Grooming and Bathing
Grooming is very important in keeping a dog’s coat and skin healthy. A good, full brushing can remove dead skin cells, a shedding undercoat, and some parasites if they are present. In general, a dog will feel much more comfortable after a thorough grooming the same way we feel better after a haircut and shampoo at the barber’s. Dogs with long fur or thick undercoats require daily brushing to stay healthy and to keep from shedding all over the house. If you find tangles or matted spots, gently cut them free with scissors or enlist the help of a professional groomer to avoid accidental nips to your dog’s skin. Bathing, like grooming, can help remove unwanted dirt and debris and maintain a healthy, shiny coat. However, bathing too frequently can remove essential oils and dry out your dog’s skin, causing discomfort and even sores. Aim to bath your dog once every six weeks with gentle, made-for-canine shampoos and conditioners. If your dog jumps in the mud during an evening walk, try just hosing down the dog without shampoo unless it can’t be helped. Never get the dog’s head wet! It’s not only uncomfortable for your dog, but it can lead to ear infections. Wet a washcloth with warm water and gently clean your dog’s head, around the ears, and around the snout.
Food and Dietary Supplements
Nutrition affects every organ in a dog’s body, including the largest one: the skin! A dog’s skin, and subsequent coat, depends on a balanced diet of necessary vitamins, minerals, proteins, and fats in order to function properly. Some dogs have allergic reactions to wheat or other products found in some dog foods, leading to skin irritation and fur loss. Think of it as similar to a human breaking out in hives. Tests can be performed at your local vet to see what specifically your dog is allergic to, but these cost quite a bit of money and require drawing blood (which is NOT appealing to your puppy). Try a wheat-free diet, including treats, and don’t feed your dog table scraps. You can also help alleviate some discomfort with dietary supplements for coat health. Most contain omega-3 fatty acids, coconut oil, and/or vitamin E for overall skin and coat health. Ask your vet about other options tailored to your dog’s breed, health level, and age.
What happens if a dog’s coat is unhealthy? Usually you can tell visually or by running your fingers through the fur. If a coat looks dull, dirty, tangled, or is patchy, this may be a sign of a more serious health problem. Fur that is coarser than normal, very oily, dirty, or falls out in clumps when touched can also be problematic. A health coat is shiny, free of tangles, and the skin underneath should not have large scabs or a bright red coloring. The fur should also not have a strong musky or sour odor. The battle with fleas and ticks is constant, so make sure your dog is up-to-date on medication to ward of parasites. You can also check your dog when your groom or bathe him or her, checking especially around the genitals, ears, belly, and where the legs connect to the torso. If any of these problems arise, contact your vet for personalized options, try gradually changing your dog’s food, adding dietary supplements, and book your dog for regular grooming visits.