Attack of the Dog-fur: How does shedding affect your life?

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Dr. Laurel Davis, Asheville integrative vet, offers “Stories from a Holistic Veterinarian”, the blog of a holistic vet and “animal interpreter.” With a clinic in downtown Asheville, NC. Dr. Laurel also offers animal health, lifestyle and vaccination advice for cats, dogs and their human friends across the country.
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Attack of the Dog-fur: How does shedding affect your life (and your dog’s)?

Asheville Integrative Vet
Most double-coated dog breeds tend to shed seasonally, and over the course of two to three weeks a couple of times a year will become a moving cloud of loose hair and fur!

“Why is my German Shepherd Dog, Helga, still shedding even though summer is over? My next door neighbor’s poodle never sheds. 🙁 ”

Shedding canine companions can be frustrating for all of us, no matter how much we treasure them. All pooches shed to some degree, with the exception of the completely hairless varieties. Certain breeds, sometimes referred to as hypoallergenic dogs, shed very little, while others, such as the heavily double-coated breeds, shed large amounts continually.

In general, most dogs will shed extra during spring and fall. Seasonal shedding occurs as a result of temperature change. This process is sometimes called “blowing coat”: when the weather warms, canines shed their old winter undercoats to make way for a lighter summer coat. Then, when it begins to get cool again, they shed their lighter undercoats and grow thicker, warmer coats for winter.

While some dogs seem to shed their fur prolifically all year round and others barely shed at all, all dogs go through a distinct process of hair growth and loss throughout the year. Some dogs shed regularly at a steady rate, while others will shed heavily during certain seasons. A lot of this depends on your dog’s breed, and what type of coat they possess.

What is the difference between hair and fur?

Dog hair and fur are both made out of keratin, the same protein that is present in finger nails, feathers, hooves, claws, and horns. In other words, hair and fur are chemically the same entity. One of the core differences between hair and fur is that hair is longer and also goes through a slower growth cycle, which means it sheds less often. Fur goes through a faster growth cycle and so sheds more heavily, which in turn, leads to the spread of dander. Fur is more closely associated with the canine undercoat. This undercoat is also the coat that is the second coat of the double-coated dogs. Most dog breeds are double-coated.

Both hair growth and fur growth pass through several distinct phases as part of their growth cycle, and how long each phase takes is one of the core elements in telling hair from fur.

The different phases of hair growth

Regardless of the type of hair or fur your pup has or whether she has a double or a single coat, her coat goes through a four-stage process of growth and renewal. These four phases are explained below:

  • Anagen phase: The new hairs are in the active stage of growth.
  • Catagen phase: The new hairs reach their maximum length and stop actively growing.
  • Telogen phase: The hair is dormant and fully attached but not actively growing.
  • Exogen phase: The hair reaches the end of its natural life cycle and is shed from the follicle, and the process begins all over again.

The University of Tennessee states that a dog’s coat is in the telogen-predominant cycle longer than it is in the other phases. The anagen phase is brief and, once the coat reaches the genetically determined length, it cycles into the telogen stage until it dies and falls out.

Some dogs, such as Labradors and Huskies, go through very clearly delineated growth and shedding phases of their coats, blowing or heavily shedding their coats more or less in one go a couple of times a year. Most double-coated dog breeds tend to shed seasonally, and over the course of two to three weeks a couple of times a year will become a moving cloud of loose hair and fur! This allows these breeds to either grow in warmer, thicker hairs in preparation for winter or finer, cooler hairs in the spring and summer.

However, not all dogs grow and shed their hairs at a uniform rate. Some dogs that do not shed much at all, shed only lightly, or shed small amounts on an ongoing basis may have a rather staggered process of coat growth and renewal. Certainly, canines that live indoors are subject to a temperature-controlled environment which can fool Mother Nature, causing changes to their natural shedding patterns. If your pooch does not go through a couple of phases of very heavy shedding over the course of the year, they probably fall into this category. This means that across the whole of the coat, different hairs are in any one of the four growth stages, leading to a staggered process of loss and renewal. This will tend to become slightly more pronounced around the turn of the seasons.

Watch this short video on the phases of hair growth:

Generally, dogs without hair or with continuously growing hair and little to no fur tend to leave the least amount of dander in the environment. Therefore, these canines are known as the hypoallergenic dogs. With many of these pooches, their hair will keep elongating until it is cut or it dies. Because of this, if they are left ungroomed, they become a tangled mess. Regular and possibly frequent trips to the groomer are a must!  Below is a list of some of these breeds. You might also want to consider adding to this list crosses between any one of these breeds and other breeds of dogs.

  • Basenji
  • Bedlington Terrier
  • Bichon Frise
  • Border Terrier
  • Chinese Crested
  • Coton de Tulear
  • Havanese
  • Irish Water Spaniel
  • Kerry Blue Terrier
  • Maltese
  • Poodle
  • Portuguese Water Dog
  • Puli
  • Schnauzer
  • Shih Tzu
  • Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier
  • Xoloitzcuintli
  • Yorkshire Terrier

Factors influencing shedding

  • Temperature (seasonal)
  • Lifestyle (indoor vs. outdoor animals)
  • Nutrition (hair loss due to poor nutrition)
  • Breed
  • Gender (spayed/neutered dogs can have more pronounced undercoats, so shedding can be more noticeable)
  • Age
  • Hormonal status (can determine hair growth phases)
  • Behavior
  • Health (skin problems due to parasites, allergies or infection, endocrine diseases such as hypothyroidism, metabolic disorders, organ dysfunction)
  • Pregnancy
  • Medications (prednisone or other corticosteroids)
  • Owner (of course, regular brushing is primo!)

Tips for decreasing shedding

As you may have suspected, there are no cures for shedding. Oh, bah humbug, you say? Since shedding is a healthy and natural process, let’s review some reasons to spend time grooming your plucky pooch and tips to possibly decrease the shedding of mass quantities of hair and fur.

  1. Take your love bug to your veterinarian to rule out a possible underlying medical cause.
  2. Consider regular grooming, so you can control when they will ‘lose‘ the hair. Put a reminder for yourself on your calendar.
  3. If you are using a wire brush or curry brush, make the session a positive experience
  4. Pair the brushing with a treat!
  5. Start at the head, and work your way down her back.
  6. Every bit of hair and fur you collect on a brush is one less bit fluffing up the environment!
  7. They love the extra attention.
  8. Brush first, then de-shed, using a shedding rake/de-shedding comb that has a small razor blade to help with matts and thinning of the hair.
  9. Use a metal-tined flea comb on the shorter-coated dogs. This can be a bit more intense, so go slow. You will have a grand harvest of fuzz!
  10. Feed high quality, highly digestible protein. Hair is primarily protein. You want the hair to stay in a long time, not die and fall out.
  11. Vary the diet: not just a good, low to no carbohydrate kibble, but get some real foods involved. Of course, a gradual shift to ‘real’ food would also be wonderful. Your local holistic veterinarian can be a great resource for ideas and customized recommendations for your particular animal.
  12. Rotate diet so Fido is not eating the same protein or brand of food all the time.
  13. Supplement with additional essential fatty acids: Fish oils are the primary source of Omega 3 Fatty acids; however, there is a concern about mercury. There are some mercury-free fish oils that are available at this time. Flax oil is almost as good. Both of these essential fatty acids can decrease allergic symptoms and inflammation. Flax oil can be given at 1,000 mg per 10 pounds of body weight. The total dose amount can be divided into halves and given twice per day.
  14. Use coconut oil in their food or even rub into your dog’s coat. Coconut oil is naturally antibacterial and antifungal, and it is a most excellent moisturizer.
  15. Curcuminoids, chemical compounds found in turmeric, can be given for underlying allergies and inflammation.  The daily recommended dose is at 100mg per every 10 pounds per body weight. If given twice per day, total amount can be divided into halves. 
  16. Regular bathing with a soothing pH-balanced mild oatmeal shampoo. The act of bathing will loosen the hairs.
  17. Follow with a conditioner of the same type.
  18. Add in B vitamins to the diet. Visit your local holistic veterinarian for ideas and dosage information.
  19. Antioxidants, vitamin A and vitamin C are great anti-inflammatory supplements.
  20. Molasses is high in B vitamins and iron. Both of these are wonderful for your dog-friend’s skin.
  21. Be sure your dog has enough moisture. He needs hydration from intaking clean water. One of my pet peeves is feeding dry kibble. Don’t do that to your dog! Add water or broth to dry kibble, and allow it to sit for 15 to 20 minutes so it is soft. Also, canned food and homemade food will have plenty of moisture. In the winter, consider an air humidifier for your whole family!

There’s a reason your four-legged love muffin is such a joy to touch and snuggle with. That delightful hairdo they sport is what has us do a double-take and lures us in for the repeat caress. On the flip side, what grows in must come out eventually!

Shine On,

Dr. Laurel 

WNC homeopathic veterinarian

Dr. Laurel Davis is Asheville’s integrative vet, offering phone and Skype consultations for animal lovers everywhere. Call 828-254-2221 or order an Ask Dr. Laurel™ phone or Skype session or bring your dog or cat to her downtown Asheville, NC clinicRead more patient stories.

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