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uncommon dog conditions

Zinc deficiencies in dogs, explained

Zinc-related health problems are more common than you’d think. Here’s how to identify a zinc deficiency in your dog.

Updated September 8, 2020

Created By

Marissa DePino,
Sad husky

Samoyed and Siberian Huskies are among the breeds with the highest likelihood of a zinc deficiency

Zinc is an essential mineral in your dog’s body that helps produce cell membranes, hormones, proteins, and over 300 enzymes. It plays a crucial role in primary bodily functions. It supports thyroid functionality, immune system activity, and sexual responses. On top of all that, it also keeps your dog’s skin and fur healthy. In other words, things can go seriously wrong when there isn’t enough zinc in your dog’s system. The challenge is that too much can be toxic — more on that later.

We recommend 120 mg of zinc per day for adult dogs, with a maximum daily consumption of 1000 mg. The good news is that most quality dog foods carry just the right amount of zinc to meet your dog’s needs.

What is zinc-responsive dermatosis?

If zinc isn’t absorbed into your dog’s body, a zinc deficiency known as zinc-responsive dermatosis can occur. The most common symptoms are crusty skin lesions around the eyes, mouth, and scrotum. Although rare, zinc-responsive dermatosis causes a breadth of problems for your dog, from skin abnormalities and digestive issues to complications with the immune system.

Zinc-responsive dermatosis is a result of malabsorption in the small intestine. It prevents the body from absorbing zinc and all the nutrients it offers. Typically, your dog’s body absorbs between 15 to 40 percent of zinc consumed. The problem is that your dog’s body has no way to store zinc. So without maintaining a sufficient supply intake, your dog can’t reach the necessary zinc levels.

Three types of zinc-responsive dermatosis stem from genetics, diet, and lifestyle.

Types of zinc-responsive dermatosis

Type I: The first type typically occurs in northern-breed dogs. Associated with breeds such as the Samoyed and Siberian Husky, Type I is a genetic condition. Regardless of consumption, a dog with Type I cannot absorb the mineral in their intestines, creating a deficiency. The dermatosis may go hand and hand with stress, heat, or gastrointestinal disease.

Type II: The second form of dermatosis is known to target giant breeds — think big dogs like Great Danes and Labrador Retrievers. Believe it or not, the most common cause is dietary supplements. Calcium and phytates bind to zinc and hinder its ability to absorb into the body, so supplements that have too much of those two minerals can be problematic over time.

Type III: The third type, dubbed “generic food disease,” comes down to your dog’s diet. Dogs eating mediocre quality dog food are at risk for a zinc deficiency.

Signs of zinc deficiency

Zinc levels are pretty challenging to read, so most diagnoses are made based on a combination of your dog’s past medical history, skin biopsies, and a physical exam. Your vet may recommend a skin biopsy, so a pathologist can look at the cells of your dog’s skin underneath the microscope to get an official diagnosis.

🚨 If you think your dog may have a zinc deficiency, make sure to consult with your vet to create a diagnostic and treatment plan.

Common symptoms

  • Skin lesions. Crusts and scales around the mouth, eyes, groin, and paws.

Uncommon symptoms

  • Immune system issues. Limits the system’s function by being overactive or underactive. Can result in hair loss and skin disease.
  • Organ failures. Prevents the function of the heart, liver, or kidney.
  • Digestive problems. Lack of appetite, often accompanied by diarrhea.
  • Thyroid issues. Impacts the body’s metabolism.
  • Seizures. Hinders the brain’s neurotransmitter process.

Breeds most prone to zinc deficiencies

  • Siberian Husky
  • Alaskan Malamute
  • Samoyed
  • Doberman Pinscher
  • Great Dane
  • German Shepherd
  • Labrador Retriever
  • Standard Poodle

Giving your dog zinc

Zinc is usually administered orally. Though in severe cases, your vet may issue an injection. Experts recommend crushing the tablets to serve with food to increase the absorption process. According to a journal in the National Library of Medicine, Type I dogs may require zinc supplementation for life. To manage the zinc supplement for your dog, speak with your veterinarian.

What’s the correct dosage?

👉 Always best to consult with your veterinarian regarding the specifics for your dog. 

For educational purposes, the dosage is individualized based upon your dog’s weight. The general recommendation is 25 mg of zinc for every 50 pounds of your dog’s weight. For an exact dosage formula, convert your dog’s body weight to kilograms. Then, take the kilogram weight to the power of .75 and multiply by 2 for a personalized dosage.

How do I prevent an overdose?

As mentioned above, giving your dog too much zinc can lead to zinc toxicity. Zinc toxicity is lethal for your dog — and all it takes is one large does. Single doses of 225 to 450 mg induce vomiting in your dog. Doses above 900 mg can cause death. To prevent an overdose, administer the correct dosage for your dog, keep all medications safely secured and stored in areas that are inaccessible to pets in the household, and pay attention to the signs of zinc toxicity:

Signs of zinc toxicity (AKA zinc poisoning)

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Jaundice (yellow discoloration to their skin, gums, and the whites of their eyes)
  • Lethargy
  • Increased heart rate
  • Panting

⚠️ If you suspect that your dog has zinc toxicity, contact Animal Poison Control immediately: (888) 426-4435