Skip to content

Zinc Deficiency In Dogs

↯ Key takeaway points

  • Zinc is important for dogs' health, including wound healing, cell growth, and amino acid production.
  • Zinc-responsive dermatosis is a skin condition caused by zinc deficiency, which has three types: type I due to inadequate intestinal absorption, type II due to supplements interfering with zinc absorption, and type III due to lack of zinc in the diet.
  • Symptoms of zinc deficiency in dogs include diarrhea, dry and dull coat, crusty skin lesions, enlarged lymph nodes, fever and secondary infections, and can impact digestion, skin health, thyroid gland, and seizure susceptibility.
  • Zinc-rich foods for dogs include fresh meat, seafood, dairy products, grains, and vegetables like asparagus and broccoli, and zinc toxicity can be deadly, so supplements should only be given after consulting with a vet.
Written by Jay
BsC (Hons) Animal Behaviour & Welfare graduate with a passion for advocating for misunderstood animals.
Zoo and wildlife doctor in veterinary medicine passionate about animal welfare and preventive medicine.
Published on
Wednesday 23 March 2022
Last updated on
Wednesday 10 May 2023
zinc deficiency in dogs -symptoms and types
This page may contain affiliate links. We may receive a commission if you make a purchase using these links.

When a dog doesn’t get enough zinc, it can lead to a condition known as zinc-responsive dermatosis. This condition has three types, each with a different cause and presentation. The symptoms of zinc deficiency in dogs include distinctive skin lesions, enlarged lymph nodes, and a dry coat. A metabolic abnormality causes one type of zinc-responsive dermatosis, while dietary issues cause the other two.

To explain this scientific information to a non-scientific audience, we can say that zinc is essential for dogs, just like it is for people. It helps their body to work properly, keep their skin healthy, and fight off sickness. If dogs don’t get enough zinc, they can get a skin condition called zinc-responsive dermatosis. This condition makes their skin look strange, their lymph nodes to get bigger, and their coat to become dry. There are three different kinds of zinc-responsive dermatosis, and they all have different causes.

In summary, dogs need to get enough zinc in their diet to maintain good health, and zinc-responsive dermatosis can have negative effects on a dog’s skin and overall health


Before discussing zinc deficiency in dogs, it’s important to cover what zinc does for the body, and where it comes from.

Zinc is a chemical element and an essential mineral. It is a slightly brittle metal at room temperature and has a silver-grey appearance, and it is the 24th most abundant element in the Earth’s crust. As well as this, zinc is an essential trace element for humans, animals, plants, and microorganisms. Over 300 enzymes in the body need zinc to work properly; it is the only metal appearing in all enzyme classes. Zinc is also necessary for building amino acid chains like glutamic acid and histidine.

Animal products such as eggs, meat, fish, and dairy contain zinc. Plants contain zinc, too, but the concentration varies depending on the amount in the soil. With enough zinc in the soil, wheat (germ and bran) and seeds like sesame, alfalfa, celery, and mustard can be high in zinc. Zinc is also found in nuts, beans, almonds, whole grains, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and blackcurrants.

Despite the many sources of zinc, nearly two billion people worldwide are deficient in zinc. This brings us to the topic: dogs can suffer from zinc deficiency, too!

What is Zinc Deficiency or Zinc-Responsive Dermatosis

Zinc is an essential nutrient for your dog’s body, and not getting enough of it can lead to serious health issues. Your furry friend needs zinc in their diet to support wound healing, cell growth, and amino acid production. When these processes are not functioning properly, your dog may experience skin problems such as lesions, itching, and fever. This condition is called zinc-responsive dermatosis.

what is zin deficiency in dogs
Your dog needs zinc in their diet to support wound healing, cell replication, and amino acid production

Types of Zinc-Responsive Dermatosis

There are three types of zinc-responsive dermatosis. These types may also be called “syndrome I”, “syndrome II”, and “syndrome III” by your vet rather than “type.” While two are directly related to your dog’s diet, one type comes from a problem with your dog’s digestive system. Because zinc-responsive dermatosis can look like several other skin diseases, your vet will first rule out all other conditions.

Such conditions include Demodex infections, fungal infections, and autoimmune diseases. A definitive diagnosis is made by obtaining biopsies of the crusty areas for analysis in a lab. If your dog has zinc-responsive dermatosis, the lab will find that the skin displays parakeratotic hyperkeratosis with inflammation.

Type I

Type 1 zinc-responsive dermatosis occurs most commonly in Siberian Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes. However, it is also seen in Doberman Pinschers and Great Danes. Dogs with this type get enough zinc from their diet, so their disease comes down to inadequate intestinal absorption rather than a problem with their food.

The associated skin lesions include scaling and crusts around the mouth, eyes, and bottom. Dogs with this type of zinc-responsive dermatosis may also develop a dry and dull coat that may or may not also be itchy. If your dog has type I, they may need zinc supplements for the rest of their life.

Type II

In contrast to type 1 zinc-responsive dermatosis, type 2 is directly related to dietary supplements. More specifically, it relates to supplements that interfere with zinc absorption by binding with phytates and calcium. It can also occur when your dog eats a diet high in calcium. Most often, fast-growing large breeds suffer from type II zinc-responsive dermatosis. Such breeds include Standard Poodles, Doberman Pinschers, German Shepherds, and Great Danes.

Like type 1, type 2 causes lesions on the skin. But, it also causes thick crusts on the footpads, poor appetite, lethargy, and enlarged lymph nodes. If your dog has type II, a change in diet will often clear up their symptoms. You may need to supplement their diet with zinc initially but follow your vet’s instructions closely.

Type III

The third type of zinc-responsive dermatosis is also known as a “generic dog food disease.” Dogs with this type eat foods that are lacking in zinc. According to DVM 360, the third type can develop as early as two to four weeks after being fed commercial dog food. It is prevalent in puppies.

Like the other types, type III manifests with skin lesions, fever, depression, and enlarged lymph nodes. Because this type comes from your dog’s diet, a vet may call it a “zinc deficiency” rather than zinc-responsive dermatosis. A vet will get your dog to eat a high-quality diet with enough zinc to treat their dermatosis.

Symptoms of Zinc Deficiency in Dogs

As a loving pet owner, it’s important to be aware of zinc deficiency in dogs, so you can recognize the symptoms early. Zinc is crucial for your dog’s health, and without enough of it in their diet, they may experience a range of health problems.

Symptoms of zinc deficiency in dogs include diarrhea, dry and dull coat, crusty skin lesions, enlarged lymph nodes, fever, and secondary bacterial or fungal infections. Zinc deficiency may also affect your dog’s sense of smell and taste.

A lack of zinc can negatively impact your dog’s digestion, leading to more severe diarrhea. Zinc is also vital for healthy skin, and a deficiency can result in eczematous, crusty plaques of irritated skin around the eyes, nose, mouth, and anus. Hair loss and a dull coat are also common.

Zinc is necessary for the body to produce thyroid hormones, and a deficiency can lead to hypothyroidism, causing your dog to gain weight, become lethargic, and develop cold sensitivity. They may also experience hair loss and dark pigmentation in their coat.

A 2003 study on mice found that zinc deficiency may contribute to the incidence of epileptic seizures, but we don’t know if this is true for dogs.

In conclusion, it’s important to ensure that your dog is receiving the right amount of zinc in their diet to maintain their overall health and well-being.

Chronic Digestive Issues

In dogs, a zinc deficiency will contribute to your dog having more diarrhea. Your dog’s diarrhea may also be more severe. This is troublesome, as diarrhea is both a sign of and a cause of zinc deficiency when it is severe. But why does this symptom arise? Studies show that even a moderate zinc deficiency negatively impacts digestion. This is because zinc impacts the metabolic functions necessary for digestion.

Crusty Patches of Dermatitis 

The skin contains approximately 6% of the body’s total zinc reserves in humans. So, with a deficiency of zinc, the skin suffers the consequences. Your dog may develop eczematous, crusty plaques of irritated skin around the eyes, nose, mouth, and anus.

A biopsy of these areas can reveal that a zinc deficiency is to blame for your dog’s symptoms. Hair loss is also common around these affected areas, which may present as total alopecia. The coat may also become dry and dull.

Malfunctioning Thyroid Gland

Zinc, among other trace elements, is necessary for the body to make thyroid hormones. Without these elements, your dog may develop hypothyroidism. Conversely, thyroid hormones are necessary for zinc absorption.

If the deficiency affects your dog’s thyroid hormones, you might notice them gaining weight, developing lethargy, getting cold easily, and losing hair. They might also develop dark pigmentation in the coat that was not there before. Feeding them the right dog food can help them gain the right amount of zinc.


A 2003 study on mice found that zinc deficiency may contribute to the incidence of epileptic seizures. The study states that zinc deficiency might increase seizure susceptibility due to decreased GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid) concentrations. In the brain, GABA has anti-seizure and anti-anxiety effects. However, we don’t know if zinc deficiency makes epilepsy worse in dogs.

effects of zinc deficiency in dogs
Zinc deficiency can also lessen your dog’s sense of smell and taste

Zinc Deficiency in Dogs: FAQ

Have any more questions or concerns about zinc deficiency in dogs? Feel free to check out our Frequently Asked Questions section for more details. If in doubt about your dog’s nutritional needs, always ask your vet for advice.

How is zinc-responsive dermatosis diagnosed?

The diagnosis is made by considering your dog’s clinical signs and breed. Your vet will rule out other possible causes for your dog’s skin lesions, such as bacterial or fungal infections and autoimmune disorders. A definitive diagnosis is made by taking a sample of your dog’s skin lesions.

A lab can look at the sample under a microscope to see if they have a zinc deficiency. If a zinc deficiency is to blame, a lab will tell your vet that their skin shows parakeratotic hyperkeratosis with inflammation. Your vet will also ask you questions about your pet’s diet to see if it contains enough zinc. If it does, a type I zinc-responsive dermatosis diagnosis may be given to your dog.

How is zinc deficiency in dogs treated?

A vet will do several things to treat zinc deficiency in dogs. Firstly, any secondary infections are treated with antibiotics for three to four weeks. Alongside this, antiseborrheic shampoos, hydrating creams, and fatty acid supplementation may be used to treat crusting skin lesions. The dietary imbalance must be corrected in dogs with type III zinc deficiency by replacing the diet with high-quality, AAFCO-approved food.

Most dogs’ skin lesions are typically cleared up within two to six weeks of the diet change. Oral zinc supplementation in zinc sulfate may also be necessary for some dogs in the beginning or lifelong if they cannot absorb zinc properly.

What are foods high in zinc for dogs?

Zinc is abundant in fresh meat, seafood, dairy products, and grains. As such, you’ll find that beef, pork, and poultry are great sources of zinc for dogs. When choosing your dog’s food, be sure to go with high-quality food with a real protein source to help ensure that they get enough zinc. There are also several vegetables that are high in zinc, including asparagus and broccoli, both of which are safe for dogs. Vegetables can work as healthy treats for your pooch!

Can too much zinc be bad for dogs?

As with any other supplement, too much zinc is bad, and zinc toxicity is possible. The amount of zinc necessary to cause poisoning depends on your pooch’s size and how much was eaten. But, eating things like pennies, nuts, bolts, zippers, and jewelry is most likely to cause zinc toxicity.

For some dogs, ingesting just two pennies can cause zinc poisoning. Zinc toxicity causes vomiting, diarrhea, depression, and anemia. If your dog shows these symptoms, be sure to go to an emergency vet right away. Pets with severe poisoning risk heart damage, organ enlargement, and seizures.

Is a zinc supplement recommended?

If your dog is getting a high-quality, complete diet already, they do not need any zinc supplements. If you are unsure, look for diets that meet all of the AAFCO’s guidelines for dog food. It is also important not to over-supplement your dog with zinc, as zinc toxicity can be deadly. If in doubt about your dog’s nutrition, it’s always best to talk to your vet for advice. They can refer you to a veterinary nutritionist to discuss your pet’s needs.

Zinc deficiency in dogs causes skin lesions, dry coats, fever, and depression. To diagnose your dog with a zinc deficiency, a vet must rule out all other skin conditions that might be responsible. They also confirm the condition with a laboratory before making the diagnosis. Luckily, the prognosis for zinc-responsive dermatosis in dogs is good. Most dogs recover fully. Those that do not may need zinc supplements for the rest of their lives.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *