Coat changes – can we spot them and why we should be checking…

Nicky Grant BSc Hons Physiotherapy, MSC Veterinary Physiotherapy, MCSP, HCPS, ACPAT A, RAMP

One of the discussions I often have with my clients when they come to the Win Clinic is about their dog’s coat. Questions like “has it always been like this, has it changed?” I am often asked why this is important so for this reason I thought I would write a quick blog on it to hopefully share the information far and wide.

Coat changes can often signify an underlying source of dysfunction, either with the muscle and other soft tissues or the joint or both. Often sore spots in the muscles, called trigger points can cause areas of coat changes or coat kicks, either over the area or close by. The coat can look like its not lying completely flat, it can look curly, it can stand up, it can have a kick, there are many different presentations, the important thing is whether it is normal for your dog. The changes can be local to a small area on the back or they can present as an entire rough coat along the back. These more global changes are I think are more tricky to spot as they look very much like they are part of the normal coat, especially if your dog has a wavy coat. They also change over time so the small changes become hard to spot.

There are a number of reasons that I think the coat changes. Firstly, the hair follicles communicate with the fascia that sits underneath the skin, therefore if the fascia is tight, sore or dysfunctional then the hair will be affected. Fascia is a type of connective tissue, made up primarily of collagen. It sits beneath the skin and it attaches, stabilises, encloses and separates muscles and other internal organs. It is vital to normal movement as it allows glide and ease of movement through out the body. It is an incredibly important tissue within the body and is something as a physiotherapist I assess and treat routinely.

Secondly, when muscles, fascia and joints become stiff or sore your dog will adapt how it moves. This may mean that one side of the back is kept rigid, or doesn’t bend as much as the other side. This then creates further dysfunction of the underlying structures that then creates the changes mentioned in the previous paragraph.

Below is an example of a dog that I saw in clinic. The picture on the left is at the initial assessment, the picture on the right is after the first treatment. Look at the difference in how the coat is lying, especially at the bottom of the back. The first picture the dog is standing in a side flexed position, this is just the picture, it was able to stand straight.

Now it was easy for the owner of this dog to see the change after the treatment, but it wasn’t easy for them to see the changes that happened to the coat over time. So, what we suggest at the Win Clinic is to take monthly pictures of your dog’s back, this way it is easy to spot any changes. Also, I know I sound like a broken record, but I believe in this so passionately, get your dog checked routinely and regularly by a professional. This way, they can pick up any issues and sort them early.

If you are training and or competing at agility then you absolutely must be having your dogs assessed regularly, there is no excuses and in not having your dogs checked you are potentially missing crucial changes that can be effecting your dogs health, wellbeing and performance. However, pain and dysfunction effects dogs of all ages, jobs and breeds so pet dogs can be equally as effected by this so I hope that some pet dog owners may be reading this and thinking about their dog’s musculo-skeletal health and may consider booking in for a general health check with a physiotherapist. If you would like to find a physio in your area please check out www.acpat.org to find a physio close to you, alternatively check out www.rampregister.org to find physiotherapists, chiropractors and osteopaths in your area.

To conclude, get your camera out, start snapping and start monitoring! Please comment and share any experiences you may have…

Did you know that warming up and cooling down your dog can really help to maintain flexibility and reduce injury, check out our winning warm up ideas here:
Check it out here!

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