Coat Changes in Dogs: Why Is My Dog’s Coat Dull and Dry?

What does your dog’s coat tell you about their health?

The skin and coat do serve essential functions. However, when the dog’s body lacks nutrients or has to battle with illness, there are higher priorities than skin and coat maintenance. The brain, heart, and other organs are a little bit more critical to survival. Changes in skin health and coat quality are an early warning that something isn’t right.

Coat Changes in Dogs: Why Is My Dog's Coat Dull and Dry?

Naturally, an acute illness wouldn’t have time to send any warning through the skin and coat quality. Chronic nutritional deficiencies or illness, however, do.

A healthy coat is full, shiny, and soft, with no areas of hair loss. A lustrous coat means a healthy dog. With the exception of your dog getting into dirt or mud, of course.

Cookie’s coat wasn’t very shiny after she was done that day.

What does a dry, dull coat mean?

Healthy skin and coat need an abundance of protein, fat, vitamins and minerals. Here is the good news. Many dogs can get their coat back to its luster by merely optimizing their intake of omega-6 fatty acids; linoleic acid.

Omega-6 fatty acids are needed for

  • cell membranes
  • immune function
  • kidney function, and other vital processes

The body will send them first where they’re needed the most. Skin and coat are not a high priority. They get if there are any left.

Fortunately, revisiting your dog’s diet or simply supplementing a little bit of vegetable oil can often fix dull, dry coat easily.

Grooming to the rescue?

When your dog is shedding, your dog’s coat will look dry and dull simply due to the undercoat making its way out. Regular brushing helps remove dust and dirt. Further, grooming also helps to activate oil production and distribution along the hair.

However …

Is your dog is well-fed (a complete and balanced diet) and well-groomed and still has a dull coat? You might be looking at a systemic problem.

If your dog’s skin is unhealthy, the coat will suffer as well. Perhaps your dog doesn’t digest or absorb their nutrients well, suffers from hormonal imbalances such as Cushing’s or hypothyroidism, or diabetes. Jasmine’s coat appearance declined greatly before she was diagnosed with poor thyroid function.

Digestive disturbances such chronic diarrhea, parasites, and cancer will reflect in a dull, dry coat.

Even chronic stress can affect the appearance of your dog’s coat, likely due to high cortisol levels as well.

Listen to what your dog’s coat is telling you

If your dog is getting good nutrition with sufficient levels of unsaturated fatty acids and is groomed well and their coat is still dull and dry, be thankful for the early warning and see your vet to investigate what is behind it.

Further reading:
Coat and Skin Appearance in the Healthy Dog

Categories: Dry coatDull coatSymptoms

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Jana Rade edited by Dr. Joanna Paul BSc BVSc

I am a graphic designer, dog health advocate, writer, and author. Jasmine, the Rottweiler of my life, was the largest female from her litter. We thought we were getting a healthy dog. Getting a puppy from a backyard breeder was our first mistake. Countless veterinary visits without a diagnosis or useful treatment later, I realized that I had to take Jasmine's health care in my own hands. I learned the hard way that merely seeing a vet is not always enough. There is more to finding a good vet than finding the closest clinic down the street. And, sadly, there is more to advocating for your dog's health than visiting a veterinarian. It should be enough, but it often is not. With Jasmine, it took five years to get a diagnosis. Unfortunately, other problems had snowballed for that in the meantime. Jasmine's health challenges became a crash course in understanding dog health issues and how to go about getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. Helping others through my challenges and experience has become my mission and Jasmine's legacy. I now try to help people how to recognize and understand signs of illness in their dogs, how to work with their veterinarian, and when to seek a second opinion. My goal is to save others the steep curve of having to learn things the hard way as I did. That is the mission behind my blog and behind my writing. That is why I wrote Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, which has turned out being an award-winning guide to dog owners. What I'm trying to share encompasses 20 years of experience. Dr. Joanna Paul BSc BVSc is our wonderful sponsor and has been kind to edit and fact-check my important articles.

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