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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.

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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.

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

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).

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.

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

Peanut
Chihuahua
7 Years
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Biting, itching, hair loss and breakage
Biting
Itching

Medication Used

Insulin

My dog is diabetic, we have treated her for fleas. But she continues to itch and bite, I have bathed her in dawn to try and help. But she has scabs all over her legs and behind. She chews her tail and her hair has broke off in all the usual itching places, when I pet her my skin gets little bumps on it and I'm extremely itchy from our contact. How can I help my dog?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3317 Recommendations
It is concerning that you are having a reaction to petting Peanut, you should bathe her again but using a sensitive shampoo instead of a dish soap; you should also visit your Veterinarian as the reaction you are having is worrying and a brittle coat may be due to hormonal conditions, poor diet, parasites, environment among many other causes. Your Veterinarian will be able to narrow in on a specific cause. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Hunter
Beagle
7 Years
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

lose of weight and very coarse coat

Medication Used

vetsulin 15 units 2x dailey
Vetsulin

My 7 year old Beagle was diagnosed with pancreatitis and is now on insulin. I noticed before he was diagnosed that his coat around his neck was getting brittle. It is now spreading down his back? He is parasite free! Could this be coming from the insulin or lack there of?

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1607 Recommendations
Thank you for your email. Many endocrine diseases can affect the skin and hair coat, and you might notice a change in coat condition while her diabetes is being regulated. Some dogs, however, can be affected by more than one endocrine condition, and it might be a good idea to have Hunter's thyroid levels checked. Without examining him, I'm not sure what might be going on with him, but your veterinarian will be able to see him and give you a better idea as to what might be going on.

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Whizzer
Whippet
6 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Fur loss and breakage

Does treatment with Vetoryl sometimes lead to brittle fur? My dog has, finally, become well controlled Cushings using Vetoryl. His skin is much better, with no lesions or sore areas but his fur is very easily broken (mostly about 1/3rd down the shaft from the skin). It also appears to be thinning in certain areas (on his haunches and across the tail end of his back) but the loss is thinning, and has not lead to any bald patches, just areas where his skin can be seen through the fur. I am very reluctant to brush him, since I end up with a brush full of fur, but his fur now tangles easily and would lead to soreness if I left it completely. For info, my dog is just six, was diagnosed with Cushings 15 months ago and is a whippet x bedlington (n) male. He also has allergies.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3317 Recommendations
Brittle coat is more associated with Cushing’s than with Vetoryl (trilostane) treatment; I don’t think that the treatment is the cause of the brittle coat but bring it up with your Veterinarian at your next appointment. Also, you should be seeing some improvement in the density of the coat during treatment; check the links below. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM www.canine-cushings.co.uk/treatment-cushings-in-dogs www.cliniciansbrief.com/sites/default/files/Vetoryl_Client%5B1%5D.pdf

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Bradley
Yorkshire Terrier
5 Years
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

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.

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1607 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.

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Griffon
Coton de Tulear
4 Years
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Dry coat
Tangling
dull coat

Hi my vet said to put him on very low protein diet due to mild microvascular displaysia. His coat was always spectacular but a few weeks after changing from Orijen 6 fish to Lotus senior chicken his coat was really bad. Tangles that caused some hair to come out, dry dull coat. I then added pumpkin, raw food, wet food and dehydrated veggies and Omega oil ans probiotic daily as a meal and kept Lotus as another. His hair isn’t as bad but still not totally back to normal. I tried switching from Lotus to 3 other foods with fish and he won’t eat them, which is not like him. He might prefer the baked food now. He luvs the other meal still. Should i change something with diet or add another supplement? He has a full length coat. Thanks.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3317 Recommendations
Dietary management is important in cases of microvascular dysplasia, you should ensure that Griffon is fed the low protein diet as instructed by your Veterinarian; dietary supplements may help the coat, but you should check with your Veterinarian before using any to ensure that they are suitable for Griffon. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Roxie
Chihuahua
11 Years
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Brittle coat

My 11 year old chihuahua has developed brittle hair down the center of her back only. It doesn't seem to bother her. I was wondering if it could be caused by an allergy to a persian cat that came to live with us about six months ago. Her groomer has said that her skin is also dry.

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1607 Recommendations
Thank you for your email. Without examining Roxie, I can't comment on what might be happening with her skin, but it may be allergies, diet related, or parasites. It would be best to have her examined by your veterinarian, as they can determine what might be happening and treat her skin. I hope that everything goes well.

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Kase
Siberian Husky
3 Years
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Brittle Fur
Hair Loss

My nearly 3 year old Siberian Husky has lost almost all of his undercoat and you can see his skin when parting the outer coat. His neck line has been shredded by his collar and he has balding patches towards the back 3rd of his body to hind legs. This has all occured in the past 9 months after he had a severe case of Colon Colitis, followed by an operation to remove a growth on his eye lid, then showed symptoms of Zinc Deficiency and now the fur issues. His previous history showed allergies and skin disorders all which seem to be under control except for around his face so therefor is taking 2.5 to 5 mg of Prednol per day to control. He is being bath fortnightly with an Oatmeal Shampoo and given Megaderm daily as per Vets prescription, he also has 50mg of Zinc per day - and although this regime has been implemented for the past 5 months there is no improvement. I am concerned that brushing causes more heair loss but no brushing or washing results is breaking, tangled messes. We have not left a collow on him for the past 8 months now and only use when walking but the neck line has never gorwn back. When we place a harness on him to walk, within a few sessions there are bold patches being creating where the harnes rubs on his fur. CAn you give any advise please.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3317 Recommendations
In a case like this I am sure that your Veterinarian has already reviewed diet, potential hormonal conditions, malabsorption disorders among other usual causes; at this point I would suggest having a consultation with a Specialist to get to the bottom of the underlying cause or to at least understand what is happening better. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Lacey
Golden Retriever
5 Years
Fair condition
1 found helpful
Fair condition

Has Symptoms

Brittle patch of hair
Rubbing Face
itching ears
Itching, biting paws

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

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3317 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

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.

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