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 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.

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.”

Dog Won’t Eat? Manage His Feeding Issues

Super-skinny models might have food issues. So do the majority of children under the age of 4. Then, there’s your brother who hasn’t tasted a carbohydrate since 2001. He definitely has issues. But what if your dog won’t eat?

Your dog might be finicky. Or perhaps he possesses the appetite of a lumberjack. Wherever the problems lie, take heart. You can help your dog eat a nutritionally sound diet -- without the aid of a high-priced doggie psychologist or canine chef.

What Your Dog Needs
Before we tackle idiosyncrasies, let’s step back and look at good dog nutrition. All dogs need a balance of protein, fat and carbohydrates like those found in high-quality pet foods. Feed your dog according to its size, breed and stage of life.

Feeding the Dog That Won’t Eat
If your dog sniffs its bowl then rejects all but a few bites, analyze your dog’s behavior. Like kids, dogs will eat when they’re hungry. A few things could be happening:

  • Too many snacks Is your dog fed people food or extra dog treats that suppress his appetite? Feeding table scraps is a no-no, and too many treats can dull your dog’s appetite for the nutritious food he needs.

  • Illness Neither people nor canines eat if they’re ill. Make note of whether or not your dog is pooping regularly and playing normally. Recording such information in a notebook could help you and your vet determine a pattern and thus lead to a diagnosis. “Some dogs actually have a dental problem, and it’s painful to eat,” says Dr. Bruce Silverman of Village West Veterinary in Chicago. “These dogs need this problem addressed at the vet’s office before they can go back to their food dish and eat without discomfort.”

  • Overfeeding Your dog might be eating all it needs and leaving the rest alone. Check to make sure your portions are on target.
  • Yucky food Cheaper dog food brands might be made with low-quality ingredients that may not suit your dog’s palate -- or his body. Your dog might not like the taste or likely has difficulty digesting it. “Some dogs are just picky eaters because they don’t love the food in front of them,” says Silverman. “If you haven’t experimented with different-quality diets, perhaps it’s a good time to do so.”

Feeding the Dog With a Big Appetite
We know Irish Wolfhounds that can pack it away -- and Miniature Schnauzers that can keep up with them. If your dog seems truly hungry (you’ll know if he inhales supper in five minutes flat then begs you for more) there could be a reason:

  • Food quality Is your dog getting the right kind of nutrition to feel satiated?

  • Adequate portions Are you feeding your dog enough? If you’ve recently taken up cross-country skiing and your dog joins you in the adventure, he is burning more calories. Take a look at the feeding guidelines on the package or consult with your veterinarian.
  • Water Like people, dogs often eat when they’re actually thirsty. Make sure your dog’s water bowl is clean and contains fresh water at all times.

If you’ve got this checklist down, then try a couple of other solutions. “I got my dog from the pound and noticed he wolfed down his food as if he was competing for it,” says attorney Shane Fischer of Winter Park, Fla. “Of course, 10 minutes after he ate, he’d barf it back up. I took a small bowl, turned it upside down and put it in his dog dish, which prevented him from scooping up a large amount of food at once. Then, I started feeding him in increments of one-third his normal rations. After he ate, I’d wait 15 to 20 minutes before giving him the next ration.”

Silverman also recommends training exercises with treats before mealtime (you can use the same kibble you use for food), both for dogs that won’t eat and dogs that overeat. “It gets dogs in the mood for eating, they respond better to the training exercises, and some of their appetite is satiated before they dive into the food dish,” he explains.

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/Jolka100

Serve This to Keep Your Aging Dog Healthy

When you were a kid, you probably tried to figure out how old the family dog was in “people years” by multiplying its age by the number seven. Veterinarians, however, look at a dog’s physiological condition.

Veterinarians find that most dogs begin to experience the first signs of aging at about 7 years for small or medium breeds and around 5 years for large and giant breeds. Often the first changes are hidden or are not recognized; however, telltale signs may include a dull or dry coat, flaky skin, joint stiffness, energy loss, weight gain, increased water intake, digestive problems, frequent constipation, and loss of muscle.

Simply put, these issues are symptomatic of the body’s inability to rejuvenate its cells. Although genetics and environment play a large role in how quickly your dog ages, your best friend’s health is also up to you.

Good Nutrition Is Critical for Your Aging Dog
A healthy diet can help make up for the physical shortfalls of an aging dog. Good nutrition can help your dog:

  • Maintain muscle tone
  • Maximize digestion
  • Retain ideal body weight

“While some senior dogs need condition-specific prescription food from the veterinarian following a general health screen, many older dogs can simply benefit from a diet formulated for their age-related needs,” explains Dr. Bruce Silverman of Village West Veterinary in Chicago. “Healthy senior dogs need an optimal-quality senior diet to address joint health, cardiovascular health and decreased metabolic demand: that is, fewer calories while not sacrificing high-quality ingredients. Fortunately, there are some excellent diets found in the stores these days that satisfy these requirements.”

Picking Food to Support Aging
Dogs of all ages need the same ingredients in their food, but aging dogs need quantities that are different from those needed by younger dogs. Here’s what you’ll want to look for when shopping for an older dog formula:

  • High-quality protein: Much of your dog’s food should be made up of protein. Make sure it’s derived from an animal source -- chicken liver, for example -- rather than a vegetable. Protein is used by the body to build and maintain muscle.
  • Fat: Choose a food with sources of omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids. These promote a healthy skin and coat and provide the body’s essential fatty-acid requirements.
  • Fiber: Pick a brand that offers a fermentable fiber, like beet pulp, and a prebiotic for a healthy gut. These types of fibers enable excellent nutrient absorption and help push small, firm stool through the intestines.
  • Antioxidants: These molecules protect the immune system by ridding the body of free radicals, which corrupt cell membranes and DNA.

Timed Feedings for Your Aging Dog
Because aging dogs generally eat less than their younger canine friends, you might consider dividing your aging dog’s food intake into two or three meals. Try a morning/evening schedule or a traditional breakfast, lunch and dinner. That way, the food in the dish isn’t so overwhelming. Moreover, the food is likely fresher and thus more appealing. Such timed feedings have the added benefit of increasing your dog’s metabolism, which will help your friend maintain its ideal weight.

Meeting your dog’s dietary needs and managing mealtimes smartly will go a long way toward ensuring a high-quality life for your aging canine pal.

Size up Your Puppy's Food

Whether your dog is a Chihuahua or a Great Dane, Los Angeles–based veterinarian Dr. Amber Andersen figures she knows something about your pal’s approach to dinner. “They’re all chowhounds,” says Andersen with a chuckle.

But even though most puppies share the same voracious appetite, they have unique nutritional needs, depending on their size and breed. There are several important steps you can take to make sure you’re meeting your dog’s unique nutritional needs:

  • Educate yourself. Read up and talk to a breeder about the health issues and unique characteristics of your dog’s breed.
  • Talk to your veterinarian. Your veterinarian should also evaluate your puppy’s development and caloric needs.
  • Feed your dog size- and/or breed-specific food. “The best thing veterinarians recommend is high-quality dog food, grouped by size,” explains Andersen (visit her at AnimalDrAmber.com). “Some brands will even offer foods for a specific breed,” and selling breed-specific food is not some marketing gimmick, notes Andersen. “Pet food companies will modify nutritional components based on previous known issues for the breeds. They’ll modify because, just like people, different dog breeds have specific dietary needs.”


What Does Your Dog Need?
So what is your dog likely to need nutritionally, depending on his or her size? Here’s an overview:

Small dogs: Small-breed puppies have faster metabolisms and reach maturity quicker. This means they need higher levels of protein, fat, calcium and phosphorus to support growth and development of bones, muscles and other tissues. Moreover, their mouths and tummies are dainty, so their meals must come in the form of a petite kibble.

Medium dogs: These breeds are -- you guessed it -- right in the middle. They’ll weigh between 20 and 50 pounds as adults. Food for these breeds should have the appropriate-sized kibble and meet their unique nutritional needs. High-quality foods contain antioxidants, including beta-carotene and vitamin E for immune system strength. They also include fiber, such as beet pulp; digestible carbohydrates, such as barley and grain sorghum; and omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, for skin and coat health.

Large dogs: Large-breed puppies tend to grow fast. If they’re not eating the right nutrients, their developing bones can’t handle the weight. Their skeletal systems bend and break, and these beautiful creatures can be hobbled for life as a result. “Large-breed puppies, or those expected to weigh more than 50 pounds as adults, should eat balanced food with controlled energy content along with calcium and phosphorus levels that have been formulated specifically for their needs,” says Dr. Amy Dicke, a technical services veterinarian with Eukanuba. If you’re not sure what food to get for your dog, ask your vet or breeder for recommendations.

Feeding Frequency
A St. Bernard puppy can gobble more chow in a sitting than a Yorkie can. But no matter your dog’s breed, it’s best to meet your puppy’s caloric needs by breaking up feeding into several small meals. Andersen advises offering your puppy at least three meals a day: breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/Eriklam

Decoding Puppy Food Labels

You are what you eat -- and so is your puppy. If your puppy is eating well, you’ll be able to see it in its energetic play, its curious approach to life and its beautiful, healthy coat.

What you’re seeing is an external articulation of what’s happening inside: Its skeleton is developing properly, muscles are building and neural pathways in the brain are expanding. High-quality commercial foods are best, as they can guarantee the antioxidants the puppy needs for its developing immune system, which helps its body combat common canine diseases like distemper and parvovirus.

A Recipe for Your Pup’s Health
Your puppy’s food should include a carefully calculated blend of protein, carbohydrates and fat necessary to ensure good health. A quality commercial food should include:

  • Digestible carbohydrates, such as corn and grain sorghum (to meet energy needs)
  • Fermentable fibers, such as beet pulp and the prebiotic fructooligosaccharides (FOS), a type of fiber found in certain fruits, vegetables and grains (to support digestive health)
  • Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids (to keep skin supple and coat shiny)
  • Antioxidants, like beta-carotene and vitamin E (to boost immune system)

Decoding Dog Food Labels
Read labels carefully so you know exactly what you’re putting into your puppy’s system. Here’s what you should notice:

  • The food’s name can tell you how much of a particular ingredient is in it. Brands that mention an animal protein source in the title (e.g., “Beef formula”) indicate that at least 25 percent of the product is beef. Names that include “With” in the title (e.g., “With chunky chicken”) or “Flavor” (e.g., “Turkey flavor”) contain as little as 3 percent of the ingredient.
  • Labels on the back of puppy food can also clue you in on the primary ingredients in the food. Those listed first, second and third are present in higher quantities than those listed fourth, fifth and sixth. (Though this is according to weights taken before cooking.)
  • The law requires manufacturers to list their names and addresses on their packages. If you ever have a question about a product, you should be able to call the company’s consumer affairs line to receive a thorough, researched response from a company representative.
  • The label should include a statement from an organization called the Association of American Feed Control Officials.

“I prefer to see that most, or all, of the ingredients are wholesome,” says Dr. Bruce Silverman of Village West Veterinary in Chicago. “I love to see if the ingredient list makes me want to eat it myself! You shouldn’t freak out too much over natural preservatives and ethoxyquin (an antioxidant used as a preservative). There hasn’t been any known health risk to dogs and cats, and it’s even found in human foods.”

Feeding Tips
Once you’ve purchased your puppy’s food, it seems it would be simple to feed him -- just open the bag and pour, right? But take as much care in feeding your pup as you do in selecting the right food.

Measure portion sizes, avoid letting him graze between mealtimes, offer fresh water, and don’t mix things such as cottage cheese, egg or hamburger in with your puppy’s chow.

Buy the right food and follow proper feeding requirements, and your puppy’s food will meet all its dietary needs.

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/AVAVA