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How to help your dog avoid dry, itchy skin this winter

Christina Marfice

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Christina is a reporter based in Boise, Idaho. She's a veteran vegetarian, a political junkie and a huge grammar snob. On the weekends, she can usually be found binging on Netflix, playing the piano or petting her cats, Daisy and Dandelion.

Winter can be tough on your dog's skin — here's how to make it easier

It's a familiar feeling. Low humidity, wind and cool temperatures in winter can make our skin feel tight, itchy and dry.

Pets aren't immune to the effects winter weather can have on skin, and unlike their human counterparts, dogs can't just double down on their lotion and moisturizer regimen. Luckily, there are some steps you can take to help your canine friends weather the winter without suffering from the discomfort of dry skin.

More: Grooming tools: Help your dog shed his winter coat

1. Keep a close eye on senior dogs

As dogs age, their skin produces oils at a slower rate, meaning they're more susceptible to dry skin year-round. In winter, when environmental factors come into play, senior dogs are definitely at a higher risk than younger pooches. Keep a close eye on senior dogs, and if they start exhibiting signs of dry skin, like itchiness or flaking, try some of the following steps to help.

2. Limit baths

Shampooing strips the natural oils from a dog's skin and fur and can lead to the skin drying out faster. If you have to bathe your dog during the winter, it's recommended to just use water. And even though it can be tempting to blow-dry your dog since it's cold outside, skip it. The blasts of air can make his skin dry out even faster.

3. If you must shampoo...

... use a shampoo that's specially formulated to help moisturize your dog's skin. These can be found at just about any pet store, and if you're still not sure what kind to go for, a pet store employee or your vet can give you a recommendation. Whatever you do, stay away from shampoos that are meant for people. Human shampoos are formulated for human skin pH and can easily dry out dogs' skin regardless of the time of year.

4. Humidify your dog's living space

Since humidity tends to be lower during winter, using a humidifier to add some moisture to the air can give your dog's skin a break from fighting dryness. Start out by just using the humidifier at night, placing it near where your dog sleeps. If that doesn't work, increase the amount of time the humidifier is on and try to keep it close to where your dog hangs out.

More: My dog's dry skin turned out to be a serious medical condition

5. Brush your dog often

Brushing your dog's fur increases blood flow to the skin, which is always good for keeping it healthy. Clean fur also helps your dog stay warmer in the cold temperatures that come with winter.

6. Get your dog a coat

Some dogs just need a little extra help staying warm during the winter. If your dog isn't a breed that has a thick coat of fur, buying a coat will provide an extra layer of protection from cold air. Not only will your dog stay warmer, but he'll have another layer between his skin and the cold, helping to prevent it from drying out.

7. Use fatty acid supplements

Fatty acids are necessary to help dogs produce the skin oil that keeps their skin and fur moisturized. Older dogs especially need extra fatty acids in their diets. Find a dog food or supplement that has high levels of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids since those acids specifically help keep the skin healthy. If you're not sure what kind of food or supplement to give your dog, your vet can help.

8. Give your dog an oatmeal bath

If your dog is already suffering from dry skin, an oatmeal bath can do wonders to reverse the damage. Just like for humans, a warm bath with oatmeal is naturally soothing to a dog's skin. Put 1/3 cup of unflavored instant oatmeal, quick oats or slow-cooking oats into a coffee grinder, blender or food processor. Blend or process them until you have a fine powder, and then mix that into warm bath water. Pour the water over your dog's coat for about 15 minutes.

More: Common skin problems in dogs

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