Poor Coat Condition in Dogs

Published on
Last updated on
4 min read

Key takeaways

Poor quality coats in dogs manifest as abnormally thinning, patchy, oily, dull, or brittle fur. A healthy dog’s fur should be smooth and shiny.

  • Causes for poor coat condition include allergies, stress, hormonal imbalances, mobility issues, or general poor health due to an underlying disease such as cancer
  • Dogs with poor quality coats benefit from prompt veterinary intervention, especially if accompanied by other symptoms
  • Diagnostics include a physical examination, urinalysis, bloodwork, and hormone level testing
  • Treatment depends on the underlying condition, and may include oral or topical medication, dietary changes, or lifestyle changes
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A closer look: Poor Coat Condition in Dogs

Shedding is normal for most dogs, and not cause for concern itself unless excessive. Changes in the luster, texture, or amount of hair may indicate poor coat condition.

Conditions that lead to poor coat quality vary widely, from minor skin allergies to cancers. Dogs with poor coat condition benefit from veterinary attention, to identify any underlying causes.

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Possible causes

Risk factors

Poor coat quality can manifest in different ways, including

  • Dullness
  • Thinning
  • Increased oiliness
  • Dryness to the coat
  • Patchy hair loss
  • Graying or lightening of the coat color
  • Brittleness of the hairs

Temporary decline in coat condition between groomings or related to seasonal shedding is not a matter of concern, but can be uncomfortable if left unaddressed for a prolonged period. An unkempt coat presenting with other symptoms may be related to underlying conditions like hormonal disorders. These cases warrant prompt veterinary investigation as the underlying condition is expected to worsen without treatment, leading to a decline in health and quality of life.

Long-haired dogs and dogs with an undercoat require more brushing and grooming than short-haired and hairless dogs. These dogs are at higher risk of poor coat condition related to inadequate grooming.

Sometimes poor coat condition is related to loss of mobility preventing dogs from self-grooming adequately. Dogs at risk of mobility issues like arthritis and obesity are at higher risk of poor coat condition.

Full-time, outdoor working dogs, such as livestock guardian dogs, are expected to have more debris and dirt in the coat relative to indoor companion animals. Monitoring outdoor dogs for patchy, dry, or oily coats is recommended as grooming and bathing may be less frequent than it is for indoor pets.

Testing and diagnosis

Diagnostics for poor coat condition seek to identify any underlying health issues that may affect coat quality.

These diagnostics include:

  • Physical examination
  • Bloodwork
  • Urinalysis
  • Hormone level testing
  • Biopsy
  • Cytology
  • Nutritional evaluation

If allergies are suspected, referral to a specialist may be recommended. Investigation of allergies is a separate diagnostic process with unique treatment protocols.

Treatments depend on the underlying condition, and may include:

  • Topical medication
  • Hormone treatment
  • Oral medications, such as steroids
  • Dietary changes
  • Changes to grooming routines
  • Lifestyle changes to minimize allergen exposure

Similar symptoms

Context is important when identifying poor coat conditions. Dogs who spend a lot of time outside may collect debris or dust which can make their coats appear knotted, patchy, or otherwise dull. Dogs benefit from regular grooming and bathing to remove debris.

Graying fur as a dog ages and minor shedding during seasonal changes are both natural reactions for most dogs. These changes may not be indicators of a poor quality coat.

Associated symptoms


Ryan Llera, BSc, DVM; Tammy Hunter, DVM; Cheryl Yuill, DVM, MSc, CVH - Writing for VCA Animal Hospitals
Grace Park - Writing for Wag!

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