2016 | Nutrition & Health | Dr Joanna Schirrman, Royal Canin Australia SAS
Royal Canin has long believed in the link between nutrition and overall health and well-being.
In fact, our founder, Dr Jean Cathary, was adamant that the recurring bouts of skin issues in the farm dogs he treated were directly attributable to poor quality nutrition. What many individuals do not appreciate though, is that the skin and coat can be a barometer, and even a reflection, of inner health. So how can nutrition help achieve magnificent skin and an incredible coat?
The Skin as a Barrier
Before we can answer that, we must first understand the role of the skin and coat. The skin is actually the largest organ of the body and plays a critical role in providing a physical and functional barrier between the animal and its environment. As the first line of defence, the skin protects the animal from chemical, physical and microbial agents. It also protects the animal against UV exposure and plays an important role in thermoregulation. Ultimately, the skin is crucial for keeping the inside organs alive by being an effective barrier.
The skin, as an organ, is very metabolically active and in a continual state of renewal. As a result, the skin and coat ultise a major proportion of the nutrients supplied through the diet. Nutrients of particular importance include high quality protein and fatty acids, as well as specific vitamins and minerals. It is therefore not surprising that even subtle changes to an animal’s diet can have a striking impact on the condition of skin and coat. This is particularly important when preparing for the show ring where dry, flaky skin and poor, thinned hair coat would be a disaster!
The Role of Protein
The hair and skin of all mammals is made of up approximately 95% protein and as a result of the constant renewal process, consumes approximately 30% of the overall daily protein intake. The quality of dietary protein thus plays a significant role in maintaining the health, lustre and quality of the skin and coat. Proteins are made up of a number of different building blocks (called amino acids) of which some are deemed essential by the body and must be obtained through the diet. In addition, different amino acids will have various biological activity. Sulfur amino acids, methionine and cysteine, are particularly important for keratin synthesis, where keratin is the main protein that makes up hair. Phenylalanine and tyrosine are amino acids that are precursors of melanin, which is what gives the hair coat its colour. An overall protein deficiency will therefore be seen with a thin, rough, dry hair coat (due to a decrease in hair diameter and hair bulb size and brittle hair shafts).
The Role of Fats
Dietary fats, or lipids, have 4 major roles in the body: as an energy store, structural component of cell membranes, precursors of inflammatory mediators and absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are of particular importance in maintaining the skin’s barrier function as well as regulating skin cell proliferation. Both omega 6 and 3 fatty acids are PUFAs and considered essential (so must be obtained through diet). Linoleic acid (LA), of the omega 6 series, is integral for the production of specialised lipids called ceramides, which hold the skin cells together and forms the water-proof barrier layer of the skin. Best sources of LA include flax seed, safflower, sunflower and soybean oils. A deficiency of LA usually results in a dull, dry, sparse hair coat. Gamma-linoleic acid (GLA) is produced from the metabolism of linoleic acid and helps drive the synthesis of anti-inflammatory mediators. Together, LA and GLA influence the quality of the sebum produced and appropriate supplementation is required to ensure coat brilliance and sheen.
Omega 3 fatty acids, eicosapentanoic acid (EPA) and docosapentanoic acid (DHA), are well known for their anti-inflammatory properties as they inhibit the synthesis of certain inflammatory mediators. EPA and DHA (sourced from fish oil), together with GLA (sourced from borage and evening primrose oils) are of particular benefit in various skin problems, specifically those of allergic origin.
A number of different vitamins also play a significant role in helping maintain a healthy skin and coat. Vitamin A regulates skin cell growth and sebum production. Together with zinc and sulfur-containing amino-acids, vitamin A is also important for maintaining the integrity of the skin as a barrier. Vitamin E is an antioxidant, protecting cells from free-radical damage. Biotin, also referred to as vitamin H, is important for amino acid and fatty acid synthesis which contributes to healthy skin and a shiny coat.
Research conducted at the Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition lead to the production of a synergistic cocktail of 4 B-group vitamins and 1 amino acid. Patented by Royal Canin, and referred to as the skin barrier complex, this cocktail was shown to significantly reinforce the effectiveness of the skin’s barrier function by promoting ceramide synthesis. As a result tansepidermal water loss (ie water evaporation through the skin) was markedly reduced.
Zinc and copper are important minerals that contribute to overall quality of the skin and coat. Zinc plays a significant role in cell multiplication, and since the skin is in a constant state of renewal, zinc is thus a crucial trace element. It is also essential for the synthesis of fatty acids and is involved in vitamin A metabolism and synthesis of collagen and keratin. Deficiencies in zinc are especially visible in the skin with erythema (redness), alopecia (hair loss) and dandruff being the main symptoms. A copper deficiency usually only results when excessive zinc is added to the diet, so reduces intestinal absorption. Copper is required for the production of melanin pigments and keratin, and a deficiency will lead to altered coat pigmentation and keratinisation defects of the skin.
Royal Canin has a long-held belief that nutrition plays a crucial role in helping maintain the overall health and well-being of dogs and cats. Specific nutrients, supplied in precise combinations, will directly influence and enhance the quality, integrity, health and shine of the skin and coat. The skin really is an excellent mirror of inner health and finding the best nutritional solution for your show dogs, is crucial for reaching those incredible goals. Look out for our new Show Beauty products, specifically designed to enhance the magnificence of your show dog’s skin and coat.