The skin is actually one of the largest tissues or organs of the human body but of course also for our companions’ cats and dogs. The integument is the vital barrier protecting the animal from the exterior world and is the primary defence system against injury and disease (e.g., parasites and bacteria, viruses). It has a complex structure of layers from the visible epidermis to the underling dermal region with vascularisation and a network of intricate nerves.
Skin is a dynamic tissue and with a constant turnover of cells undergoing routine division and replacement. The sloughing of squamous epithelial cells requires new tissue generation, and this is true of all regions as the animal grows and develops over time.
Skin is easily damaged, and it varies in thickness and texture in the cat and dog. Of course, it is often subjected to injuries and wounds in life from diseases, infection, and accidents as well as lesions from fighting. Veterinarians can prescribe a plethora of drugs and chemotherapeutics such as antibiotics to treat skin ailments, but we must also evaluate the role of nutrition in skin management from the point of pet nutrition.
It is therefore vital to appreciate that skin problems in dogs and cats need to be addressed from the inside out, not only the outside in. Alleviating the discomfort of your pet’s itching and inflammation requires a full comprehension of the root cause of the problem. Otherwise, symptoms will just keep materialising and become chronic in nature.
Skin has a relatively high rate of metabolism and requires much energy fundamentally resourced from dietary intake. It also requires a well-balanced supply of essential amino acids like lysine, methionine, arginine, and threonine as protein components for skin maintenance and health.
Structural proteins like collagen, chondroitin and elastin are vital to form the supporting framework of various skin layers and these protein fibres can age and fail to function and lose plasticity in the older cat and dog. Also, many micronutrients are involved in skin maintenance such as the trace elements and vitamins. Trace minerals like zinc, iron, copper, and selenium play a major role as co-factors of enzymes in skin cells, but even macro-elements such as magnesium and phosphorous have crucial metabolic roles. Vitamin D3 and ascorbic acid (vitamin C) are important but although dogs and cat can synthesize the latter for normal conditions, it can however be important to have a dietary supplement during phases of stress and under acute disease scenarios.
We have good scientific understanding the benefits of vitamin E in the condition of skin in all animals and for its repair and cellular turnover. Vitamin E can work synergistically with selenium as powerful antioxidants to mitigate the production of free radicals in skin tissues. It can be seen that nutrition within a well formulated pet food is paramount to healthy skin in our pets. The hair and coating quality are greatly affected by the presence of key essential nutrients especially selenium, vitamin E and in particular the omega-3 components of oils such as linseed (flax) and marine sources (fish and algae).
Fortunately, there are now numerous feed additives and medicinal herbs that can be used to support and augment the repair, regeneration, and restoration of healthy skin in dogs and cats. The use of prebiotics and probiotics and many photobiotic natural agents are now available for the formulator. There is no doubt that much scientific research can be directed to this interesting topic for more advanced pet foods in the future to give our cats and dogs their lustre.
Article contributed by Simon Davies, Editor, International Petfood Magazine.