What does your Dog’s Coat say about their Health?

Medically Reviewed by Dr Pippa Elliott
golden retriever with healthy dog coat

There’s a reason we’re attracted to soft shiny hair….It’s a sign of good health. This applies equally to a dog’s coat as it does to human hair. If your dog’s coat looks greasy, has bald patches, or a greasy feel – then it’s odds on your dog has a problem. This article gives you some answers why.

#1: Is your Dog’s Coat Thinning?

It can be distressing to discover your dog’s coat doesn’t regrow after its clipped or you see their skin through thinning hair.

First consider if your dog is itchy or not. If “Yes”, then the baldness could be due to scratching (see #2) and self-trauma.

If the dog isn’t itchy, take a look at where the hair is thinning and if it matches on the other side of the body (so called “bilaterally symmetrical alopecia, which is often a sign of hereditary or hormonal skin disease.)

Here are some examples of problems that cause dog’s coat thinning.

  • Hypothyroidism: Underactive thyroid glands decrease metabolic rate and this includes a slower rate of coat growth, patchiness, and baldness. A simple blood test can identify the problem, and a daily pill corrects the problem.
  • Cushing’s disease: An overproduction of natural steroid by glands in the body causes a thinning skin and coat, pot belly, and lack of energy. Depending on whether the overactive gland is in the brain or the belly, a daily pill may be the answer.
  • Seasonal Alopecia: Baldness (or alopecia) can be dependent on the seasons with some dog’s coat thinning at certain times of year, and regrows spontaneously at other times.
  • Hereditary Disorders: Hairless breed of dogs such as Chinese Crested or Mexican Hairless, have genetic quirks passed down through the generations which means they don’t grow a proper coat. Other conditions, such as Alopecia X in Pomeranians, are hereditary disorders that cause thinning coat and baldness through a mechanism that is not understood.

#2: Is your Dog Itchy and Scratchy?

Itchiness is most commonly due to parasites or an allergic reaction. The former can be cured, whilst the latter can only be controlled.

  • Parasites: There are lots of bugs which love to hitch a ride in your dog’s coat and make them itchy as a result. These include fleas, fox mange mites, ticks, and cheyletiella (a mite with the nick-name ‘Walking dandruff’!) Use an effective de-fleaing product regularly and if the problem persists see your vet.
  • Allergy: A common problem that makes for an itchy dog’s coat are allergies to things in the environment such as pollen, grass sap, or dust mites. Classic signs are that these dogs often lick their paws or chew their legs.
    Avoiding the allergen altogether often isn’t possible, so drugs may be needed at certain times of the year to control that irritating itch. Also using an appropriate dog shampoo on a regularly basis, flushes allergens from the skin’s surface to reduces the allergic stimulus.
  • Food Sensitivity: Food allergies can often manifest as itchy skin. Feeding a hypoallergenic diet for 12 weeks can work miracles, and after that, either keep feeding the same food or introduce one new food every two weeks to see if it triggers the itch.

#3: What if your Dog’s Coat Smells Bad?

A dog’s coat should not smell, and a bad smell usually indicates infection or heavy soiling. This may be due to a skin infection or the natural grease coating the hairs which has become contaminated.

It’s a good idea to part the hair to look for reddened of inflamed patches (See #4 Sticky Patches) If the problem is all over the body then a vet check is necessary. However, if the dog’s coat is thick and matted, then purchasing a set of dog clippers is a wise investment. Clipping out knots allows the air to circulate and helps bacterial infections to dry up.

Likewise if the coat is heavily soiled with mud or worse…use a dog shampoo to cleanse the skin and coat. This washes away yeasts and bacteria which can cause infection and irritation.

#4: Does your Dog’s Coat have Sticky Patches?

Sticky patches are usually the result of highly localised patches of skin infection, also known as ‘hot spots’. These tend to occur in thick coated breeds and in part are caused by poor air circulation over the skin.

Once a dog has a hot spot, they may need either antibiotic tablets or cream. In addition, you can help the patch to dry up by using dog clippers to remove the hair from the surrounding area and using a salt water solution as a mild disinfectant.

#5: Is your Dog’s Coat Dry and Flaky?

Dry coats can be caused for a variety reasons including poor general health or mite infestations. Here are some possible causes:

  • Cheyletiella: The ‘Walking dandruff’ might products a scaly appearance to a dog’s coat. Happily this is easily treated with de-fleaing products that contain fipronil.
  • Seborrhoea Sicca: Some dogs don’t produce enough natural oil which leads to a dry skin. Supplementing their diet with essential fatty acids helps to nourish the skin from the inside out.
  • Poor General Health: A dog with a long term health problem may not absorb vital nutrients, leading to low grade nutritional deficiencies and a poor coat.

#6: If your Dog’s Coat Looks Greasy

A greasy coat encourages the growth of bacteria and yeast, so it’s important to root out the cause.

  • Subarea oleosa: A condition where the dog’s coat produces too much oil. Control is difficult but regular bathing with the right dog shampoo helps to cleanse the hair and reduce secondary infections.
  • Yeast Infection: Dogs have a natural population of yeast on the surface of the skin. Unfortunately, this can sometimes overgrow and cause a greasy feel to the dog’s coat and skin. It’s important to address any underlying factors that weaken the skin’s immunity, such as allergies, and also to reduce the amount of grease with an effective anti-microbial shampoo.

Keeping your Dog’s Coat Healthy

Whether your dog’s coat is dry and brittle, through to greasy fur it’s important to look for an underlying reason for the problem. In addition, keeping your dog’s skin healthy helps to strengthen its immunity to fight off infections. So having a glossy coat is more than skin deep, and how you care for your dog’s coat is all important.

The importance of regular grooming with the right dog brush should not be underestimated. Not only does this keep the coat tangle free, but it spreads the natural oils which are Mother Nature’s coat conditioners. Grooming also stimulates the blood circulation to the skin to promote hair growth and keep the skin healthy.

And finally, remember your dog’s coat reflects their inner health. If their once shiny fur has become dry and dull, especially if their eating or drinking habits have changed, then get your pet checked by a vet.

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