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Dog skin

Understanding the Integumentary System in Dogs

The integumentary system in dogs is the collection of organs, tissues, and structures that form the outer covering of a dogs body parts

The integumentary system includes the dog skin, hair (fur), nails, sweat glands, and associated structures like sebaceous glands. 

The system provides vital functions in the structure of dog anatomy, including protection against physical damage, pathogens, and UV radiation, body temperature regulation, sensory perception, and vitamin synthesis. 

The integumentary system is essential for all parts of dog anatomy, supporting overall health and well-being. The layer of skin provides a barrier to the external environment while facilitating various physiological processes.

What is the structure of a dog's skin?

The structure of a dog's skin comprises three layers that provide protection, regulate temperature, and facilitate various functions. The epidermis is the outermost layer, the dermis contains blood vessels and nerves, and the subcutis mainly comprises adipose tissue.

Dog skin is generally thicker than human skin, with a denser fur coat. Skin dog anatomy features specialized glands for oil production and sweat. “Canine skin has several anatomic differences from human skin, including variations in thickness, hair growth, and circulation,” according to the study by Pavletic, M. titled “Anatomy and circulation of the canine skin,” 1991.

What Does a Dog Skin Diagram Look Like?

A dog skin diagram shows different layers of the skin, structured to show the epidermis, dermis, and subcutis. The diagram provides insight into the composition and organization of dog layers skin anatomy.


What are the Different Layers of Dogs' Skin?

The different layers of a dog's skin are listed below.

  • Dermis: The middle layer of the skin, located beneath the epidermis, containing blood vessels, nerves, hair follicles, sweat glands, and sebaceous glands. The dermis provides structural support, elasticity, and nourishment to the skin.
  • Epidermis: The outermost layer of the skin, primarily composed of epithelial cells. The epidermis protects body parts against environmental hazards and regulates water loss. 
  • Subcutis: The deepest layer of the skin, composed primarily of adipose tissue (fat). A subcutis insulates and stores energy and pads the skin, protecting against mechanical injuries and temperature fluctuations.
  • Stratum Corneum: The outermost layer of the epidermis, consisting of dead, flattened cells (corneocytes) filled with keratin.
  • Basement Membrane: A thin, specialized layer that separates the epidermis from the dermis and provides structural support to facilitate the exchange of nutrients and waste products between the two layers.
  • Stratum Basale: The innermost layer of the epidermis, consisting of basal cells that undergo continuous division to replace superficial cells shed from the skin's surface.
  • Clear Layer: A translucent layer in some body parts comprising flattened, clear cells.
  • Stratum Spinosum: The layer below the stratum granulosum, characterized by polygonal cells with spiny projections.
  • Stratum Granulosum: The layer beneath the stratum corneum, where cells undergo keratinization and produce lipids.

What structures are found in the dermis of a dog's skin?

The structures found in the dermis of a dog's skin are listed below.

  • Blood Vessels: Blood vessels, including arteries, veins, and capillaries, supply the dermis with oxygen, nutrients, and immune cells while removing waste products.
  • Nerve Endings: Nerve endings in the dermis transmit sensory information such as touch, pressure, temperature, and pain, allowing dogs to perceive their environment.
  • Hair Follicles: Hair follicles are structures that produce and support hair growth. Each follicle has a hair shaft and structures such as sebaceous glands and arrector pili muscles.
  • Sebaceous Glands: Sebaceous glands produce sebum, an oily substance that lubricates the skin and hair, helping to maintain hydration and protect against environmental damage.
  • Collagen and Elastin Fibers: Collagen and elastin fibers provide structural support and elasticity to the skin. Collagen fibers give the skin strength and resilience, while elastin fibers allow it to stretch and recoil.
  • Sweat Glands: Dogs have fewer sweat glands than humans and primarily regulate their body temperature through panting. The eccrine sweat glands in their paw pads and noses play a role in thermoregulating and secreting smaller amounts of sweat.

1. Blood vessels

Blood vessels in a dog's dermis supply vital nutrients and oxygen to the skin cells. They ensure proper circulation, aiding in maintaining skin health and functionality.

The intricate network of blood vessels within the dermis carries essential nutrients and oxygen to every corner of the skin. Skin cells receive energy from the dermis to maintain elasticity, repair damage, and fight off infections. 

2. Nerve endings

Nerve endings in the dermis of a dog's skin aid in sensory perception and communication with the brain. The specialized structures transmit signals related to touch, temperature, and pain, enabling the dog to interact with its environment.

A dog’s nerve endings distinguish between the sun's warmth on its back, the gentle caress of a hand, and the warning signal of a sharp object. The receptors aid in responses like avoiding harmful stimuli, seeking comfort, and displaying affection. 

3. Hair follicles

Hair follicles in the dermis of a dog's skin control hair growth. The structures produce keratin, regulate pigmentation, and are influenced by genetic factors, contributing to the dog's appearance and body structure protective covering.

Hair follicles cycle through growth, rest, and shedding, ensuring a constant turnover of hair on the dog's body. Follicles maintain the dog's body temperature by providing insulation and protection against environmental elements.

4. Sebaceous glands

Sebaceous glands are glands in the dermis of a dog's skin that produce sebum, an oily substance rich in fatty acids. Sebum helps waterproof the skin, maintain a healthy hair coat, provide essential nutrients, regulate the skin's pH balance, promote a healthy microbiome environment, and prevent acne or dermatitis.

Sebum forms a protective barrier over the skin, preventing excess water loss and shielding against environmental irritants. The sebum acts as a natural moisturizer, keeping dogs' skin supple and hydrated and aiding in the defense against harmful bacteria and fungi.

5. Collagen and elastin fibers

Collagen and elastin fibers in the dermis provide structural support and flexibility. The fibers contribute to skin elasticity, wound healing, and overall integrity, ensuring the skin withstands various pressures and movements.

Collagen is a skin protein that adds firmness and strength, while elastin grants resilience and suppleness. The two fibers maintain the skin's youthful appearance and promote skin regeneration after injuries. Collagen and elastin levels decline with age as wrinkles form.

6. Sweat glands

Sweat glands located in the dermis assist with thermoregulation and heat dissipation. The glands produce sweat, which cools the body during increased temperature or physical exertion.

Dog sweat glands maintain body temperature within a healthy range by releasing sweat through tiny openings in the skin called pores. Sweat evaporates from the skin's surface, absorbing heat and lowering the body temperature. Heat dissipation is essential in dogs, as they rely on panting and sweating to regulate their internal temperature. 

What are the components of the subcutaneous layer (hypodermis) in a dog's skin?

The components of the subcutaneous layer (hypodermis) are listed below.

  • Adipose Tissue: The adipose tissue comprises fat cells (adipocytes). Adipose tissue provides insulation to regulate body temperature, energy storage, and cushioning to protect underlying structures.
  • Connective Tissue: The subcutaneous layer contains connective tissue, including collagen and elastic fibers. Connective tissue anchors the skin to underlying muscles and organs while facilitating the transportation of nutrients between the skin and deeper tissues.

1. Adipose tissue

Adipose tissue in a dog's skin is an energy reservoir that insulates material and forms a protective barrier. The tissue assists with hormone regulation and immune response due to its secretory functions.

2. Connective tissue

Connective tissue in a dog's skin provides support, maintains structural integrity, and contains collagen and elastin for resilience and functionality. The tissue binds organs, offers protection, and facilitates nutrient exchange. Fibroblasts in the tissue produce collagen and elastin to repair damaged skin and maintain a youthful appearance.

What are the common skin conditions in Dogs?

The common skin conditions in dogs are listed below.

  • Allergies: Hypersensitive reactions to environmental triggers, food, or substances causing itching, redness, and skin irritation.
  • Flea Infestation: Skin irritation and itching caused by fleas and their bites on the dog's skin.
  • Atopic Dermatitis: Chronic allergic skin disease with itching, redness, and inflammation triggered by environmental allergens.
  • Hot Spots (Acute Moist Dermatitis): Localized areas of inflamed, moist, and infected skin resulting from self-trauma or irritation.
  • Mange: Skin condition caused by mites infesting the skin, leading to intense itching, hair loss, and skin lesions.
  • Ringworm: Fungal infection affecting the skin, hair, and nails, with circular, red, and scaly lesions.
  • Yeast Infections: Overgrowth of yeast organisms on the skin, resulting in itching, redness, and greasy or smelly discharge.
  • Seborrhea: Skin condition characterized by excessive production of skin oils, leading to greasy or flaky skin and a foul odor.
  • Skin Infections: Bacterial or fungal skin infections causing redness, swelling, pus, and discomfort.
  • Skin Cancer: Abnormal growth of skin cells leads to tumors forming, which vary in appearance and severity.
  • Itchy Skin (Pruritus): General itching of the skin associated with underlying skin conditions or systemic diseases.

1. Allergies

Dog allergies are adverse bodily reactions to substances such as pollen, dust mites, certain foods, or flea saliva. Allergies manifest as itching, redness, rashes, or ear infections.

2. Flea Infestation

Fleas are parasitic insects that prey on the blood of dogs and other animals. Flea infestations cause intense itching, redness, and allergic reactions in some dogs.

3. Atopic Dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis, or allergic dermatitis, is a skin condition caused by an allergic reaction to environmental allergens such as pollen, mold, or dust mites. Dermatitis results in itching, scratching, and skin inflammation.

4. Hot Spots (Acute Moist Dermatitis)

Hot spots are localized areas of inflamed, infected skin that are very itchy and painful. Hot spots (Acute Moist Dermatitis) develop rapidly due to underlying issues such as allergies, flea infestations, or skin trauma.

5. Mange

Mange is a skin condition caused by mites, microscopic parasites that infest the dog's skin and hair follicles. Different types of mange include sarcoptic mange (due to Sarcoptes scabiei mites) and demodectic mange (caused by Demodex mites).

6. Ringworm

Ringworm is a fungus that affects dogs' skin, fur, and sometimes their nails. Ringworm infections appear as circular, red, scaly patches on the skin.

7. Yeast Infections

Yeast infections affect warm and moist areas of the skin, such as the ears, paws, and skin folds. An overgrowth of yeast organisms causes them and results in redness, itching, and a foul odor.

8. Seborrhea

Seborrhea is a skin condition characterized by excessive sebum production. Seborrhea results in greasy, flaky skin with itching and inflammation.

9. Skin Infections

Bacteria, fungi, or other pathogens cause skin infections in dogs. Skin infections occur secondary to underlying conditions such as allergies, flea infestations, or wounds and present with symptoms like redness, swelling, and discharge.

10. Skin Cancer

Dogs develop various types of skin cancer, including melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and mast cell tumors. Skin cancer tumors appear as lumps or sores on the skin and must be evaluated by a veterinarian.

11. Itchy Skin (Pruritus)

Itchy skin, or pruritus, is a common symptom of many skin conditions in dogs. Itchy skin (pruritus) is caused by allergies, parasites, infections, or underlying medical conditions and leads to scratching, licking, and chewing of the skin.

What is the Consequence of Leaving a Skin Problem Untreated?

The consequence of leaving a skin problem in a dog untreated leads to infections, complications, and prolonged discomfort. “Untreated skin problems in dogs can lead to alopecia, lichenification, hyperpigmentation, and other issues,” according to the study by Wirawan, I., Widiastuti, S., & Batan, I. titled “Case report: demodecosis in Bali domestic dog,” 2019.

Untreated skin issues worsen, causing the dog distress and impacting its health and well-being. Unaddressed infections spread, leading to systemic problems and secondary complications, such as hair loss, itching, and chronic pain, reducing the dog's quality of life.

Can CBD Oil Help Dog Skin Problems?

Yes, CBD oil can help dog skin problems. CBD shows promise in alleviating dog skin problems by relieving inflammation, itching, and allergies. “CBD-containing hemp oil without THC effectively reduces pruritic behavior in dogs with canine atopic dermatitis when ingested twice a day,” according to the study by Mogi, C., Yoshida, M., Kawano, K., Fukuyama, T., & Arai, T. titled “Effects of cannabidiol without delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol on canine atopic dermatitis: A retrospective assessment of 8 cases,” 2022.

One of the benefits of CBD oil for dogs is its anti-inflammatory properties, which reduce redness and swelling associated with skin conditions. The soothing nature of CBD oil relieves itching and irritation and is beneficial in addressing skin issues caused by allergic reactions. 

How to Prevent Skin Problems in Dogs?

The ways to prevent skin problems in dogs are listed below.

  • Regular Grooming: Brush a dog's coat regularly to remove loose hair, dirt, and debris. Brushing helps prevent matting, reduces the risk of skin irritation, and promotes healthy circulation.
  • Bathing: Bathe dogs with a mild, veterinarian-recommended shampoo formulated for dogs. Avoid over-bathing, as it strips the skin of natural oils and leads to dryness and irritation. The frequency of bathing depends on the dog's breed, coat type, and lifestyle.
  • Proper Nutrition: Feed the dog a balanced diet rich in essential nutrients, including omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which are beneficial for skin health.
  • Hydration: Ensure that dogs have access to clean, fresh water at all times. Proper hydration is essential for maintaining healthy skin and preventing dryness.
  • Parasite Control: Implement a regular parasite prevention program to protect dogs from fleas, ticks, mites, and other external parasites. Parasites cause skin irritation and allergic reactions and transmit diseases.
  • Environmental Management: Minimize the dog's exposure to environmental allergens, such as pollen, mold, and dust mites, which trigger allergic skin reactions. Keep indoor spaces clean and well-ventilated, and provide a comfortable resting area for the dog.
  • Sun Protection: Dogs must be protected from excessive sun exposure if they have light-colored fur or exposed skin areas. Use pet-safe sunscreen or provide shade during outdoor activities to prevent sunburn and reduce the risk of skin cancer.
  • Stress Management: Minimize stressors in a dog's environment and provide mental stimulation to promote overall well-being. Stress exacerbates certain skin conditions, so maintaining a calm and supportive environment is important.
  • Prompt Veterinary Care: Consult the veterinarian for signs of skin problems, such as itching, redness, irritation, hair loss, or unusual lumps or bumps. Early intervention prevents minor issues from escalating into more severe skin conditions.

What are the Preventive Measures to Reduce the Risk of Skin Problems in Dogs?

The preventative measures to reduce the risk of skin problems in dogs include regular baths and a balanced diet. “Preventive measures for skin problems in dogs include improving skin and coat hygiene, using non-irritating shampoos, and dietary supplementation with essential fatty acids.,” according to the study by Olivry, T., DeBoer, D., Favrot, C., Jackson, H., Mueller, R., Nuttall, T., & Prélaud, P. titled “Treatment of canine atopic dermatitis: 2010 clinical practice guidelines from the International Task Force on Canine Atopic Dermatitis,” 2010.

Pet-friendly shampoos keep skin clean, and a balanced diet rich in essential nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids promotes healthy skin and a shiny coat. Keeping the dog's living space clean and properly ventilated prevents fungal and bacterial growth while reducing exposure to common allergens such as dust mites and pollen, which minimizes skin sensitivities.

Can Probiotics Help Prevent Skin Allergies in Dogs?

Yes, probiotics can help prevent skin allergies in dogs. Probiotics help prevent skin allergies in dogs by promoting gut health and enhancing immune function. Probiotics regulate inflammation and support a balanced microbiome, reducing the incidence of allergic reactions and skin issues in canines. 

Research indicates probiotics strengthen the skin barrier function, making it more resilient to environmental allergens and irritants. Dog probiotics replenish beneficial bacteria in the gut, which helps modulate the dog’s immune response to control inflammation.