supplement for dogs, Dr. Roark suggests wild-caught salmon oil because it’s high in essential fatty acids (EFAs) [including omega-3 fatty acids]. “There have been some studies showing the efficacy of EFA for early stages of atopic dermatitis, among other types of skin conditions,” she says.
American Journey wild Alaskan salmon oil and Zesty Paws wild omega-3 fish oil plus Antarctic krill oil dog supplement are both dog supplements that are easy to add to your pup’s regular dog food. Talk to your veterinarian about recommended dosages if you plan on supplementing your dog’s food with fish oil.
Plant-Based Oils With Omega-3
There are plant-based oils that are safe for dogs that provide omega-3 and offer a variety of benefits.
“Canola, walnut and olive oils also contain omega-3s and can be used as a supplement under the guidance of a veterinary professional,” says Dr. Nelson. “However, the omega-3s found in plant-based oils are in the form of alpha-linoleic acid (ALA). Dogs lack the enzyme necessary to convert ALA into a form that their bodies can utilize efficiently.” Therefore, plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids are less effective in dogs in comparison to fish oil.
While fish oil may be more beneficial when supplementing your dog’s diet, some plant-based products work well to soothe dog skin conditions when applied topically.
Dr. Krause explains that coconut oil is also a good option for keeping your dog’s skin and coat in good shape. “Topical application can be moisturizing and protective,” she says. “It also has some antifungal properties.”
Talk to Your Vet Before Using Essential Oils for Dogs
While there are essential oils that can benefit dog skin conditions, many veterinary experts stress the importance of working directly with a medical professional or looking for products that are already formulated specifically for dogs.
Studies have shown that the topical application of neem oil can help treat atopic dermatitis in dogs, and that dog-safe creams made with 10 percent tea-tree oil can improve pruritic dermatitis in dogs. Neem oil and tea tree oil are often found in dog shampoos such as Ark Naturals neem "protect" dog and cat shampoo and in skin sprays for dogs, such as Richard’s Organics incredible skin spray for dogs.
“Pet parents should be cautious, and never purchase essential oils from grocery stores or health food stores,” says Dr. Roark, who uses diluted essential oils regularly in her practice.
Dr. Roark explains that when diluted or diffused, essential oils like lavender oil and cedarwood oil can promote healthy skin in dogs and also help to relieve anxiety. And Dr. Krause agrees that some diluted essential oils can be beneficial in certain circumstances. “Topical use of some diluted essential oils may be very beneficial to prevent yeast and bacterial growth,” she says.
But overall, pet parents should be extra careful if considering essential oils to treat dog skin conditions. “When applied topically, these oils absorb quickly and can have powerful effects. If placed in an area where pets can lick them off, they can suffer problems such as oral irritation or gastrointestinal distress,” says Dr. Nelson.
When applying oils topically, it’s important to take precautions, says Dr. Krause. She warns that pet parents should be extra careful if using tea tree oil, as it can be toxic to dogs if not properly diluted or administered.
Dr. Krause adds, “Anything you apply to your pup will eventually be ingested unless you use an e-collar or something similar. Caution must be used to avoid excessive ingestion.”
Dr. Nelson concludes, “My best piece of advice when looking into using essential oils is to work closely with a holistic veterinarian who can knowledgeably guide you in the process.”