Your dog’s coat doesn’t just offer them protection from the elements – it can give you insights into their overall health. Noticeable changes to the look, feel, and smell of your dog’s fur can be the first indicators that something is wrong.
Read on to learn what your dog’s coat should look like, common changes you may see in their fur, and what those changes are trying to tell you about your pup’s overall health.
What Does a Healthy Coat Look Like?
Your dog’s fur type will differ depending on their breed, but signs of a healthy coat are universal for all dogs.
If your dog is healthy and their coat is well maintained, their fur should feel soft and smooth. This even applies to dogs with short, wiry fur. Just like your own hair, your dog’s fur should also look shiny and bouncy. And it should smell good, even if they haven’t been washed in a few weeks.
If your dog’s coat looks or smells bad, it could be an early sign of an underlying health condition. That’s why it’s important to be familiar with the normal appearance and scent of your dog’s fur.
7 Ways Your Dog’s Coat Can Alert You to a Health Issue
Your dog’s coat is a window into their well-being, and any sign of change in their coat can give you great insight into other aspects of their health. These 7 changes to your dog’s coat will help you better understand their health and whether it’s time to see a vet:
1. Dull Coat
A dull coat can be a general warning sign of health issues in dogs, but it’s most often a sign of poor nutrition. Just like us, a dog’s hair responds to the nutrients (or lack thereof) in their diet.
If your dog’s coat is looking dull and lifeless, they’re likely not eating a balanced diet. In many cases, your dog needs more healthy fats in their diet, like Omega-3s from fish or supplements. However, this isn’t always the case.
Talk to your veterinarian for expert advice. They can run diagnostic tests to determine which of your dog’s key nutrients is out of balance – whether that’s fats, calcium, phosphorus, or other important nutrients. Then, you can work together to create a diet that will support your dog’s overall health.
2. Missing or Patchy Fur
Finding missing or bare patches of fur in your dog’s coat is common, and it’s often allergy-related. Your dog may be having a reaction to an ingredient in their food or, especially if it’s spring or fall, a reaction to pollen in the air.
If your dog is having an allergic reaction, they’ll likely be scratching at parts of their fur. But excessive scratching, biting, or licking at sections of their coat could be a sign of parasites.
3. Thinning Coat or Excessive Shedding
Like missing patches of fur, excessive shedding or thinning fur could be a sign of allergies, whether they’re food allergies or environmental allergies. In some cases, excessive shedding can also be a sign of stress. This can be triggered when your dog is new to a home, during periods of upheaval such as moving, or when they’re dealing with a traumatic experience.
Changes in hormones can also trigger hair loss, as well as a dull coat. Hypothyroidism is common in medium and large-breed dogs as they age. With this condition, the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough hormones. This can lead to thinning hair and other symptoms like weight gain and lethargy.
Cushing’s disease is another hormone-related condition that can cause hair loss. Dogs with this disease will typically experience symmetrical hair loss that only occurs on their midsection.
4. Smelly Coat
While dogs don’t always smell like roses, your dog’s coat should usually smell clean. If you’ve noticed a foul smell coming from your pup’s coat, they could have a yeast or bacterial infection on their skin. Skin infections are typically caused by allergies, and they’re often accompanied by other symptoms like:
- Head shaking
- Licking or biting at their fur
- Red, inflamed patches of skin and ears
- Hair loss
5. Graying Coat
In most cases, your dog’s graying coat is exactly what you’d expect: a normal sign of aging. Unlike humans, aging dogs tend to go gray in only a few spots, usually the muzzle and the face, and not all over their coat.
If your dog’s coat is changing colors all over, there’s more at play than just aging. Stress and anxiety can sometimes cause your dog’s body to stop producing pigment, which can turn their fur white. Other causes for graying or white fur include:
- Liver diseases
- Kidney disease
6. Itchy, Dry Coat
If your dog’s coat is dry and coarse, and you’ve noticed itchy or flaky skin, there could be a few different causes.
Allergies are a common cause of itchy, dry skin. Your dog can be allergic to many things, including pollen, dust, grass, an ingredient in their food, and even flea saliva. In fact, flea allergy dermatitis is the predominant cause of skin conditions in American dogs.
Dry skin and coat are also symptoms of bacterial and fungal infections, like ringworm, as well as disorders like Cushing’s disease, hypothyroidism, seborrhea, and auto-immune diseases.
7. Oily Coat
While seborrhea can cause your dog to have a dry, dull coat, it can also cause greasy skin and an oily coat that leaves your pup feeling itchy and smelling bad.
Seborrhea comes in two types: primary and secondary. Primary is a genetic condition that’s common in Cocker Spaniels, Basset Hounds, Dachshunds, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherds.
Secondary seborrhea is usually a result of another health condition, like allergies, endocrine diseases, obesity, or dietary deficiencies. In addition to an oily coat, your dog’s skin can also look red and inflamed, and you may notice bleeding or crusting on the skin.
Should You Be Worried About Your Dog’s Coat?
If you’ve noticed any changes in your dog’s coat health, it’s always best to consult your veterinarian right away.
Health conditions associated with changes in your dog’s fur range from nutritional deficiencies to serious diseases, and their coat is only one part of the bigger picture. Your vet can give you more insight into your dog’s overall health and identify any underlying problems.
So, what can you learn from your dog’s coat? Quite a bit! By being aware of the different symptoms and causes of coat health problems, you can better care for your pup and get them the treatment they need if something is wrong.
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