4 Tips to Keep Your Dog’s Coat Healthy

Anyone with a furry friend can tell you that keeping up with a dog’s shedding is a full-time job. And some dogs can grow 100 feet of fur per day -- that’s adding up all the new strands covering the entire animal end-to-end, including the fluff between your dog’s toes -- so it’s easy to see why taking care of your dog’s coat can sometimes seem overwhelming. But all that fluff’s got real substance! You may not know it, but your dog’s fur:

  • Is eight times warmer than wool
  • Is fire-resistant
  • Wards off dirt
  • Repels static
  • Protects from parasites

So how do you keep your dog’s coat healthy and handsome? Use these tips and tricks from the experts to keep Fido’s coat glowing -- and growing.

A Healthy Diet
Like humans, dogs are only as healthy as what they eat, says Michael Weiss, a veterinarian at All Creatures Veterinary Care Center in Sewell, N.J. Two things to look for in your dog’s food:

  • Protein. If your dog lacks this vital nutrient, its body will dedicate protein to muscle first, leaving its fur and skin dry and dull. Make sure your dog’s food is rich in protein.
  • Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. These essential building blocks keep your dog’s coat healthy, thick and lustrous. They may also help reduce itching, dandruff and allergy-related skin problems. On the ingredients panel, look for fish oil, fish meal or flax, all excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

Exercise
Exercise not only keeps your dog slim, it may also help keep her fur in top condition. Weiss says regular exercise benefits your dog’s overall health -- and a healthy dog is more likely to have a healthy, shiny coat.

Grooming
The fact is you can’t keep your dog from shedding. But with a few key products and techniques, you can easily take great care of your dog’s coat at home to keep it looking its best:

  • Brush at least once a week. In order to keep your dog’s mane manageable, give the fur one good brush each week with a de-shedding brush to get out the undercoat, says New York City-based groomer Lisa Caputo from the dog service company Biscuits and Bath. Part the hair and brush from the skin out to avoid matting, moisture and heat build-up, which can cause yeast and bacteria. For an even slicker look, give your dog a quick brush every day.
  • Bathe with gentle shampoos and conditioners. If your dog has sensitive skin, try a hypoallergenic or oatmeal shampoo. Caputo recommends washing your pooch every four weeks.

Medical Checkups
If you notice your dog has consistently itchy, uncomfortable skin or is shedding more than usual, your best bet is to take him to a veterinarian. “There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, and each dog is different,” says Weiss. “It could be something as small as a food allergy to a more serious problem, like ringworm.”

Groom Your Dog Like a Pro

When it comes to your dog, good grooming is more than pretty pink bows or a jaunty new collar. Your regular care makes a difference in your dog’s appearance and health -- and in your relationship.

Not sure where to start? Here’s a basic guide to keeping your best friend looking his or her best.

Regular Brushing Is Important
Make sure your dog never has a bad hair day by giving him regular brushings. Not only will his coat shine, but you will also help socialize your dog as you touch him. This also offers an opportunity to look for pests like fleas and ticks, as well as health problems indicated by lesions or lumps.

Choose from the following equipment:

  • Slicker brushes have beds of fine, closely spaced wires that are hooked or bent. They’re considered all-purpose tools for removing mats, tangles and debris in dogs with all types of coats.
  • Pin brushes include widely spaced tines that look like straight pins. These are excellent for use in longer-haired breeds to remove knots.
  • Bristle brushes are used as a final step to smooth and shine the fur on a shorthaired dog.
  • Metal combs give a finishing touch to extra-long coats.

Begin your grooming session by using the slicker or pin brush to remove dead hair, debris and tangles. (You might need both tools if you have a long-haired breed or if your shorthaired pet spent the afternoon romping in a bog.) For tough snarls, hold the tangle at the root and brush it out to avoid painful pulling. Smooth the coat with a bristle brush or comb. Please note that you’ll want to give your dog a break every few minutes.

Bathing
After a thorough brushing, your dog might be ready for a bath. He can go two to three weeks between bathing sessions, though you can dunk him in the tub if he gets especially stinky.

  • Fill a basin with warm water. Check the temperature using your elbow, which is more sensitive than your hand.
  • Place your dog on a nonskid surface, talking gently and praising him.
  • Slowly pour water over his paws, working your way up to his collar. Do not immerse his head yet, so that he can get used to the sensation.
  • Using specially formulated dog soap (soaps formulated for humans can be irritating to dogs), lather his coat.
  • Rinse twice to ensure the suds are out.
  • Approach his head and repeat the process.
  • Dogs love a good toweling off; if he’s patient, you can try to use a blow-dryer.

Proper Paw Care
Dogs generally don’t like having their paws handled, but it is necessary to make sure the fur between their toes and pads does not become matted or infected. Here’s how to do it:

  • Remove mats from the fur under your dog’s feet.
  • Using scissors, trim fur so that it is level with the foot.

Next, trim his nails. Again, he won’t think this is nearly as fun as a game of fetch, but it is necessary to ensure his good health. Do the following every few weeks:

  • Using a guillotine-style clipper made for dogs, trim only the hook of the nail.
  • Never trim into the quick -- the live portion of the nail -- which can draw blood.
  • Trim the dewclaw -- the thumb-like portion on the paw. If allowed to grow, they will curl up and pinch the skin.
Ear Care

During your dog’s bath, wash the outside of his ear with water. You can then remove interior wax with an ear-cleaning solution:

  • Warm the bottle in your palms.
  • Squirt a dab into the ear canal.
  • Gently massage the base of the ear.
  • Remove dirt or wax with a dry cotton ball.

Taking care of your dog’s grooming needs does not have to be a hair-raising experience for either of you. With practice and patience, he might even begin to enjoy his turn in the salon chair.

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/m7hanmilan