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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 lifestyle is not right and your veterinarian should be consulted in order to pinpoint the problem. Diet, disorders such as thyroid problems, parasitic invasion and digestive issues are just a few of the causes for this condition. 

Brittle coat in dogs is defined as a condition of the hair 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.

Symptoms of Brittle Coat in Dogs

The symptoms of brittle coat in dogs can start with poor skin conditions 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 

Types

  

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.

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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:

  • Poor commercially prepared diets, especially those dogs on low quality commercially prepared food - These diets don’t contain enough of some nutrients and too much of other nutrients, formulated to keep the price of the product under control (some of these ingredients may be poorly digested, not readily rendering their nutrients to the canine’s body) 

  • 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)
  • 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
  • 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
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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 encompass a 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) 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 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 debri from the coat for lab evaluation).

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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 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  
  • There might be recommendations made for special bathing regimens which include medicated and other special shampoo preparations to help the skin heal  

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.

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Brittle Coat Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Staffordshire Bull Terrier

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Three Years

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Unknown severity

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1 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Brittle Hair

My dog has really brittle hair and excessively sheds. He was taking medications. He was doing the heart worm injections. The vet gave me a few more prescriptions so he wouldn't have a reaction to the heartworm injections. He is done with the injections and just finished with the oral medication. His hair has become worse since then.

Aug. 5, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Gina U. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Hello For brittle fur, you can try supplementing omega 3 fatty acids to help make his skin and coat healthy and shiny. This can be purchased at either your veterinarian's clinic or at pet store. Good luck.

Aug. 5, 2020

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Mini goldendoodle

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Three Years

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Unknown severity

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1 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Patch Of Coarse Hair. Also Fur / Hair Is Darkening At The Roots In Only That Rea

What is causing this? Patch of coarse hair. Also fur / hair is darkening at the roots in only that area

July 18, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. If there was an area of infection or trauma that caused the hair loss, as the hair grows back it may darken and then normalize. Without being able to see your dog or know the cause or where this is happening, it is hard to say what might be happening. If this continues, and does not become like normal hair, then it would be best to have your dog seen by a veterinarian. They will be able to look at the area and see if things are abnormal or not. I hope that all goes well for your dog.

July 18, 2020

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Chihuahua

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Three Years

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Itching. Biting Paws Scratching Face

It looks like he is losing fur around hos collar

July 15, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. There are many reasons that he might be itchy and losing hair, including an allergy, a parasite, a Mite, or a bacterial or fungal skin infection. Since those are all treated so differently, it would be best to have him seen by a veterinarian. They can look at him, see what might be causing his problem, and get him treatment so that he is more comfortable and not losing hair. I hope that all goes well for him.

July 15, 2020

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Lacey

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Golden Retriever

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5 Years

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Fair severity

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1 found helpful

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Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Itching Ears
Rubbing Face
Itching, Biting Paws
Brittle Patch Of Hair

My 5 year old golden retriever has been swimming in a lake for the first time in her life. After she went swimming a few times I noticed near the end of her back her hair more brittle in one spot. I’m not sure if it the lake causing this or something else! Please help

Aug. 9, 2018

Lacey's Owner


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3320 Recommendations

After swimming in a lake, you should bathe Lacey thoroughly as there can be nasty things in lakes which may lead to issues later. However, if the hair appeared brittle immediately after being in the lake I doubt it was the lake water that caused this; there are many causes for brittle hair and you should ensure that Lacey has an appropriate diet and check in with your Veterinarian to ensure that there are no other underlying causes. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Aug. 9, 2018

Thank you! I gave Lacey a bath today and her coat seems better than before! I hope it continues to get back to normal. Thank you again.

Aug. 10, 2018

Lacey's Owner

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Bradley

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Yorkshire Terrier

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5 Years

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Mild severity

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0 found helpful

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Hair Breakage

My Yorkie is almost 5 years old and has always had a pretty soft and shiny coat. The color has started to change to a dark almost black looking color that is much drier than normal. A few weeks ago I noticed a few clumps of hair laying around. After inspecting Bradley I noticed that the hair is breaking off at the color change. It is only happening behind his front legs. He isn't scratching or anything out of the norm. No fleas either.

July 25, 2018

Bradley's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1611 Recommendations

That is unusual, for sure - without actually seeing Bradley, I have a hard time commenting on what might be going on with that hair change. Some reasons may be skin disease, or a systemic disease causing that problem. It would be a good idea to have him seen by a veterinarian, as they can examine him, see what might be happening, and recommend any testing or treatment that he might need to get his pretty coat back.

July 26, 2018

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Simon

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Great Dane

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3 Years

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Excessive Shedding

Went to the vet a little over a month ago because he was licking his butt alot and he needed his anal glands squeezed did the procedure and his poop got analyzed and he had hookworm unfortunately. Vet said since he was on heartworm it should deal with the issue but just a little slower than using a dewormer so I didn't buy any. A few weeks after his diagnosis I noticed he started to shed excessively and certain parts of his fur were turning a brownish red color. It seems as if he's slowly losing fur in certain areas around his legs and his skin seems to be a little more red than usual aroind his belly and legs. The shedding has continued and hasn't stopped since. It seems as if it won't stop and I need to take him to the vet because by this time his shedding should have curtailed and the hookworms haven't been dealt with,he stopped licking his butt for a bit after going to the vet but the last 2 weeks or so he's been doing it much more and it's starting to worry me that his worm problem has gotten worse. Before this we've had him on the same food we've been on for aroind a year and his coat was extremely healthy and looked great.

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Deuce

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Labrador Retriever

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1 Year

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Excessive Shedding
Baldness

Our 1 ye old black lab has lost the hair on his neck and also shedding excessively. We are starting to notice other areas on his hips and back that are thinning too. Took him to the vet and had him on a special shampoo and antibiotics for 2 weeks and that didn’t help. Just brought him back to have his thyroid tested. Any ideas on what else we can try. He is an avid swimmer - lake and pool daily.

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Loki

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Golden Retriever

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1 Year

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Hair Loss
Brittle Coat
Shedding
Dull Coat

I have a golden retriever who just turned 1 this month. 5 weeks ago, a vet put him on Prozac for reasons I do not agree with. I am not against giving dogs Prozac. But my situation, i recently learned that it was very unnecessary after switching to a new vet. Not only did he stop eating, his coat took a turn for the worst! Loki’s coat was the most beautiful coat I’ve ever seen on a golden(I’m sure I’m probably partially bias). It was so soft and shiny! I used the best quality coat products and grooming tools to maintain it. Now, his shedding is just beyond out of control, his hair just falls out by looking at it the wrong way. It’s dull, brittle, and very thin. Now that he’s off the medicine, he’s eating better, and I have him eating very healthy with added things like salmon oil and natural supplements such as blueberries. But I haven’t seen improvement in his coat yet. How long does it take for his coat to improve and be back to normal??

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Baby

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Husky

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1 Year

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Fair severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Dry Coat
Brittle Patch Of Hair
Scratching Body And Biting Paws
Moderate Hair Loss

Recently due to school and personal issues, I have not been able to fully attend the care of my Siberian Husky and yesterday I got home to see my Dog had her hair very brittle mostly the entire top and a large spot of hair that had seemed almost cut, except that it was brittle and she would not let me touch her there, she also seems to have fleas and a small mark that looks like a scar to me, aside from my family buying a bit of low quality food and constantly changing it, and not taking her out for a walk as she used to I am taking her to the vet tomorrow what should I expect and how should I personally treat her from now on?

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Hugo

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American Bulldog

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2 Years

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Fur Loss

My pup hugo had mange and he recovered eventually through diet, oils and medication. However it's been 6 months since he has had a full coat and his hair is still coarse. His diet is on par, as well as his grooming. Will his fur ever get soft again?

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