Why does my dog's fur get greasy? is a common question many pet parents have about their pups.
Well, the truth is that there is no short answer here. Animals 🐶 have skin, and that skin has glands in it. Those glands secrete oils and sebum, a waxy substance, as a way to protect the skin from harm.
These oils and waxes help trap dirt, keep out pathogens, and reduce the chances of a tiny, minor scrape getting infected, or skin issues cropping up.
This is true of people, and it's true of our pets. Cats, and especially dogs, excrete sebum and oil to help keep their coats healthy and shiny. Without it, skin can get irritated, hair can grow brittle and thin, coats can shed, and more.
At the same time, too much oil and sebum (which you think of as "grease" in hair) can be a problem too.
Here are some of the most common issues:
It can irritate the skin, leading to redness, flaking, itching, and even infections.
It can trap dirt, pathogens, and pests against the skin, where they can do more damage.
It smells! Old oil and sebum can go rancid and stink, and nobody wants a smelly fur baby.
In this post, I discuss the 8 most common reasons why your dog's fur gets greasy. From dog skin allergies to obesity to hormonal disorders.
If you suspect your dog is going trough a hormonal imbalance, you should definitely start from reason #3. I have addedan educational video on Cushing's disease by The American College Veterinary Internal Medicine that will help you spot 🚩 early sings of this condition.
As always, my blog is packed with 📚 resources. For pet parents seeking to learn 🤓 more about dog fur care, feel free to scroll all the way down to the read further section. I have written extensively about this topic.
Alternatively, feel free to visit my blog where you can search by topic. Spoiler alert: it is loaded with useful pet parent resources.
Dogs can end up greasy in a number of different ways. We'll walk through each in detail.
1. Primary Seborrhea
First on the list is what is known as "primary seborrhea." Seborrhea is the scientific name for the illness where the skin produces too much sebum/oil. Primary seborrhea is an illness itself, as opposed to secondary seborrhea, which is when oily coats are a symptom of another issue, which is what most of the rest of the problems on this list boil down to.
Primary seborrhea is a genetic disease common in certain dog breeds. It typically manifests when your fur baby is around two years old and can progress as they get older. Sometimes, it will get worse; other times, it may fade over time.
The most commonly affected breeds include Terriers, Cocker Spaniels, Springer Spaniels, Basset Hounds, Dachshunds, Labradors, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, Dobermans, and Shar-Peis. That said, any dog can develop this condition; these are simply the breeds most prone to it.
"When canines have seborrhea, the condition typically impacts parts of the skin that are heavy in sebaceous glands. The skin located on the back is a good example. These parts of the skin typically come off in flakes that show up wherever dogs spend significant amounts of time, such as their beds. The flakes look like pale scales." - Cuteness.com
Generally, if you suspect some kind of glandular or oil issue, your vet will want to conduct tests to rule out secondary seborrhea before diagnosing primary seborrhea.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for primary seborrhea. According to VCA hospitals, some alternatives to manage the condition include omega-3 fatty acid supplements, anti-seborrheic shampoos or sprays, and retinoids among others.
CBD oil is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. Among other health benefits, regular consumption may help keep a balanced and healthy coat.
But, what can cause secondary seborrhea? As discussed above, secondary seborrhea occurs when another condition causes excessive scaling and flaking of the skin. This includes most of the items on the list below.
2. Skin Allergies
Have you ever brushed up against poison ivy and had your skin break out in an itchy rash? That's called "contact dermatitis" and is a form of allergic reaction.
In your dog, a similar reaction can be the over-production of oils as a way to protect the skin from allergens. This results in a condition known as seborrheic dermatitis. It is, essentially, an allergic reaction to something your dog has come into contact with at some point.
Unfortunately, the overabundance of oil and sebum can cause irritation in and of itself, so simply removing the allergen might not cure the problem. How can you handle it? I have some recommendations later, so read on to find out.
"Many of the symptoms of seborrhea are worse in the folds of the skin, especially on the neck and underneath the body. The odor associated with seborrhea can be worsened by bacterial skin (Staphylococcal pyoderma) or yeast (Malassezia) skin infections. Many seborrhea patients also have ear problems (otitis)." - VIN Dermatology Consultants
3. Hormonal Disorders
Hormones are chemicals that control pretty much every process in the body. There are dozens of them flitting through your bloodstream, and the same goes for your fur baby. And, just like how humans can have hormonal disorders, so too can dogs.
Dr. Kevin Gulikers, MS, DVM, DACVIM Discusses Cushing's Disease in Dogs
In some cases, an imbalance in sex hormones can also cause similar issues. These can be genetic, but they can also be caused by problems like cancer affecting the thyroid or other parts of the hormonal system, so it's worth taking your fur baby to the vet to get them checked out, just in case.
Treatment of hormonal conditions often involves medication, which may be a life-long thing. You'll need to talk to your vet and get blood panels done to see if they have a hormonal problem. It's not something you can diagnose through looking at their coat alone.
Fleas, ticks, and other parasites (as well as yeast and fungal infections) can also lead to an overabundance of oil in the fur. If your fur baby has parasites, they'll be more likely to scratch at and pick at their fur, because their skin itches.
That irritation triggers the body's defenses to make more sebum to try to protect it, which leads to an oilier coat. Luckily, it's a lot easier to diagnose fleas than it is a genetic ailment.
Pretty much any foreign organism can cause problems. Fleas, ticks, bacteria, yeasts, fungal infections like ringworm, and anything else getting trapped against the skin can proliferate and irritate the skin into producing more oils to try to clear it out.
As noted above, dogs with skin folds are particularly at risk. Skin folds trap humidity that turns into a safe haven for yeast and bacteria to rapidly and happily reproduce.
It’s in you and your pup’s best interest to be proactive by using preventatives. Talk to your veterinarian about regular flea and tick treatments to keep those annoying pests at bay.
When your fur baby is overweight, their hormones can swing out of balance, which leads to similar hormonal disorders as above. Luckily, these are a lot more easily handled; you just need to put your pup on a diet to help them lose weight to get things back in balance.
Obesity can also cause other issues, like joint pain, which can make grooming more difficult and make it harder for your fur baby to clean out the oils caught in their fur themselves. A chonker might be hilarious and adorable, but it's not definitely healthy.
6. Dietary Deficiencies
If your fur baby isn't getting the right nutrients in their diet, it can lead to too much oil in their coats. Hormones have to come from somewhere, and that somewhere is the building blocks the body uses to make them, which are nutrients, vitamins, and minerals.
The wrong balance can throw many bodily systems out of whack. In particular, you want to make sure your fur baby is getting enough omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which among other things help protect the skin and fur.
7. Environmental Factors
If you live in an area where the seasons change, you may have noticed that your pup has more skin problem during certain times of the year.
We mentioned skin allergies earlier and this can be more severe during different times of the year. Seasonal allergies can affect your pup just like they affect humans. Unlike humans though, dogs don’t get stuffy noses, instead their skin tends to show the allergic reaction.
When the temperatures start to rise, it might be tempting to shave your pup during the summer to keep them cool. Doing so will likely cause your dog’s glands to produce extra oil and sebum to protect their skin, leading to an extra oily coat. Instead, consider give any long-haired pup’s just a trim.
8. Inadequate Grooming
If your fur baby isn't being properly groomed, oils can build up. In general there are a few causes. The first is, unfortunately, often tied to infrequent grooming. You may simply need to bathe your fur baby more often, to remove older oils and let new sebum replace it.
It may seem counterintuitive, but the opposite is also a cause. Bathing your pup too frequently can lead to an oil coat. Too many bathes can actually trigger your pup’s glands to produce more oil because it’s being stripped away too often.
Every dog is different, and they will require different grooming routines and bathing frequencies. Consult with your veterinarian about the adequate bathing frequency for your pup’s breed.
The third grooming related cause is simply age. As your fur baby gets older, they may develop flexibility issues or joint discomfort that prevent them from being able to groom themselves as easily.
That lack of self-care leads to further build-up and more issues. It's just one of the many age-related problems a dog can develop. Age related aches and joint discomfort can also be managed with regular administration of CBD oil.
How to Treat an Oily Coat
If your fur baby is suffering from an overly oily coat, you'll want to take steps to figure out why it's happening. The first step is to rule out the easiest causes, which are diet and environment.
First, check to see if your fur baby has gotten into something or rolled in something that might have irritated their skin. This can be tricky to determine, but if you keep your fur baby away from their usual haunts and it all clears up, you might have to go check for something allergic in the area.
Second, check their skin and fur to see if you see signs of parasites. Fleas are more obvious, but ticks can be a problem as well. If you spot signs of them, well, you know what to do. The vet should have something that can help.
Third, look at their diet. They might be missing out on key nutrients, and that can be causing problems. This might need an overview from your vet as well, so if you reach the point of calling them, make sure to know your dog's diet ahead of time.
And, of course, if your dog is overweight, you'll want to do what you can to solve that problem as soon as possible, to prevent a wide range of health issues.
If none of these appear to be the answer, consider grooming habits. As we mentioned earlier, under-bathing and over-bathing can both produce an oily coat. If you’re bathing your pup more often because they are a little stinky, but not dirty, consider using something like a doggy-safe coat spray.
It can help squash the stink in between bathes. You can also try a doggy dry shampoo, which works in a similar manner.
If none of this works, you'll probably need to take your fur baby to the vet. You should also make sure to call the vet if your fur baby has red skin, zits, bald patches or loss of fur (beyond normal shedding), flaky skin, thick or crusty skin, pain, itchiness, or a foul smell.
These can all be signs of something that needs more dedicated treatment than simple grooming habits.
Your vet will be able to run tests, including:
A physical examination to look for signs of any of the above that you missed.
Skin scraping or hair plucking, to examine in detail to look for signs of parasite or infection.
Cultures of the skin to check for yeast, bacteria, viruses, or fungal infections.
Fecal analysis, to check for internal parasites or other issues.
Blood tests, to check for signs of underlying problems, as well as check hormonal balances.
In extreme cases, imaging or even a skin biopsy might be necessary. Usually, it won't come to that, though. Blood tests and skin tests are often enough to find the culprit.
Once you know the root cause of your dog's oily fur, you can start to come up with solutions. These can include diet, changes in bathing frequency, or the use of a medicated shampoo to help treat skin issues.
Remember to never use human shampoo on your pup. You may also need to give your pup medicine on a routine basis, especially if they turn out to have an underlying genetic disorder.
In the meantime, you'll want to deal with the oil as best you can. Consider putting down towels where your fur baby likes to lay. This way, you can protect your carpet, your couch cushions, your bed, and other locations from any grease stains.
Now let's turn to you, our dog parents and readers! Is your furry friend's coat a bit greasy? If so, what did you do to take care of it? Did you choose any of these listed changes? How did that specific change work? Be sure to leave all your thoughts and stories in the comments section down below! I'd love to hear them!
Additionally, if you are feeling like getting a little something for your fur baby that is made right here in the USA, 100% safe and, USDA certified organic, check out Toe Beans online pet supplies store!
K. Marie is an animal lover, wife, kitty mom, dog auntie, writer, and co-founder of Toe Beans, a proud American family-owned online boutique pet supplies store focused on the improvement of the life of furry family members via pet parent education, better products, and advocacy. She has over 20 years of experience as a pet momma. She loves sharing her personal journey and experience as a pet parent via her blog and Facebook page where she currently has more than 30K followers (@furrytoebeans) and counting :-).