Your dog’s coat can say a lot about his general health, because a lot of factors go into maintaining a healthy coat. When your dog’s coat is clean and shiny, it’s an indicator that he is in good condition. On the other hand, a dirty or matted coat can mean that your dog needs better care, or it could be an indicator of an illness or allergy. Here’s what to look for in a healthy coat, how to care for your dog’s coat, and what signs might indicate that something is wrong.
A healthy coat should have hair that’s smooth and supple, not dry, brittle or broken and should look shiny and lustrous, not greasy or dull. The coat should smell good, too, even when it hasn't just been washed. Dogs generally only need to be washed once a month; if you are washing this frequently and notice an unpleasant smell, this could indicate the presence of bacteria on the skin.
Diet plays an important role in maintaining a healthy, shiny coat. Feeding your dog premium pet food rich in fatty acids and meat, poultry or fish will help keep his coat in good shape. If you notice your dog’s coat is not looking healthy, you may consider adding a dietary supplement, but consult your vet to see if this is necessary, and what additional vitamins your dog might need.
Grooming is just as important. Starting when your dog is young, you should brush his coat every other day with a soft-bristled brush; you can ask your local pet store to recommend a good brush for your dog’s coat. Brush downward, in the direction his hair grows. Your strokes should brush down to the skin, but not on the skin, as this can cause irritation. If your dog’s hair is long and you encounter any matting while you brush, you can use a special condition formulated for dogs and a wide-toothed comb to de-tangle, but if you are brushing frequently enough, matting should not be a problem. You might also want to include a flea control product in your grooming routine; again, your local pet store can recommend the best kind for your dog.
As troublesome as it may be to clean up, shedding isn’t necessarily a sign of any serious problem. As long as your dog’s coat seems even and dense, and you don’t see any bald spots, his shedding is probably normal. But excessive shedding can be a sign that something is wrong. Remember, a dog’s diet plays a large role in the appearance of his coat. If you notice excess shedding, especially if you have recently switched foods, your dog might be reacting badly to something in his diet, or he might not be getting all the vitamins and minerals he needs. Shedding can also occur as a result of too much stress on your dog; look out for this if your dog has recently changed his environment or activities. In rare cases, excess shedding can indicate something much more serious, such as problems with your dog’s thyroid or immune system. You shouldn’t panic if your dog sheds more than usual, just keep an eye on him and alert your vet if you become concerned.
Allergies are very common in dogs; the most common allergens are airborne, such as dust or pollen, but dogs can also develop allergies to food. A telling sign of allergies is itchy skin; your dog will scratch himself so much that he will start losing hair in some places. If you suspect that your dog has allergies, you should contact your veterinarian so you can figure out what is irritating your dog. There are medications available if it’s airborne allergens that are bothering your dog. Food allergies require a change in diet in order to eliminate the problem. Remember, allergies to food can develop over a period of time; they’re not always a reaction to a new and foreign food product.
If you notice that your dog is biting or scratching himself often, shedding excessively, or if you see red bumps on his skin, he may have fleas. The good news is, you can effectively get rid of fleas, but the process of doing so requires that are you are very thorough in ridding both your dog and his surrounding environment of fleas. There are a variety of products available to help you get rid of fleas, but whatever you choose, you must carefully follow the instructions and continue using it until all fleas are gone.
If your dog’s hair becomes matted or dirty, or if he has a naturally thick coat, he is more prone to developing “hot spots,” a bacterial infection on the skin. Hot spots usually begin as bites or scratches, which become infected. When the infection spreads, hair falls out, pus forms, and you will notice an unpleasant smell. The spots will also be warm to the touch. Dogs with thick coats, such as Golden Retrievers or Cocker Spaniels, are the most likely to develop hot spots. You can help prevent hot spots with a good grooming routine, and by shaving your dog closely during the summer months.
Most problems with your dog’s coat can be prevented with a frequent and thorough grooming routine. If you get started early on with grooming your dog, it can be a fun and relaxing experience for you both.