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Reasons your dog's coat is dry and dull

Dr Sarah Wooten
Article written by Dr Sarah Wooten

Date published 13 August 2019

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When a dog is unhealthy, the skin and hair are often the first to suffer. Find out what a dull coat means for your dog's health, and what you can do to help.

🕒 8 min read

A healthy coat is often a sign of a healthy dog. When something is wrong with your pooch, you will likely see their coat become dull and dry, and the skin may become red and sore with scabs. Sometimes a dull coat can be easily remedied with just some lifestyle adjustments, but at other times it can be a sign of a bigger problem. Here we'll go through what can cause a dull coat in your dog, what you can do about it, and when it might be a sign of a bigger issue.

Symptoms of an unhealthy coat

Symptoms of an unhealthy coat include:

  • Dull, dry fur
  • Scaly flakes of skin (like dandruff)
  • Smelly fur
  • Red skin
  • Scabs, which may weep
  • Excessive itching
  • Darker fur may visibly change colour, i.e. shiny black becomes dull grey

Reasons for a dull coat in dogs

When a dog is unhealthy, the skin and hair are often the first to suffer. The reasons are manifold. First, the skin and coat organs are large, and require large amounts of nutrients to maintain them. Secondly, when a dog is sick, the body thinks to protect the vital organs, the brain and heart, first. So, the body will 'steal' nutrients from other organs that are considered less important, in this case, the skin and coat.

Some common reasons your dog may suddenly have a dull coat include:

  • Allergies: Allergens can irritate the skin, causing your dog to itch. This can be due to food allergies or allergens in the environment.
  • Nutrient deficiencies: Just like humans, dogs need a balanced diet to be at their best. So, if they're not getting all the nutrients they need, their coat will lose its shine. Commercial complete dog foods in the UK should be approved and fully balanced; however, not all foods are equal, and some have lower-quality ingredients.
  • Dehydration: Hydration is just as important for dogs as it is for us. And so, dehydration can impact skin health, which can lead to a dull and dry coat.
  • Grooming routine: A good grooming routine is essential for keeping your pooch's coat in good condition, however, over- and under-grooming can both have negative effects. Too much or too little bathing and brushing can cause your dog's coat to become dry and dull. It's also possible to be using a shampoo that doesn't suit your dog's skin, as they can be sensitive.
  • Parasites: Both external and internal parasites can affect the skin, especially if there is a large infection. When it comes to external parasites, such as fleas, ticks and mites, they bite the skin and cause your dog to itch due to discomfort.
  • Environment: You know how your skin can become dry in cold weather? The same goes for dogs. If the weather is cold and dry, your dog's skin may become dry and itchy, leading to the coat becoming dry.
  • Underlying health conditions: Sometimes, when your dog is sick, the skin and coat will suffer first as the dog's immune system works to protect vital organs. Thyroid disorders, diabetes, Cushing's syndrome and hormone imbalances are just some of the health conditions that can cause a dull coat in your dog.

How to inject life back into a dull coat

Sometimes, a dull coat can be fixed with a little TLC. Simply improving your dog's diet or grooming routine will be all it takes to remedy a dull coat. Other times, it may take a little more and may even need a trip to the vet to rule out any underlying health issues.

Be patient when looking for results as hair grows in three phases: anagen, telogen, and catagen. Every strand of hair on your dog's body is in its own phase of development, and regrowth or improvement of the coat depends partially on these phases.

Here are the ways you can try to get your dog's coat back to being shiny and glossy again:

Check with your vet

First thing's first, if you are concerned about your dog's dull coat, get them checked by a vet to rule out any underlying health issues. Sometimes, a dull coat is due to underlying hormonal imbalances, such as excessive cortisol levels seen with Cushing's syndrome, abnormal thyroid levels, or diabetes. Your veterinarian will be able to run blood tests that will determine if your dog has any of these conditions. You can also get your dog checked for allergies, as this can cause itchy skin and a dry coat too.

If everything checks out normal, it's time to try some of the additional ideas below.

Improve your dog's diet

Although all dog food in the UK is technically a balanced diet, if it is a complete food, not all complete food is created equally. So, ensuring you give your dog high-quality food without cheap fillers can be a good start to improving your dog's coat condition. Look for high-quality protein sources (not derivatives) that come from one source, where meat is the main ingredient, without cheap fillers such as cereal. Natural foods are better for your dog too.

If you use mixers or are feeding a raw, homemade diet, ensure your dog is getting everything they need. You may need to talk to a vet or nutritionist to make sure your dog is getting the right combination of essential nutrients in their diet.

Also, reduce the treats. Just like too much junk food can cause your health to deteriorate, too many treats can have a negative effect on your dog, which can often be seen in the coat.

Consider supplements

A dull, dry coat can often be due to micronutrient deficiencies. Quite often, this can be due to a lack of omega 3. Even if you feed your dog the best dog food available, they may still lack the perfect amount of omega 3, especially if the protein source isn't fish. Omega-3 fatty acids aid skin and coat health by improving the framework upon which skin cells are built and organised. Studies have shown that dog skin that is lacking in omega-3 fatty acids is disorganised, allowing harmful irritants and infections to slip through and cause damage. Dogs that are supplemented with omega-3 fatty acids show better-organised skin cells that present better barrier and protection. As a result, a healthy dog with a dull coat may benefit from omega-3 fatty acid supplementation from a high-quality fish or flaxseed oil.

Your dog's coat can also benefit from vitamin E and zinc supplementation, as these vitamins are known to increase the bioavailability of omega-3 fatty acids. Vitamins C and B (pyridoxine, B12, biotin, riboflavin, d-pantothenic acid, and thiamine) function as protective antioxidants, working against skin-damaging free radicals, and are also known to work in conjunction with each other to improve collagen and skin immune function. While dogs aren't concerned with wrinkles or anti-aging like humans, promoting skin health with biologically appropriate supplements helps to improve overall health and well-being, and aids in longevity.

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Improvement in a dull coat is also dependent on how bad a deficiency your dog has in certain nutrients. As previously described, the body will utilise the nutrients for the vital organs first. Once those deficiencies are met, the body will mete out nutrients to other organs, including skin and coat. Dog owners are often advised to give the skin and coat supplement 6-8 weeks to build up to appropriate levels in the system before deciding on whether the supplement is improving a dull coat.

Ensure parasite protection is up to date

As parasites can irritate the skin, ensuring your dog's parasite protection is in place is a good idea if they have a dull coat and itchy skin. How often you need to protect against parasites will depend on their lifestyle, age and the medication you use for them. Protection against external parasites, such as fleas, and internal parasites, such as worms, will ensure that your dog doesn't get infected, which will mean these parasites can't cause their skin to become uncomfortable. If you're unsure of what parasite protection your dog needs, check with your vet.

Check your dog's grooming routine

Every dog is different and has different grooming needs. So, this may take a bit of trial-and-error. Work out what your dog needs when it comes to grooming. As a general rule, long-haired dogs need more grooming than short-haired pooches. Also, check that the shampoo and other grooming products you use are suitable for your dog. If you are unsure, talk to your vet or groomer.

Related: How to bathe your dog

Caring for your dog's coat

Your dog's coat can often be a warning sign for issues below the surface. A healthy coat is often a sign of a healthy dog, so make sure you are keeping an eye on its condition. A dry coat and itchy skin can often be due to something simple like a small nutrient deficiency, but sometimes it can be because of an underlying health issue. So, if you notice your dog has a dull, dry coat, be sure to get them checked by a vet. Once they have the all-clear, check their food, grooming routine and parasite protection.

Sometimes, your dog may need a little extra help getting all the nutrients they need. If your dog needs a little extra support, check out our range of supplements for pets.

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Dr Sarah Wooten

About Dr Sarah Wooten

Sarah Wooten DVM is a small animal veterinarian and certified veterinary journalist. She is a 2002 graduate of the prestigious School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California in Davis.