The Skin Microbiome

by Dr. Susan Hore, DVM March 24, 2017

Did you know that not only does the gut have a microbiome, but the skin is also home to a variety of bacteria, fungi, viruses and mites that live together symbiotically?  Similar to the gut microbiome, this diverse microecosystem forms part of the barrier that protects the skin from environmental insults and helps prevent dehydration. 

The skin microbiome of dogs has recently attracted more attention and research.  It appears that dogs have a more diverse skin microbiome than people, which isn’t surprising, since they spend more time rolling around on the ground and tend to bath much less frequently than people.  Also, the organisms found on different dogs tend to be fairly variable and don’t seem to be related to the dog’s age, sex or breed.

Similar to changes that can occur in an unhealthy gut, dysbiosis or an imbalance in the microbes, can also occur on the skin.  Dogs with atopic dermatitis (a common skin allergy affecting about 10% of dogs) tend to have decreases in the diversity of organisms living on the skin and often higher numbers of certain types of bacteria, such as Staphylococcus pseudintermedius.  This dysbiosis is associated with an impairment in the skin barrier, but which comes first – the damaged barrier or the altered microbiome?  What we do know is that certain bacteria can release substances that damage the skin barrier further, so maintaining a healthy, diverse microbiome is important on the skin, just like in the gut.

How can we help our dogs maintain a healthy skin microbiome? One tip is to avoid over bathing or using strong chemicals that can remove healthy oils and lipids on the skin’s surface.  Another is to ensure your dog is getting the best nutrition he can.  Nutrition is the cornerstone of health and your dog needs to eat and to absorb key nutrients from the diet.  As mentioned in previous blogs, a healthy gut microbiome is important for proper digestion and in developing and maintaining the immune system.  In turn, the healthy immune system will be less likely to develop allergies, including those affecting the skin.

Dr. Susan Hore, DVM
Dr. Susan Hore, DVM