Brittle Coat in Dogs

Written By Grace Park
Published: 05/16/2017Updated: 07/02/2021
Veterinary reviewed by Dr. Linda Simon, MVB MRCVS
Brittle Coat in Dogs - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost

What is Brittle Coat?

Have you heard the comment that glowing skin means you’re healthy?  The same can also be said of your dog.  If your dog has healthy skin and a shiny, smooth, silky coat, it is safe to say that he is probably pretty healthy.  But, what of those canines who suffer from a dull, dry and brittle feeling coat?  Something in their  diet or lifestyle may not be right and your veterinarian should be consulted in order to pinpoint the problem. Diet, disorders such as thyroid problems, parasitic infestations and digestive issues are just a few of the causes for this condition. 

Brittle coat in dogs is defined as a condition of the fur of the canine’s coat which is dry and breaks or splits.  This condition generally is influenced by environmental conditions, dietary regimen and systemic conditions.

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Symptoms of Brittle Coat in Dogs

The symptoms of brittle coat in dogs can start with poor skin condition and progress to the coat from there.  Here are some of the symptoms you might notice:

  • Dull, lackluster look to the coat of your pet
  • Brittleness or dryness when you feel the coat
  • “Dandruff” or scaly flakes on the hair of the coat
  • Frequent Itching, licking or biting of various areas
  • Foul odors from the skin and coat of your canine family member 


Brittle coat in dogs is a condition which has no real types except as those which apply to the cause of the dry, dull and brittle look and feel of the canine’s coat.  This coat condition can be the result of a variety of issues (systemic, environmental, allergies and dietary), which can begin with the condition of the skin from which the hair follicles grow.

Causes of Brittle Coat in Dogs

There are a variety of issues which have been found at the root of brittle coat in dogs.  Some of these issues are more involved than others, but they are fairly easily treated if addressed appropriately and in a timely manner.  Here are some of them:

  • Low quality commercially prepared food - Poorly digestible ingredients can be used to keep the price of the product down. However, all products on the market should be approved and fully balanced. Be sure your dog is eating enough of their dog food and not filling up on treats or chews. 
  • Imbalanced homemade diets - Can include homemade diets which are not properly balanced to contain all of the nutritional elements required to keep your pet healthy (some nutritional education intervention might be needed. If an owner wishes to make a homemade diet it is essential they consult with a nutritional expert)
  • Thyroid disorders - Decreased production of thyroid hormones can affect the quality of the look and feel of the coat
  • Diabetes - Can lead to thinning of the skin, followed by patches of dull and lackluster hair actually falling out
  • Grooming practices - This can include too frequent as well as not frequent enough bathing and brushing of your beloved doggy family member (can also include the use of shampoos and bathing products not properly formulated for the canine skin)
  • Digestive disturbances which can lead to nutritional deficiencies. 
  • Parasitic infestation - Both internal as well as external ones
  • Cancer 
  • Obesity and arthritis - Can cause the canine to be unable to properly clean himself
  • Environmental conditions like the cold, dry, artificially heated atmosphere in your home during the winter season

Diagnosis of Brittle Coat in Dogs

Diagnosis of the cause of brittle coat in your canine family member will be a multi-step process, involving you, your vet and the local lab.  Your part will be to discuss your pet's complete history which will need to include the symptoms you have noted, their severity and duration, the animal’s health history and vaccinations, husbandry (this includes feeding regimen, housing, bathing), behavior and attitude changes, appetite and any changes noted, elimination habits with any changes noted, any exposure which your pet may have had to other animals and any travel situations in which your pet has been involved within the past 6 to 12 months.  This information will be included in the information and clinical findings when your veterinary professional does his physical examination and prepares to order any required testing to get to the root of the skin/hair problem.  

During his examination, your vet will be looking for any skin lesions and scaling to help him identify the cause of the brittle coat and skin condition of your pet.  Since there are a variety of causes of dry, flakey skin and dry, brittle coat in dogs, your vet will need to do a number of tests to eliminate some of those causative factors.  He will likely order a CBC (complete blood count), biochemistry and urine testing to start.  Additional testing might include scrapings or other skin samples and biopsies, cultures to look for bacterial and fungal activity, cytology testing (involves getting samples of the skin surface or fluids from pustules for cell evaluation by the lab), microscopic examination of the hairs and “flea combing” (a process involving combing large amounts of scaling and other debris from the coat for lab evaluation).

Treatment of Brittle Coat in Dogs

Once the results of the required testing are collected, your veterinary professional will develop a treatment plan which is based on the cause of the brittle coat/dry skin problem in your dog.  He will need to address any systemic issues which were identified in the diagnostic process and focus treatment toward that systemic problem as the underlying root cause of the external brittle coat problem.  Your vet will likely recommend:

  • A topical treatment for the immediate problem of the dry skin and possibly some medication to ease the itching and discomfort being experienced by your family pet
  • Antibiotics or antifungal medications if there is infection present
  • Hormone treatment if the cause is endocrine in nature (thyroid dysfunction, diabetes, Cushing’s disease)
  • Possibly an anti-inflammatory medication to ease more of the discomfort and help to promote healing.. Corticosteroids, for example, work well to break the itch-scratch cycle.
  • There might be recommendations made for special bathing regimens which include medicated and other special shampoo preparations to help the skin heal  
  • Skin supplements
  • A skin supportive diet

These treatment options could be combined and may need to be repeated until the condition is brought under control, which could be a lengthy process.

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Recovery of Brittle Coat in Dogs

The skin condition which is causing the brittle coat in your dog will need to be treated and brought under control before the coat will return to its previous shiny, smooth and soft condition.  This outcome may take weeks or months to achieve and maintenance of it may mean lifelong regimen changes for you and your beloved doggy family member.

These regimen changes might include bathing practices, dietary changes, grooming product changes and even exercise changes for your canine family member.  You might even find yourself administering prescription medications to your dog for the treatment of those ongoing systemic issues.  Of course, throughout all of this and beyond, profuse administration of the three A’s (affirmation, attention and affection) are always part of the treatment plan.

Brittle Coat Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals





Four Years


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My pet has the following symptoms:
What should you do if your dog constantly sneezing regardless of the weather and having a dry coat regardless of a good nutritional dog food.

Sept. 27, 2020

Answered by Dr. Michele K. DVM

0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. They may have something affecting their nasal passages or hair coat or skin. It would be best to have your pet seen by a veterinarian, as they can examine them, see what might be going on, and get treatment.

Oct. 12, 2020

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Golden Retriever



Three Years


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0 found this helpful

My pet has the following symptoms:
Brittle Coat
My dog has flaky skin in a small patch on his leg. The fur on his leg is getting sticky and kind of matted and he keeps licking it. If I try to comb the fur on his leg it just starts falling out

Sept. 25, 2020

Answered by Dr. Michele K. DVM

0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. I apologize for the delay, this venue is not set up for urgent emails. I hope that your pet is okay. That area appears that it may be infected. If they are still having any problems, It would be best to have your pet seen by a veterinarian, as they can examine them, see what might be going on, and get any testing or treatment taken care of that might be needed.

Oct. 20, 2020

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