Skin problems are the biggest issues affecting dogs … with causes that can lead to a variety of symptoms. If your dog is experiencing crusty sores, excessive itching and has a dull coat with hair loss, one cause might be a zinc deficiency.
There are three types of zinc deficiency that you’ll read about in a bit. First, if your dog has a zinc deficiency, here’s what to do.
How To Manage Zinc Deficiency In Dogs
Your dog’s body doesn’t store a lot of zinc so he must get it from his diet. AAFCO sets minimum links for growth and maintenance in dog diets (read the numbers below). A 2021 paper by Pereira et al at Portugal’s Universidade do Porto (1) suggested that organic sources of zinc are more bioavailable and often associated with benefits for dogs’ health. But your dog needs regular zinc, not extremes of highs and lows.
Feed A Raw Meat Diet
A whole food, raw meat diet can supply sufficient zinc consistently. But if you’re not feeding meat, organs and bones, your dog might still face a zinc deficiency. So you might also need a zinc supplement to complement your homemade diet.
If you feed kibble …
You can add whole foods to your dog’s processed food diet to make up for the lack of zinc. Here’s are some foods to add zinc to his diet:
- Red meat including beef, plus duck, chicken, lamb and pork
- Fish including salmon and sardines
- Nuts like cashews and almonds
- Seeds including pumpkin, sesame and hemp
Dry dog foods should contain the minimum amount of zinc needed for healthy dietary requirements. But the Portuguese study referenced above found commercial dog foods were not consistent in zinc concentrations. Some only provided 50% of the daily requirement and others were as low as 20% (1) The other problem is that processed food is often high in phytates that interfere with your dog’s ability to absorb zinc. So if you’re feeding kibble, a high-quality, balanced brand is key.
Zinc Supplements For Dogs
If your dog has a zinc deficiency, keep in mind that organic sources are best. But if your dog needs extra zinc, you can give oral supplements in tablet form. These should be crushed and added to his food to aid with absorption. TAsk your vet to help you determine the right dosage based on your dog’s need.
What Type Of Zinc Supplement Is Best?
Zinc supplements come in different forms. A study by Ozpinar et al at (2) examined the bioavailability of 3 inorganic forms of zinc in puppies … zinc oxide, zinc acetate, and zinc sulfate. They found that zinc sulfate was better absorbed. But a study by Lowe et al at UK dog manufacturers Gilbertson & Page, compared zinc oxide to zinc amino acid ehelate, and found the organic form (amino-acid chelate) was twice as bioavailable and promoted better hair growth (3).
If the deficiency is a severe case, your vet can also give zinc injections.
The daily amount of zinc recommended zinc for adult dogs set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is 120 mg of zinc per kg of food, on a dry-matter basis (meaning with the moisture removed), not your dog’s weight. Or, on a caloric basis, the minimum is 20 mg per 1000 kcal for adults and 25 mg for puppies.
Now that you know how you can remedy a zinc deficiency, here’s why zinc is so important.
Importance of Zinc For Dogs
Zinc is found in every cell in the body (1). It’s an essential mineral to your dog’s health with many beneficial effects:
- A catalyst for enzymes involved in protein, carbohydrate and fat metabolism
- Supports healthy skin and coat — about 5% of the body’s zinc content is found in the skin
- Improves healing of wounds and collagen formation
- Involved with reproduction, growth, blood clotting and proper blood-sugar balance
- Works synergistically with antioxidants to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation
- Strengthens immune function
- Involved in cell division
- Replication of DNA and RNA
- Supports eyesight
- Boosts cognitive function including learning and memory
- Involved in the production of hormones
Here are symptoms to watch for if you suspect your dog has a zinc deficiency.
Signs of Zinc Deficiency in Dogs
- Frequent infections due to a weakened immune system
- Suppressed immune response
- Slow wound healing
- Crusty sores, cracks or lesions on lips, nose, eyes, ears, mouth, inner legs or groin
- Skin lesions
- Red or swollen paw pads, thickened pads
- Excessive itching/scratching
- Dull coat hair loss (alopecia)
Puppies and pregnant/nursing and breeding dogs may show other symptoms, including:
- Birth defects and stunted growth
- Stillborn puppies
- Lowered sexual function
If your dog has a severe deficiency he may have these symptoms:
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Lack of appetite (anorexia)
- Depression or lethargy
Over time, severe zinc deficiency can lead to …
- Organ failure because of poor function of the heart, liver or kidneys
- Digestive problems including diarrhea
- Thyroid issues that affect the body’s metabolism
- Seizures because of interruption of the brain’s neurotransmitters
Diagnosis of Zinc Deficiency in Dogs
If your dog is showing some of these symptoms, you’ll want to have your vet do a clinical exam and review his history. A blood test is possible but it is often inaccurate as a dog’s age or other illnesses can affect zinc levels. A skin biopsy may show signs of zinc deficiency. If giving a zinc supplement improves your dog’s symptoms, that is one form of confirming that it was a zinc deficiency.
Here are 3 types of zinc deficiencies.
Zinc-Responsive Dermatosis In Dogs
Three types of zinc-responsive dermatosis are a result of genetics, nutrition or quality of food.
This is more serious than just a zinc deficiency. Type I is the result of a genetic defect and causes poor intestinal absorption of zinc (4). Your dog should be able to absorb 15 to 40% of the zinc consumed in his diet. He doesn’t store zinc so he has to have a constant supply that he uses for his daily intake.This problem is rare but it can lead to a lot of health issues for your dog, including skin and coat problems, digestive issues and immune system complications.
It’s usually linked to northern breeds like Siberian Huskies or Alaskan Malamutes. It also affects Bull Terriers, Labrador Retrievers, Doberman Pinschers, Standard Poodles, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Rottweilers, German Shorthaired Pointers, Beagle, Rhodesian Ridgebacks and Great Danes.
Dogs with Type I require daily zinc supplements for life.
Type II is a nutritional deficiency. Food may have low levels of essential fatty acids or may contain high levels of phytates, calcium, phosphorus or magnesium. They bind with zinc and interfere with zinc absorption. It’s often seen in fast-growing large and giant breeds like Great Danes, German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Standard Poodles and Doberman Pinschers.
Most dogs with Type II respond to a change in diet. Supplementing zinc for a short period of time might be necessary.
This type of zinc-responsive dermatosis is often called “generic food disease.” It’s usually a result of a cheap, unbalanced commercial diet that doesn’t have adequate levels (5) or even the minimum amount of zinc required by the National Research Council (NRC) and AAFCO. And it’s often not bioavailable and can’t be properly digested.
These dogs will also respond to a change in diet along with zinc supplementation until their symptoms clear.
Zinc Toxicity in Dogs
Acute zinc toxicity can occur due to food eaten from galvanized containers. But dogs can overdose on zinc by eating non-food items like pennies (6), batteries and skin creams. And zinc toxicity can be life-threatening.
Zinc poisoning (7) can be mistaken for a digestive upset. Initial symptoms are mild but get worse within a few hours or days. Signs of zinc overdose include:
- Abnormal color urine
- Loss of appetite,
- Weight loss
- Seizures or convulsions
- Pale/yellow gums
- Irregular heartbeat
- Kidney and liver damage
Treatment will vary depending on symptoms and what your dog ate Your vet may induce vomiting, give medications, administer IV fluids, or perform surgery as needed.
Getting enough zinc in your dog’s diet is all about balance and quality — whether it’s a whole food raw diet or processed kibble … to ensure your dog’s getting the nutrients he requires.
- Pereira, AM, et al. Zinc in Dog Nutrition, Health and Disease: A Review. Animals (Basel). 2021 Apr 1;11(4):978.
- Ozpinar H et al. Investigation of excretion and absorption of different zinc salts in puppies. Lab. Anim. 2001;35:282–287.
- Lowe JA et al. Absorption and retention of zinc when administered as an amino-acid chelate in the dog. J. Nutr. 1994;124:2572S–2574S.
- Colombini S, Dunstan RW. Zinc-responsive dermatosis in northern-breed dogs: 17 cases (1990-1996). J Am Vet Med Assoc. 1997 Aug 15;211(4):451-3.
- vandenBroek, AHM, et al. Skin disease in dogs associated with zinc deficiency: a report of five cases. Journal of Small Animal Practice, Volume 27, Issue 5.
- Bennett, Daniel R., et al. Zinc Toxicity Following Massive Coin Ingestion. The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Patholog. June 1997 – Vol 18 – Issue 2.
- Gurnee CM, Drobatz KJ. Zinc intoxication in dogs: 19 cases (1991-2003). Journal of the AVMA. 2007 Apr;230(8):1174-1179.