Healthy dog coat and skin

September 14th, 2008

A healthy dog coat is the sign of a healthy body. Caroline Zambrano discovers the secret to maintaining a naturally healthy coat and skin.

The skin is the canines largest, most visible organ and a reflection of whats going on inside the body. So to maintain and healthy coat and skin, you need to take care of the outside and inside of the body. To find out how, Dogs Life speaks to holistic veterinarian Dr Karen Goldrick and award-winning dog groomer Susie Simmons.

A good diet, parasite control and regular grooming will help to maintain a healthy coat and skin, says Goldrick, who has been a vet for 20 years and has a background in herbal medicine, with current study in acupuncture and chiropractic. An excellent diet is the best way to an excellent coat condition. However, this diet may be different for every dog, she says.

Goldrick shares some dietary advice that can help maintain a healthy coat and skin, but advises dog owners to consult with their vet first about food and supplements most suitable for their dog.

Healthy diet means a healthy coat and skin

Essential fatty acids, such as flax oil – which contains high levels of omega 3 fatty acids – will help keep the skin strong and well hydrated, and help maintain it as an effective barrier to the outside environment, she says. These fatty acids will also nourish a healthy, glossy coat. In many dogs, flax oil will help reduce itching.

Antioxidants are beneficial for health and vitality in general, as well as being specifically helpful for allergic dermatitis. Fresh wheat grass and barley grass contain beta-carotene, proteins, fibre and antioxidants, she says. Probiotics promote the health of the gastrointestinal tract and will therefore promote skin health, vitality, immunity and good health in general.

Zinc is also important for general skin health, Goldrick says. Zinc is one of the essential minerals that are supplemented in today’s commercial diets for dogs (and cats). Considered not so highly absorbable, zinc is also found in higher concentrations in meat and bone than it is in plant sources.

But animals with skin problems may require more supplemental zinc than is being fed in the diet. On the other end of the spectrum, overdosing can lead to problems with calcium absorption.

Goldrick says certain breeds of dog, like the Alaskan Malamute and Siberian Husky, are more prone to zinc-responsive skin disorders. Furthermore, dogs of other breeds may develop zinc deficiency if they are stressed or fed on a diet high in plant sources or calcium.

Signs of zinc deficiency are cracked foot pads and rough, flaky, thickened skin, Goldrick says. Dogs can also show symptoms of hair loss and lesions around the mouth, chin, eyes and ears.

Shampoos for a shiny, healthy coat

There are many quality shampoos that will help your dog maintain a healthy coat and skin – from medicated shampoos to natural, chemical-free liquids. Its simply a matter of doing your research and selecting one that best suits your dogs coat and skin condition.

Goldrick advises to shampoo on a need basis, rather than routinely. A healthy skin and coat will not normally smell. Over-washing can lead to dry skin and irritation.

Dont over-wash your dog – absolutely no more than once every two weeks, unless under veterinary instructions, she says.

When selecting a shampoo, consult with your vet about the type of shampoo that is most suitable for your dog. Read the ingredients in the shampoo and ask your vet if any of the elements could be toxic to your dogs skin.

Tea-tree oil, undiluted, is toxic to small dogs and cats, as well as small children, Goldrick says.

Some ingredients in shampoos work well to enhance your dogs coat and skin. Colloidal oatmeal in shampoos and conditioners can help relieve itching, she says. Always patch-test a new shampoo in a hairless area (eg, inside the upper thigh) before using it all over.

Natural therapies and herbs

Herbs can not only be useful for various skin conditions, but also to help enhance coat health. Some Chinese herbal formulae, particularly those with Tonify Blood, will have benefits for the coat, Goldrick says.

Goldrick shares some natural therapies that can help to enhance coat health:

  • Acupuncture: By clearing heat and damp and improving circulation, as well as general immune and health effects.
  • Massage/hydrotherapy: By improving the circulation in the skin and subcutaneous tissues, and enhancing dispersion of toxins.
  • Homeopathy Specific remedies: Best prescribed by a veterinary homeopath, some remedies can be useful in first aid: eg, apis mel for bee sting or arnica for bruising. Homeopathy can also be used as part of a desensitising program for dogs with specific allergies.
  • Bach Flower: By relieving any emotional imbalances, which can effect total body health. For example, stressed and anxious pets often have skin allergies. Crabapple can be used as a cleansing remedy.
  • Herbs: Herbal remedies can treat the symptoms and underlying causes of skin problems.

Grooming for a healthy coat and skin

Dog groomer Susie Simmons, from Naturally Stylin in Victoria, says regular brushing/grooming also assists in maintaining a healthy looking coat and skin. Winner of the 2007 Dogs Life PIAA Pet People Awards for Best Grooming Service, Simmons says maintaining a healthy, shiny coat can be breed-specific.

For example, during a change of season, many double-coated breeds, like a Samoyed, Golden Retriever or Border Collie, appear to be losing all their coat, she says.

Chunks/clumps of hair hang out in the hindquarters or neck regions a very unhealthy appearance. After a proper grooming session, the dead coat is removed and a soft silken appearance returns. The shop, on the other hand, is decorated in hair! she adds, laughing.

Long, single-coated dogs (Maltese, Shih Tzu, Lhasa Apso) require regular clipping/grooming to maintain a healthy appearance and avoid matting. The coat on these breeds grows continuously and has varying textures – wavy, straight, soft, silky and course, Simmons says.

Wire-coated dogs (Shnauzer, Airedale Terrier) have a harsh, sometimes double, coat that doesn’t shed. Regular clipping is necessary to maintain a healthy appearance and avoid matting, Simmons says.

Powder puff coats (Poodle, Bichon Frise) are curly, single coats that grow continuously and usually don’t shed. These types of coats also require clipping/grooming to maintain a healthy appearance and avoid matting.

Grooming tools

Simmons advises regular brushing and combing with appropriate tools to help maintain a healthy and shiny coat.

There is a huge [grooming] product market; its as varied for the canine as it is for the human, she says. There are mink oils, colour-enhancing shampoos, shiny-coat sprays and leave-on conditioners, hair dyes, hair extensions, nail colours (including black). All in all, the products will enhance a coat, not change it from dull to shiny.

Regular brushing and combing creates an awareness of ones pets coat and skin condition, Simmons says. It also develops awareness to any body/movement changes your pet may develop, like warts, lumps or muscle tenderness. And if your dog wont hold still or bites, Simmons suggests finding a qualified groomer to get the job done.


One of dog groomer Susie Simmons regular canine clients had been chewing on his hind leg for some time. The pooch was diagnosed with a crutia ligament and prescribed inflammatory drugs, which had not seemed to be helping.

Simmons tells Dogs Life she was asked to be careful when grooming and was surprised at what happened next.

I placed this little fellow on the table and proceeded to clip away the matted area on the hind leg to discover a rubber band cut into the leg, with skin healed around the exterior of the band. Needless to say, the owner was very embarrassed – she had put a sock on the leg to stop him chewing it, and used a rubber band to hold it up. The vet was embarrassed, too, and the dog was relieved to go under anaesthetic to have the rubber band removed.

See, touch and smell your dogs coat

Sydney holistic veterinarian Dr Barbara Fougere says you can recognise what makes a healthy coat and skin by using your senses:

Touch – A healthy coat should feel soft, pliable and smooth. An unhealthy coat will have dry, coarse and brittle hairs some may be fine and broken off. The coat may also be sparse and thinning or short and underdeveloped.

Vision – A healthy coat and skin is clean and free of scales, scabs and crusts. The coat appears full, almost shiny, and has a soft look to it. Unhealthy skin will appear thin, dry, scaly or greasy, while the coat will look harsh, dull or even dusty.

Smell – A healthy coat and skin does not have any smell to it unless it has rolled in a pile of manure or other dirty substance! An unhealthy coat and skin has a rancid, oily odour, caused by a bad bacteria that breaks down the oils on the skin. If you are unsure about the feel, look or smell of your dogs coat and skin, take your pooch to the vet for a check-up.

Warnings signs of an unhealthy coat

  • Dry skin
  • Dander
  • Brittle, thickened hair
  • Excessive shedding
  • Odour, despite bathing
  • Scabby areas
  • Loss of hair
  • Greasy or oily skin/coat
  • Excessive chewing/licking/scratching in one area

Doggy losing hair?

Excessive hair loss can be related to genetics, hormonal imbalances (ie, thyroid disease), a poor diet, parasites, immune problems, stress and allergies. It can also be the symptom of a secondary problem.

If your dog is shedding excessively, take it to the vet for a thorough check-up.

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