Black lab with sandy face.

Everything to Know About Your Dog’s Dirty Coat

Dirty white dog in sink
One of Susan's dirty pups.

Nobody likes it when their dog stinks! Petting a dog with a dirty coat is no fun either. Their hair just doesn’t feel as soft as it does when it’s not clean. Nothing beats a freshly cleaned dog. We all know the tell-tale signs and smells of a dirty dog but have you ever wondered what’s going on beneath the surface? Like with so many other aspects of grooming, keeping an eye on their coat is critical to their health and well-being. When we know what’s normal and appropriate for our dog, we can keep an eye out for signs that something isn’t quite right.

woman holding nose while holding dog

Their Coats Work Hard

A dog’s coat does many helpful things for them. They help regulate their temperatures, keeping them warm or cool depending upon the conditions. Coats offer sun protection and help keep dirt and water away from their skin. Interestingly enough, hard-working coats are made up of dead skin cells! 

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Yep, you read that correctly. A dog’s hair is made up of dead skin cells along with the protein keratin. They grow from the follicles in the inner layer of the skin. These follicles all have an associated oil gland with them. These glands work hard to keep the dog’s skin springy and the hair smooth. Breeds that spend a lot of time in water (I’m looking at you retrievers) have more active oil glands than other breeds. This helps to waterproof their coats a bit. Like so many other aspects of grooming, a dog’s coat varies, depending on the breed. 

Some breeds, like poodles, only have a single undercoat. However, most breeds have 3 different types of hair. Here are the types of hair:

  1. Guard hair, the primary hair that you see when looking at a dog.
  2. Undercoat
  3. Whiskers

It’s helpful to know when to clean our dog’s coat. Here are some of the easiest ways to tell when your dog’s coat isn’t as clean as it could be.

How to Recognize When Your Dog's Coat is Dirty

  • It smells bad! This is typically a sign of yeast or bacteria build-up.
  • It looks dirty! Their coats shouldn’t appear oily, dusty, or have an excessive amount of loose fur.
  • When hair strands start sticking and clumping together – clean hair looks fluffy with strands separated. 
  • When it’s starting to tangle – clean hair does not tangle.
  • When it’s brown instead of white.
  • When the dog is scratching and biting themselves -could it be fleas, ticks, or other parasites? Sores? 
  • When the hair has lost its sheen.
  • When a medium-length-haired dog’s coat appears greasy. It’s especially noticeable on Maltese pups.
  • When it’s hard to get a comb or brush thru it. It feels almost sticky.
  • When it’s static-y and fly away.
  • When it’s no longer soft.
  • When it begins to smell “doggy”. 
  • Did you know the dirtiest part of your dog is the top of his head? It’s where everyone touches him/her. 

A healthy coat is a joy to pet. It feels soft and smooth while looking shiny. And most importantly the odor isn’t gag-inducing.

3 Ways to Reduce Odors

1. Diet. There are many factors involved in maintaining your pup’s coat. The skin is the largest organ, has pores that secrete what can’t be used by the body. If the body can’t process foods, the excess can be seen or smelled on the skin; coming from ears, eyes, nose, etc. In essence, through the holes in the body. This is usually labeled as allergies

I always suggest a strong nutritional foundation. I have found that lots of dogs do well on a fresh raw diet. If your dog is having lots of issues with its skin and coat and nothing else has helped, I recommend researching raw feeding and deciding if it will be a good fit for your family.  

2. Brushing. It helps to remove dead skin cells, circulates blood thru stimulation and other problematic material that might become trapped in their hair. Brushing is a critical part of grooming. Click here to download the Brush Like a Pro Infographic. It’s an invaluable resource to have to brush thoroughly and quickly.

3. Bathing. The most obvious solution to a dirty or smelly coat is a bath. Most dogs do well on a 3-4 week bathing schedule, but if your dog is especially dirty or starts to smell, it might be necessary to bathe more frequently or look into other issues that might be happening.

I wrote a blog all about it. You can check it out here.  If baths don’t seem to be getting them clean, check out the K9K BathTime Bathing Machine. It’s a more thorough and efficient way to bathe them. It does a much better job of getting rid of bacteria and getting them truly clean. Buy the BathTime here.

raw food for dogs
I started feeding my dogs raw 5 months ago. Here’s what I’ve observed: No more general doggy odors or old dog odors My dogs shed way less, including my chihuahua mix, which is amazing because he normally sheds like crazy! Less matting- especially behind the ears, hips, and top of tails. They are only itchy when they’re dirty, but once they have been cleaned no more scratching! I've also noticed that they have brighter eyes - cataracts less prominent (I can’t promise your dog's eyes will do this). Raw Fresh Food wins the day!
Susan Garmony
Susan Garmony
Dog Grooming Expert

Reasons Your Dog's Coat is Dirty and Stinky

Healthy dogs should not have an odor. Odors can also mean there is a medical disorder present, such as:

  • Atopy. Seasonal or food allergies can cause inflammation of the skin which leads to excessive secretion of oil from certain glands in the skin, producing a musty smell. 
  • Yeast can be a culprit. Yeast dermatitis or Malassezia dermatitis is caused by the fungus Malassezia pachydermatis. It is an extremely common cause of skin disease in dogs. This yeast is normally found on the skin, but its abnormal overgrowth can cause dermatitis or inflammation of the skin.
  • Ear infections. These can cause the entire body to smell. If you suspect they have an ear infection start by taking them to the vet for a diagnosis. Once you’re certain I recommend using Zymox Ear Solution. I’ve used it with great success personally and recommended it to my grooming clients who have also experienced great results. No need to clean the ears, but you gotta be diligent applying daily for 7 days.  Buy it on Chewy or Amazon

Odors might also mean that they rolled in something stinky (they love this!). 

  • If you don’t have time to give a full bath, try Waterless Bath Shampoo. I use and love Bio-Groom. Spritz it on until damp, rub it in with a damp towel. Test if clean by smelling with your nose.

So dog parents, keep loving on your pups. Give them lots of kisses on top of their cute little heads and spend plenty of time petting them. These times spent together allow you to keep an eye on your dog’s health and well-being. 

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