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3 Natural Remedies for Your Dog’s Dry Winter Skin

Spoiler: They’re probably already in your pantry.

by Susan Tasaki
Updated December 27, 2021
Winterizing your dog's coat - Dog laying in the snow.
Jeff Wasserman / Stocksy

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All dogs scratch themselves once in a while, but excessive clawing can be cause for concern. If your dog starts scratching more than occasionally, the root of the problem (which should be determined by your vet) is likely one of three things: the environment (low humidity, dry indoor heat in the winter), allergies (to food or pollen), or parasites (fleas, ticks or, less commonly, mites). Unfortunately, figuring out what’s causing scratching can take time, but there are some at-home remedies — olive oil, coconut oil, and fish oil — that may provide some relief by helping to moisturize your dog’s dry, dandruffy skin.

Both olive and coconut oil are rich in the omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids (EFAs) dogs need to maintain oil production, skin hydration, and much more. The body needs EFAs to function but can’t manufacture them, which is why they must be obtained from food. Luckily, dogs tend to love the taste of oil, so adding it to their meals is an easy way to get it into their systems. It won’t be a cure-all or magic fix, but it can contribute to an improvement in your dog’s overall health — not to mention shinier fur and fewer marathon scratching sessions. Here’s how to ease the itch by adding oils to your dog’s diet.

How to Use Olive Oil for Your Dog’s Dry Skin

Extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) is the best choice for dogs. Cold-pressed, unrefined, and made from the first olive pressing, it’s less acidic than more processed forms of olive oil, and as a result, easier on the canine digestive system. It also has higher levels of vitamins and antioxidants. 

Dogs who may have a hard time digesting omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids usually do well with olive oil. Aside from its ability to repair dry, flaky skin and shine up your dog’s coat, olive oil may also perk up their appetite and help with constipation. The only downside is olive oil can go rancid quickly, which is why it’s sold in dark-colored bottles. Store it in a cool, dark place away from heat sources (not on a sunny counter or near the stove) to ensure it lasts.

Olive Oil Daily Dose Guidelines:

  • Small dogs: 1/2 teaspoon

  • Medium dogs: 1 teaspoon

  • Large dogs: 2 teaspoons

  • Extra-large dogs: 1 tablespoon

Ask a Vet

Sudden scratching? Finicky food eater? Loose poop? Whatever pet health question is on your mind, our veterinary pros are here to help.

How to Use Coconut Oil for Your Dog’s Dry Skin

You’re also likely to have coconut oil in your pantry. It’s high in saturated fat and contains quickly-absorbed medium-chain triglycerides and fatty acids, which are thought to help with a number of canine conditions including itchy or dry skin, odor, allergic reactions, and yeast and fungal infections. Like olive oil, the best coconut oils for dogs are organic, virgin, and cold-pressed. This oil comes in a range of flavors — bold, buttery, bland, nutty — so you may need to experiment to see which one your dog prefers with their food. (Some dogs are put off by a strong coconut flavor.)

Coconut oil can be added to food or — for a particularly dry or itchy patch — massaged directly into a dog’s skin. If applying topically, be super-conservative in the amount you use and supervise your dog afterward until the oil’s been absorbed. Your dog will probably try to lick it off, and too much coconut oil at once can cause stomach upset.

Coconut Oil Daily Dose Guidelines 

  • Small dogs: 1/4 teaspoon

  • Medium/large dogs: 1/2 to 2 teaspoons

  • Extra-large dogs: 1 tablespoon

Note: If your dog is prone to pancreatitis, check with your vet before adding coconut oil to their food. Otherwise, introduce it gradually.

How to Use Fish Oil for Your Dog’s Dry Skin

While it’s a less common pantry item, fish oil is a go-to supplement thought to support canine heart health, reduce itching and skin flaking, and relieve allergies and joint pain. When selecting a fish oil for your dog, check the manufacturer’s certificate of analysis. A blend derived from salmon, herring, sardines, and other small fish will offer the most omega-3s and the longest shelf life.

Something to be aware of, though, is that fish oil can prolong blood clotting time, so if your dog requires surgery, be sure to tell your vet about this supplement. The vet may ask you to discontinue it for a few days before and after the procedure. Additionally, in processing fish oil, a dog’s system can use up its supply of vitamin E. This can leave the dog with a deficiency, which has its own set of problems. Ask your vet if this is something to be concerned about with your dog.

Don’t Go Overboard With Oil

The truism “a little goes a long way” definitely applies here. Too much oil can result in the following:

  • Diarrhea, greasy stools, or digestive upsets

  • Weight gain: Take the calories oil adds into account. Both coconut and olive oils clock in at about 40 calories per teaspoon.

  • Pancreatitis: A large helping of oil can provoke an inflammation of the pancreas, particularly in dogs who are prone to it.

Start introducing oil slowly and see how your dog tolerates it. After a couple of weeks, if no problems arise, consider increasing the dose slightly.

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Susan Tasaki

Freelance writer Susan Tasaki lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her Husky, who wishes they both got out more.