Shedding comes naturally to dogs and is perfectly normal. However, a variety of factors affect the frequency and amount of shedding that healthy dogs experience throughout their lifetime. Some breeds shed more than others. Exposure to light and changes in temperature also play a role. Indoor pets tend to lose less hair than those living outdoors because heat and light levels fluctuate less inside the house. Fur helps to regulate body temperature and protect the skin and body from the sun and other factors, so a dog that spends a lot of time outdoors during chilly winters will need a thick coat to stay warm. When spring arrives, the massive shedding begins.
Although we cannot prevent dogs from shedding, there are steps we can take that will help to keep their coats healthy. First, we need to know the factors that determine "regular" shedding. With that information, we will better understand the signs and causes of excessive shedding, as well as what interventions are possible. Finally, we can consider strategies that will keep our pets healthy, reduce fur accumulations, and promote better living for us and our pets.
Joerg Huettenhoelscher via shutterstock
Normal Shedding Patterns
Most dogs shed throughout the year. Healthy dogs lose their undercoat consistently across their body, rather than in patches. Often, we notice pet hair accumulations on furniture and clothes, as well as around the house. Some breeds also experience a more intense form of seasonal shedding during the autumn and the spring as daylight and temperatures fluctuate. The summer coat is lighter, and the winter coat is thicker and heavier to protect the body from cooler weather. Most shedding occurs during the spring.
If your dog starts to lose hair in irregular patterns, you will want to make note of this situation and determine if any changes to the immediate physical environment may have been a contributing factors. Occasionally inspect your dog and look for changes such as:
- Noticeable bald patches
- Clumps of hair found around the house
- Excessive scratching
- Areas where fur is brittle, dull, or dry and pulls out easily
- Areas where hair has shed in an uneven manner or is much thinner than usual
- Agitation if touched in or around the area where loss of fur has occurred
- Evidence of open sores, rashes, bumps, scabs, or other skin irritations
Possible Causes of Excessive Shedding
If you notice symptoms of excessive shedding or any prolonged skin conditions on your dog, the best course of action is to schedule a visit with your pet's veterinarian so they can determine if there may be an underlying reason for the hair loss. They may want to perform blood work or lab tests to check the thyroids for evidence of diseases. After assessing the dog's physical condition and reviewing lab results, the veterinarian will better understand the causes. Some possibilities include:
- Allergies, including those related to food or medication
- Exposure to bites or infestations of parasites, such as mites, fleas, or lice
- Reaction to medications or environmental factors, including materials used in soaps, powders, bed materials, etc.
- Contact with caustic chemicals
- Bacterial or fungal infections
- Diseases that affect the thyroid, liver, kidneys, or adrenaline system, including Cushing's or hypothyroidism
- Over-exposure to the sun
- Behavioral patterns, such as excessive licking in an area due to trauma or injury
- Stress resulting from changes in the home environment
- Improper diet that may include a lack of necessary minerals
Strategies for Removing the Hair from the House
Once you have taken the dog in for any necessary visits with the vet, there are steps you can take to address the patches of hair found around the house. Ways to reduce the presence of hair around the house include:
- Sweeping tile, vinyl, or hardwood floors, and vacuuming carpeted areas
- Using sticky rollers or a dampened sponge to remove hair from upholstery and fabrics
- Putting washable towels in areas where the dog likes to sit for extended periods or nap
- Keeping a feather duster or lint brush handy
- Changing filters on climate control units more frequently so that an accumulation of hair does not affect the intake and cycling of air
- Hanging draperies made of smooth rather than textured fabrics
Other Important Steps
Take a proactive approach to shedding by brushing your dog on a regular basis. Try to develop a regular schedule. Not all combs and brushes are equally effective, so if you are unsure of the best brush to use, talk with your pet's groomer or veterinarian. Also, as your dog ages, they may not be as able to groom themselves due to arthritis, diminishing muscle tone, and other ailments. When brushing a senior pet, remember that their skin may be more sensitive and use gentle strokes. Dogs of all ages with thick coats also benefit from more frequent summertime baths and healthy fats added to their diets.
Another important way to enhance your dog's quality of life involves making their time "doing business" as comfortable and pleasant as possible. Most potty pads and indoor potty products are far from ideal. Similar to cat litter boxes, they have a smell and presence that requires a lot of maintenance. For dogs that have health, stress, or behavioral issues that may include excessive shedding, their dog bathroom time may become another very stressful moment.
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