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Itchy Dog? Learn the difference between dog skin and human skin

  • June 26, 2017
  • By MaggieLovesOrbit
Itchy Dog?  Learn the difference between dog skin and human skin

The epidermis of a dog is only 3 to 5 cells thick while in humans it is at least 10 to 15 cells thick.

As I dig deeper in my research about a holistic approach to my dog’s skin allergies, I wanted to find a spray that I could use to help moisturize and protect Maggie’s skin.  The frequent water rinses were drying her out and I wanted to moisturize and clean her skin and fur in the most natural way possible.  In my readings I found about about Calendula and it’s benefits to dogs with skin issues.  Infusions of calendula flowers are effective as a soothing and healing skin wash for various forms of inflammatory dermatitis, such as flea bites, poison ivy, eczema, or sunburn. The antimicrobial and astringent nature of this plant make it useful for treating burns as well.

In any event I was able to finally find a spray that contains it.  But it prompted me to write about what makes dog’s skin so different:

  • Dogs have less layers compared to humans which is why their skin is more sensitive.  That said – they also have more fur which protects their skin.
  • Skin is the largest organ of our dog’s body.
  • It provides a protective barrier against the environment.
  • Depending on the age, skin can be 12 to 24% of a dog’s body weight.
  • There are three layers.  The  epidermis (outer layer); dermis (middle layer) and subcutis (innermost layer)
  • Dogs will turn over their skin every 20 days or so compared to humans which turn over every 28 days.
  • Their fur/hair grows out in tufts while ours will grow individually.

dog skin vs human skin

Also in regards to dog’s sweating:

The dog’s dermal skin layer has two types of glands that produce fluids. The apocrine glands, which produce sweat in humans, have two other functions in dogs – they help seal the outer layer of the epidermis and they secrete pheromones that give dogs a distinctive body odour. The eccrine glands in the pads of the paws do produce a watery secretion similar human perspiration. This secretion leaves damp pawprints behind nervous or stressed canines and may also improve traction for a quick getaway. (source: Vetwest) versus human skin which is around 5.5 (acidic)

Dogs skin is very different from ours

In fact its closer to the skin of a baby.  If you ever rub the belly of your dog …. it should feel super soft … like that of a baby’s skin.

Dog skin pH levels are different from ours.

pH Level of dog skin is 7.0 to 7.52 and humans are around 5.2 t 5.5

That’s why using grooming products formulated for dogs is critical because if you strip away that outer layer, you remove the defence mechanism of the dog against irritants and allergens.

Here are some examples of pH levels

  • Ivory dish soap is pH 9.5
  • Johnson and Johnson baby shampoo is pH 5.5
  • White Vinegar pH 2.2 to 2.4
  • Apple Cider Vinegar is 3.1 to 5
  • Scope pH 5.5
  • Listerine pH 4.2
  • Dr. Bronner’s castille soap 8.9
  • Aloe Vera as a plant has pH level of 7 to 8.5

When you move on the pH scale it indicated a change of 10 times 10 or 100 fold change.  So if you went from 7 to 5 that is 200 times more acidic or from 7 to 9 then it becomes a change of 200 times more alkaline.

Which means that if you used Ivory dish soap it is approximately 250 times more alkaline to a dog’s epidermis.  And baby shampoo is approximately 150 times more acidic to a dog’s epidermis.

Anything that is too acidic or too alkaline will disrupt the acid mantle of the dogs and leave it open to bacteria.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Avoid products that have artificial additives or ingredients such as surfactants sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) or sodium laureth sulfate (SLEs).
  • Avoid products that have parabens.
  • When you wash your dog – dilute the product.  I have empty containers on hand an I typically will put a quarter size amount of shampoo and the same for conditioner, and then dilute it by filling the container with water.
  • I have been using Duoxo Calm.  I purchase it from Amazon.  DOUXO Calm Shampoo is a soothing lathering solution that contains hinokitiol and phytosphingosine.  It’s a topical treatment of allergy and pruritus.  We’ve been using it over a year and it works fantastic for the girls.  
  • I also use a spray from Duoxo.  After their bath I do ONE spray to keep their fur from drying out.

Itchy Dog?  Learn the difference between dog skin and human skin


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Pruritus is the unpleasant sensation that provokes the dog to scratch.  Itching is a sign that there are parasites, infections or allergies.  Itching may develop because of secondary bacterial or yeast infections and it is possible that by the time the dog itches, the initial cause is gone.  For example, think about a time you’re gardening and you suspect an ant or bug bit you.  But you don’t start to itch until a day or two later.  The same thing happens with dogs.

They might be out on the lawn, get bit by an ant of flea, and start itching a day or two later.

In Maggie’s case, I eliminated fleas (I applied flea treatment to them).  Also they sleep with us so I thought if they had fleas then we would get bit (which we aren’t).

According to the Merck Veterinary Manual from which I got a lot of this information from:

“The feet, face, ears, front legs, and abdomen are the most frequently affected areas, but scratching all over the body is common. Scratching can lead to secondary signs of wounds, scabbing, infection, hair loss, and scaling. Other signs of atopy include licking or chewing the paws and rubbing the face and eyes.”

I also found this FANTASTIC (bookmark this – it’s amazing) read from infovets and can visit their link HERE but in essence here’s a section I pulled from their website:

Atopic or Allergic Inhalant Dermatitis:
The term allergic inhalant dermatitis implies that the dog inhales the substances which then lead to a reaction in the skin. Atopic dermatitis is a less restrictive term, implying that the allergic reaction is a response to ordinary environmental substances. Many studies indicate that atopic dermatitis may result from not only inhalation of these ordinary substances, but also through ingesting these substances or when these substances directly contact the skin. Because of this new understanding, the term allergic inhalant dermatitis is falling out of favor. Atopy is a general term used to describe these types of allergic reactions.

Atopy is often considered an inherited problem passed on through genetics. Certain dog breeds to tend to develop atopic dermatitis more frequently than others. West Highland white terriers, English setters, Cairn terriers, Wheaten terriers, and Fox terriers are probably the five most allergic dog breeds. Other breeds which are frequently diagnosed with allergic skin disease include Labrador retrievers, cocker spaniels, and Chinese shar peis. Dogs with atopy usually begin to experience skin problems somewhere between the ages of 1 and 7 years.

Causative Agents: Dogs can be allergic to a variety of things including regional pollens, house dust, house mites, air-borne molds, human dander, and often food proteins to name a few. All of these are considered allergens or substances that produce an allergic reaction. When one of these substances contacts the animal, the immune system produces several types of antibodies known as immunoglobulins. Most of these have the absolutely crucial function of fighting infection. One specific type of antibody, known as Immunoglobulin E (IgE) plays a significant role in allergic reactions. Basically, the immune system of dogs with atopy over reacts and a hypersensitivity reaction results. This hypersensitivity reaction produces excess IgE and causes the release of histamine and other substances. IgE is generally found in very high levels in dogs which suffer from atopy.

If your dog is itchy you have to know why and what is causing it?  Two common reasons are yeast infections or atopic allergies

My dog Orbit has yeast infections.  She has the following symptoms:

  • Rust colored paws.
  • A smell that is very distinct and musky.
  • She licks her paws – which stay moist (from the licking) which is breeding grounds for yeast.
  • Red, rust colored tear stains.
  • Her belly smells a bit musky too – especially in the hot humid summer months.
  • Waxy ears.

For Orbit my protocol to address her yeast involves:

As for Maggie – she doesn’t have yeast she has environmental seasonal allergies or atopic dermatitis.  The best way to help her is to keep the allergens off her, strengthen her immune system to balance it out and to address and alleviate some of the itching.  So how do you treat it?  Below is a list again from Infovets and I’ve stated which one’s I’m doing.

  1.  Corticosteroids (by injection):  On two occasions Maggie’s rash was so bad I took her to the vet and they gave her a shot.  I choose to use this as a last resort only when the quality of her life is affected by her allergies.
  2. Antihistamines:  I give her Zyrtec 1/2 a tablet daily during the season.  Please consult with your vet to make sure you know which Zyrtec to buy and the dosage for your pet.
  3. Essential fatty acids: Essential fatty acids (EFA) are composed of Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, with the most emphasis on the Omega 3 fatty acids to best control itching in dogs. EFAs are effective in 10-20% of patients and should be given for at least 3 months to observe maximal benefit. Some diets supplemented with Omega 3 fatty acids have shown promise in helping to reduce itching in dogs with atopy. EFAs are considered to be very safe, with adverse side effects occurring only very rarely. EFAs are generally given daily as a capsule or liquid.
  4. I’ve tried various Omega Oil Supplements.  I used to use Ultra Oil which you can learn about via their website or purchase directly from Amazon.  I learned about this product when I attended a local Frenchie Meet Up and a frenchie sat on my lap and had fur as soft as a puppy’s.  When I asked her what she was using she referred me to this product.
  5. The only reason I don’t use the oil as a supplement is now I feed their Omega’s from a whole source.   Currently I’m giving them cooked oily fish (mackerel, smelt, sardines).
    smelt and sardines are a great source of Omega 3Recently also came across Open Farm Pet’s Dehydrated Cod Skins that I give them as treats.
    Itchy Dog?  Learn the difference between dog skin and human skin

  6. Topical therapy.
    1. I rinse off the dogs in water right after we come from the beach or from a trail hike.
    2. Every night I wipe them down and wipe their paws before bed.  I used to spray my first Zoey down nightly with Tropic Clean because it had calendula as an ingredient.  But after 3 tips to 3 different pet stores the only spray I found with calendula was made by Barklogic.  I love how their products are friendly for the dogs.  At some later point I might learn how to make my own spray but for now this has the best ingredient list I’ve found.  I’ll have to come back in a few months to write a review after I’ve used it for the dog.  In the meantime you can see their features:
      • Plant & Mineral Derived
      • Paraben Free
      • Formaldehyde Free
      • Cruelty Free & Vegan
      • Phthalate Free
      • DEA Free
      • PEG Free
      • Triclosan Free
      • SLS/SLES or Sulfate Free
      • Stress Free
      • Made In The U.S.A.
  7. Dietary therapy.  Just in case they are allergic to foods – and to strengthen their immune system, I’ve opted to feed them raw or home cooked.

As you can see allergies are complicated and having a layered approach.  As I continue this journey with Maggie part of my research is to understand all the components of her body that are affected.  I hope you’re enjoyed this article learning about dog skin.  If you have feel free to share it with your friends on social media or contact me for any questions.  You can purchase any of the items from Amazon.

Disclaimer:  I’m pro-vet and do not want this to be information you use to avoid going to the vet.  I’m simply sharing all information I’m learning about skin, allergies, and dogs.Itchy Dog?  Learn the difference between dog skin and human skin

Itchy Dog?  Learn the difference between dog skin and human skin
By MaggieLovesOrbit, June 26, 2017
  • 5
  • Valerie
    July 7, 2017

    As for food allergies… don’t confuse grain -free with allergy free. I have an English Bulldog.

    So far the allergies point to CHICKEN!, wheat, and potatoes!

    Yes! Potatoes! Which is what most of the grain free diets are using as a filler!

    I have found holistic brands that use Garbanzo Beans instead.

    Seems to work much better!

    • MaggieLovesOrbit
      July 10, 2017

      Yes totally agree. Food allergies deserves its own post which I haven’t done yet.

  • Sue
    September 25, 2017

    You need to be careful with the iodine wash. I have an autoimmune ulcerative problem with my own leg (Pyoderma gangrenosum) and I was using it to clean my wounds. I found that leaving it on was helping to dry out the ulcers; however, the dermatologist told me to rinse it off once it was cleaned! The Betadine povidine iodine actually weakens the skin and damages new skin cells. With a dog’s thinner skin I think it would break down even faster than a human’s.

    • MaggieLovesOrbit
      October 3, 2017

      Thank you so much for letting me know. Yes it does react with good and bad skin cells. I purchase the 5% solution and I further dilute it …. I’ve never been told to rinse it off and this is good information. I actually just went to my vet and she told me it was ok what I was doing but she didn’t tell me to rinse it off =( I will be more mindful now.

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