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It’s More Than Just Fur: Your Dog’s Coat, Skin, & Health

 Alt text: An afghan dog with a long coat

Have you ever noticed that many dog food companies claim their products keep your dog’s coat shiny? If so, you may have wondered, why the sheen of your dog’s fur matters. Very few of our canine companions are show dogs, after all, and isn’t it what’s on the inside that counts? Well, your dog’s coat reflects their internal health and acts as armour against a wide array of external hazards.

This is to say that your dog’s coat condition is important. This is why vets use a pet’s coat as one of the first indications of a pet’s health. What else do you need to know about your dog’s coat? This article will help you better understand:

      • How to assess if your dog’s coat is healthy
      • What signs may indicate a change in your dog’ health
      • How to keep your dog’s skin and coat in top-notch shape
      • Methods to alleviate common coat and skin issues

The Importance of Your Dog’s Coat

Your dog’s coat is one of the most prominent physical features they have. It may have even been the first thing you noticed about your beloved best friend. Like humans, the epidermis is a dog’s largest organ.  However, your dog’s coat is more than just a fashion statement.

A dog’s skin and coat make up 10% to 15% of their overall body weight. Like other organs, the epidermis functions to protect your pup and aid in their overall health. The process that goes into how the coat and skin work in harmony with your dog’s body is multi-layered (just like the epidermis).

Temperature Regulation

A healthy coat keeps your dog cool in the summer, warm in the winter, and everything in between. The epidermis can move the hair follicles closer or further apart to create more insulation or more aeration, depending on how hot or cold the environment is. 

Protection from the Elements & More

Your dog’s coat defends against dirt, moisture, and parasites. A dog’s coat also works as a natural sunblock, preventing sunburn and reducing the risk of skin cancer [1]. 

Fur also works as safety gear against accidental exposure to chemicals, high temperatures, and poisons (like poison ivy). It can even soften blows by reducing the force of impact should an object come in contact with your dog.

Sensory Input

Beneath your dog’s fur is a complex yet sensitive system of nerves that run along and throughout the outer layer of skin. These nerves detect:

      • Changes in pressure, warning your pet of an impending storm
      • Heat and cold
      • Pain
      • General sensation, including feeling their owner’s touch and the wind

These sensory inputs allow your dog to respond appropriately to keep them safe.

An Immunity Barrier

The skin is one of the most important and most overlooked parts of the immune system. A healthy coat and healthy skin protect your pup against infections, disease, bacteria, and viruses.


Many dog owners are surprised to learn that their dog’s coat keeps their dog hydrated. Your dog loses water from their skin, which is different than sweating--dogs don’t sweat the same way we do. This process is called transepidermal water loss and can be caused by dry, flaky, and cracked skin. Not only can this form of water loss lead to health problems, but it also drains a dog of their energy.

Nutrient Depository & Storage

Collagen, amino acids, enzymes, protein, vitamin A, vitamin E, zinc, copper, selenium, and manganese are all stored in your dog’s skin. All of these elements are necessary for day-to-day body function, cell function and creation, and overall health.

Additionally, linoleic acid and fatty acids are found in your dog’s epidermis. These microscopic elements allow your dog’s skin to sketch and flex while also helping the skin maintain its hydration. Fatty acids also aid in your dog’s immune system by preventing inflammation. 

Your dog’s fur is mostly protein. In fact, 30% of the protein your dog consumes is used to maintain the health of their fur and skin [2].

Furthermore, many of the nutrients stored in the skin are used to produce vitamin D once your dog gets some sunshine.

Other Roles of a Dog’s Skin and Coat

Fur pulls chemical scents from the skin and transfers them to the air surrounding your dog [3]. These scents relay messages to other dogs.

How Do I Know If My Dog's Coat Is Healthy?

Dog having coat brushed, owner inspecting dog coat and skin health

Dog owners, once they learn how important their dog’s coat is, ask: “How can I tell if my dog’s coat is healthy.” Well, it is pretty simple. A healthy coat should be:

      • Shiny and lustrous: your dog’s fur should slightly reflect the light
      • Smooth: all the fur runs in the right direction and lays against the skin
      • Clean: your hands should not accumulate dirt when you pet your dog, nor should your dog have visible debris on or beneath the fur
      • Thick and even: your dog shouldn’t have thinning regions

Signs your dog has healthy skin

Your dog’s skin health goes hand-in-paw with their coat health. Here’s what healthy skin should look like:

      • Clear of flakes, rashes, bumps, scrapes, cuts, and visible dirt
      • Whitish-pink or black, soft skin (depending on breed)

Changes in coat condition can indicate a change in your dog’s underlying health. Because of this, it’s vital to recognize when your dog’s coat has become unhealthy. 

Signs of an unhealthy dog coat and skin, include: 

      • Dullness: your dog’s coat doesn’t seem to glow or reflect light
      • Brittle or stiff: the fur seems coarse to the touch and the ends of individual hairs are jagged or broken. It may stay raised in some areas.
      • Dirt and residue: there is visible dirt and dander on your dog’s skin or coat
      • Missing fur: this is often a sign of malnutrition, allergies, or parasites
      • Bumps, bites, redness, rash, cuts, scrapes: these may be signs of allergies or parasites
      • Change in fur colour

Underlying Causes that Lead to An Unhealthy Dog Coat

If you notice your dog’s fur becoming coarse or your dog’s skin is dry and flaky, they may be experiencing an underlying health condition that can be cause for concern. A sudden or drastic change in your dog’s coat warrants an appointment to see your vet. Why? When the body experiences a major threat to its health, it will divert nutrients from the skin and fur to vital organs [4].

These are the most common conditions that can cause an unhealthy dog coat:

      1. Stress
      2. Hormone imbalance
      3. Metabolic issues
      4. Digestive problems
      5. Arthritis
      6. Allergies
      7. Seborrhea
      8. Cancer
      9. Nutritional imbalance or micronutrient deficiency

How to Improve Your Dog’s Coat

Often, concerned dog owners want to know what is good for their dog’s skin and coat. However, if your dog’s coat is not healthy, the first thing you should do is see your vet. If your dog has an underlying health problem that is causing their coat to look dull, fixing the underlying health issues will often clear up the problem.

If your dog gets the “all-clear” or you just want to ensure your dog stays healthy, keeping their coat shiny and bright is a great idea. For dogs that need a coat-health-boost, it’s often best to start from the inside. There are foods to help with a dog’s coat and skin and other ways you can improve your doggo’s coat. 

1. Increase Skin-nourishing Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3s are the building block of the cells that make up your dog’s skin and coat. By switching to a diet rich in Omega-3s, you are increasing the immune resistance in your dog’s coat and skin while improving the skin’s natural flexibility. Flaxseed and fish are often high in Omega 3s.

2. Don't Skimp on Omega-6 Fatty Acids

Just as Omega-3s are vital for a healthy coat, Omega-6s are, as well. Omega-6s create strong cell walls and improve cell function. They also aid the immune system and nourish the skin. Chicken, animal fats, sunflower, corn, and soybeans are rich in Omega-6 fatty acids.

3. Provide Your Dog with the Vitamins & Minerals Their Coat Needs

Vitamin E and zinc boost your dog’s bioavailability of Omega 3 fatty acids [5]. Vitamin C and B vitamins are also highly beneficial for coat health. These antioxidants prevent free radicals from damaging your dog’s skin while improving natural collagen.

5. Encourage Hydration

Hydrated skin is healthy skin. Your dog’s body is about 60% water. Keeping it that way ensures your dog’s cells are strong and healthy. Always keep fresh water available for your dog and bring along clean water on walks.

6. Nourish the Skin and Coat from the Outside

When bathing your dog, always use products that are gentle and provide a thorough cleaning. You do not want to strip away your dog’s natural oils with harsh chemicals. Using a nourishing conditioner can replace lost oils, too.

You can also boost your dog’s Omegas by massaging a tiny bit of coconut oil into their skin and coat after brushing them. 

Brush Up on Your Dog’s Coat Health

Dog with long, healthy coat running on beach

If you haven’t already, begin brushing your dog regularly. This eliminates loose and dead fur, so your dog’s coat will function better and reflect their internal health more accurately. When you pay attention to your dog’s coat, you’re also more likely to catch a health concern before it worsens. So, pamper your pup with love by feeding them a diet rich in Omegas, and watch out for dry skin, dullness, and dander.

When it comes to keeping your dog healthy, it’s all about helping them feel their best with proper nutrition and a delicious diet. Petzyo’s dog food provides dogs with the best nutrition, including Omega 3s and 6s for a shiny, healthy coat and a happy dog!