Why Dogs Shed

Have you ever seen the t-shirt that says, “Dog hair is my bling”?  There are many days dog hair is my bling.  And on those days, I’m depending on the fact the lady on the checkout line staring at my fur-laden black leggings has seen that shirt too.

Shedding… the one thing we can all agree is a doggy downside.  If there is such a thing.

A better sense of why and when our dogs shed can help us minimize the little fur balls around the baseboards… and maybe even the “bling” on our clothes.

Of the eight dogs I’ve owned in my life, only one of them was what people would say is a non-shedder.  But really… no such thing as a dog that doesn’t shed.  All dogs shed (except the hairless ones).  Some breeds just shed more than others.

This one “nonshedder” I had as a kid was a Kerry Blue Terrier.  A Kerry has a single coat.  It has no undercoat.  Dogs with an undercoat are double coated.

And hair and fur, they’re often interchanged when we talk about a dog’s coat.  But hair and fur are different.  A dog with a single coat has hair.  Dogs with a double coat have fur.

The misconception that some dogs are nonshedders exists because dogs with a single coat shed much less than dogs with a double coat.  Dogs need to get rid of old hair, like humans do.  This makes room for fresh healthy new hair.  So a single coat will shed but only minimally.

This distinction is one you’d be wise to understand if you’re thinking about getting a new dog.  If you know the dog you’re considering has a single or double coat, you’ll know how much you can expect your new best friend to shed.

The double coat

Many breeds have double coats, particularly breeds that originated in cold climates… breeds like Siberian Huskies, Malamutes, Labradors, Newfoundlands and Akitas.

But there are many breeds that aren’t “cold weather dogs”— like Greyhounds, Beaucerons, Collies, and Wheaton Terriers — that have double coats too.

And I’ve only named a few of the double-coated breeds.  The list is lengthy.

If you understand what a double coat is, you’ll understand why dogs with them shed more.

A dog with a double coat has a soft insulating undercoat (hair closest to the skin) with a coarser topcoat made up of longer guard hairs that repel moisture.

The furrier Nordic breeds are fluffier with a heavily insulated double coat to keep them warm during those cold Nordic winters.   Their coats change with the seasons.  They do this by blowing their coat twice a year—a heavy shed in the spring and fall.

In the spring, a double-coated dog will shed its winter undercoat to empty the hair follicles and prepare for the new growth they’ll get for the summer.

A summer undercoat won’t be as thick as the winter undercoat.  But it serves a different purpose… protection from the heat and sun.

Right about now, your double-coated dog may be blowing his summer coat.  That’s typical in the fall when they’re preparing to grow their thicker winter coat.

These seasonal periods of shedding are more pronounced if your dog lives outside.  The coat of an indoor dog won’t change as much with the seasons because they’re not as reliant on their coats for protection from cold and heat.  They’ll shed more consistently throughout the year.

To shave or not

Because I live in a warm-weather climate, I often see double-coated dogs whose owners have shaved them… presumably to keep them cool.  Or to keep fur off the furniture.

Don’t do it.  The purpose of the double coat is to keep the dog warm in the winter and cool in the summer.  Just because we’re cooler when we shed a layer of clothing doesn’t mean our dogs are cooler with less fur.  We sweat through our skin.  They don’t.

In fact, shaving your dog can cause some serious problems.  They can suffer from folliculitis, and other conditions that affect the coat and skin.  And because they rely on their coat for protection from the heat and sun, they can easily overheat without it and get sunburned.

How to minimize shedding

There are things you can do—other than shaving your dog—to cut back on the amount of hair that ends up in unwanted places.

Good grooming habits are the first line of defense.  Brush your dog daily with a brush that’s meant for a shedder.  This will loosen the hairs that would otherwise end up on your furniture.

When you bathe your dog, use a gentle shampoo made for normal or dry skin.  Medicated shampoos or shampoos for coarse hair are often too harsh and can make your dog’s skin dry.  The drier and itchier your dog’s skin, the more they’ll shed.

And a professional grooming will get a lot of the hair out.  A groomer will vigorously rake the undercoat and do a de-shed treatment leaving the undercoat on the groomer’s floor instead of yours.

Most importantly, keep your dog’s skin and coat healthy by feeding them a food rich in Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids like Husse’s Lax & Ris or Husse’s Lamm & Ris.   This will substantially reduce shedding.

If you own a big shedder, your vet may recommend B vitamins.  They can prevent conditions that cause dry itchy skin.

But if your dog’s shedding seems abnormal, there could be more going on.  Stress, disease and parasites can all cause shedding, as well as hormonal factors.

If your dog is intact, they will shed with changes in their hormone levels.  As a result, spayed and neutered dogs have denser fluffier undercoats.  Hormones will cause pregnant and lactating dogs to shed more too.

And hair that comes out in clumps leaving bare skin is not normal shedding.  See the vet if you think the amount your dog sheds is unusual.

Knowing why and when your dog sheds can help you get on top of it.  But in spite of our best efforts, a shedder’s gonna shed.  Duct tape… it works!

How do you deal with your shedder?  Share with us in the comment section at the top of the page.

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7 Herbs That May Be Good For Your Cat

You may or may not believe in using herbal supplements to treat what’s ailing you. But have you ever thought about using them for your cat’s medical conditions?

They can often help where traditional medications have fallen short. And they can also be a terrific complement to traditional medicine.

Just as herbs are beneficial for treating conditions in people, they can help our pets too.

But always check with your vet before giving herbs to your cat. Some herbal supplements can be toxic if you give your cat too much. And they can be inadvisable if your pet is taking other meds.

And remember that a supplement can be good for one condition, but make others worse. Only your vet can tell you if your cat is a good candidate for herbal remedies.

Here are 7 herbs to consider for your feline.

1) Valerian Root

People use valerian root to help them sleep. In cats, it has the opposite effect. Valerian root will give your cat a boost of energy. This is helpful if you have an overweight, lazy cat you’d like to get moving.

Valerian root is a great alternative to catnip if your kitty isn’t a fan. Or you can use both on different occasions. It makes them feel euphoric and can reduce stress. Actinidine is the active ingredient in valerian root that produces the euphoric response.

You can sprinkle valerian root on their scratching post or toys. You can even find toys laced with it.

2) Dandelion

Dandelion root is a diuretic. It promotes liver detoxification and keeps the urinary tract healthy.  The root of this pretty yellow flower is just good for digestion.

And how about a laxative?  Does your cat need one? Dandelion root’s a natural remedy.

You may be wondering about the flower itself.  Well, it can be a safe and gentle pain reliever.

3) Catnip

If you have a cat, you know catnip is kitty crack. It’s an herb in the mint family. If a cat eats catnip, it acts like a sedative. But if your kitty sniffs it, this herb also known as Nepeta produces a “high” that lasts for about 10 minutes.

Nepetalactone is the compound in the leaves and stems that produces the response in your cat. The scent mimics that of feline pheromones. The “high” your cat feels from sniffing this herb may make them act hyper.

Cats inherit the sensitivity to Nepetalactone and only about half of all cats are actually sensitive to the herb.

Because the sensitivity takes time to develop, young kittens won’t react to catnip. Your cat must be several months old before they experience the “high”, if at all. And if your cat is exposed to it often, they may lose their sensitivity.

4) Goldenseal

Goldenseal is a natural antibiotic. Make a goldenseal tea.  Strain, cool, and make a compress for infected or irritated eyes.

You can also use goldenseal as a disinfectant on wounds. Turn the powdered root into a poultice and apply it to skin infections or ulcers.

Goldenseal has anti-inflammatory properties too.

5) Eyebright

Eyebright is an herbaceous flowering plant. It’s one you might never have heard of.  But this is an herb that seems to be a panacea for upper respiratory infections. Eyebright helps nasal mucous, sneezing, and breathing difficulties, as well as eye rubbing. It also supports the immune system.

Eyebright is often made into a tea—1 to 2 teaspoons added to your cat’s food. Or use it as a wash for the nose or eyes.

6) Nettle

You may choose to buy this one in supplement form to avoid having to harvest it from your garden. The little hairs that cover the nettle plant will sting your skin and cause blisters. Its other name is stinging nettle… for a reason.

But nettle packs a health punch!

A tea of nettle is helpful in treating seasonal allergies. There are histamine-like substances in nettle. These substances may slow the body’s own release of histamines… the cause of those allergic reactions.

Nettle is rich in vitamins and minerals including Vitamin C and iron. These nutritive properties make nettle an all-around great addition to your cat’s food.

It also reduces itchy skin from fleabites when used topically. And there’s evidence nettle may help with kidney function.

7) Parsley

Veterinarians use parsley to support urinary tract health. It helps prevent kidney stones and is used to treat cystitis.

Parsley stimulates appetite in cats that are poor eaters. And it’s good for digestion, not to mention fresh breath!

Parsley has a lot of folic acid… very beneficial to heart health. And some claim parsley discourages tumor growth, particularly lung tumors.

In cats that have given birth, parsley is useful in promoting lactation and contracting the uterus. But never give parsley during pregnancy. It can cause contractions.

You can also rub parsley leaves on the skin to help with bruising and itching.

These are only a handful of herbs that are natural remedies for what’s ailing your kitty. There are many other herbs that can be helpful where traditional medicine hasn’t been. You can get lots of information on this topic from a holistic veterinarian.

And if you decide to grow any of these herbs in your garden, you’ll want to research the best and safest ways to use them. A holistic vet can help.

But if you decide to buy herbs in supplement form instead of growing them, buy from a reliable source. Reputable sellers should be more than happy to tell you how to use them effectively and safely.

Herbs are generally not harmful when used topically.

But as I said at the start, herbs taken orally can endanger your cat. Some herbs are poisonous. Some are only poisonous in high doses. Some are contraindicated with traditional medications. So always talk to your vet before starting your cat on any herbs or herbal supplements.

Do you give your cat herbs? How have they helped? Share your experience in the comment section at the top of the page.

Pumpkin for Dogs and Cats… 6 Reasons To Give It To Your Pet

Fall is here and pumpkins abound this time of year. Halloween brings them out in all their glory. Now that the tricking and treating is done, what do you do with that big orange squash?

Well, if it’s carved… enjoy it a little longer and then throw it out. But if your pumpkin is untouched and undecorated consider cooking, pureeing and adding it to your pet’s food.

From the flesh to the seeds, pumpkin’s got essential fatty acids, nutrients and fiber that are beneficial for our cats and dogs.

Here are 6 reasons you should consider feeding it to your pet… if not fresh pumpkin then canned pumpkin from the store. It’s full of good stuff.

1) Digestive Health

Because pumpkin is such a fantastic source of fiber, it’s helpful for constipation and diarrhea.

Constipation is common in senior cats. If your kitty suffers from it, talk to your vet about adding a little pumpkin to your cat’s food.

The increased fiber—3 grams per cup—makes the stool bulkier. Bulkier stool stimulates the colon and makes the muscles contract to move the stool through the colon and out the tush.

And pumpkin’s helpful with diarrhea too. If your dog eats something they shouldn’t and they end up with loose stools, give them a little pumpkin.  The fiber in pumpkin bonds together in your pet’s digestive tract and acts like a sponge to absorb excess water in the diarrhea.

Pumpkin is good for general stomach upset in your dog or cat.

2) Urinary Health

The seeds of the pumpkin are a healthy treat for your pet too. They are rich in essential fatty acids (omega-3) and antioxidants (Vitamin C) that support a healthy urinary tract.

If your pet suffers from incontinence, kidney stones or crystals, talk to your vet about pumpkin seeds as a wholesome treat.

3) Weight Loss

The high fiber and water content (90%), and low calories and fat in pumpkin can help your overweight pet slim down.

Replace a little of their food with pumpkin. It tastes great. And even though you’ve cut calories and fat, the fiber helps your pet feel full.

4) Nutrient Dense

Pumpkin is not only high in fiber and low in fat and calories, it’s full of nutrients.

The omega-3 fatty acids found in pumpkin are good for the skin and coat. Omega-3s have anti-inflammatory benefits as well. My post Omega-3 Fatty Acids… Your Pet Needs Them Too! talks all about that.

Pumpkins are loaded with beta-carotene (cancer fighting), magnesium, potassium, iron, zinc, manganese, copper, and Vitamins A and C.  So although there’s no documented science that pumpkin is beneficial to the immune system, it seems logical that it couldn’t hurt.

Beware… some of these vitamins and minerals can be toxic though if levels get too high. So never give your pet more than a teaspoon or two of pumpkin a day. And always check first with your vet to be sure it’s okay for them to have it.

5) Hairballs

Are hairballs a problem for your cat? Well, pumpkin’s a natural solution. The fiber helps move hairballs through the cat’s digestive tract. And if your cat eats pumpkin regularly, it can prevent hairballs from forming in the first place.

6) Hydration

If your pet eats dry kibble, their bodies need to secrete more gastric acid and pancreatic enzymes for digestion than with wet food. Adding a moisture rich food like pumpkin to dry kibble reduces the dehydrating effect.

How do you make pumpkin edible for your pet?

Well, definitely don’t feed it to them raw. Cook it or buy it canned.

But if you buy the canned stuff, be sure it’s just pureed pumpkin. Don’t buy pumpkin pie filling. It’s loaded with sugar, spices, preservatives and fat, which can all add up to stomach upset for your pet.

If you’re going to cook fresh pumpkin, it’s simple. Cut the pumpkin into small pieces. Cut off the pith and the seeds. Put the pumpkin skin-side down in a roasting pan. Add ¼ inch of water and bake uncovered for 1 hour or until tender at 300 degrees. When the pumpkin’s cool, cut off the skin and mash or puree the flesh.

To feed the seeds, cook them on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Roast them at 375 degrees for 5 to 10 minutes. Let them cool and then give only 1 or 2 a day as a treat. They are high in fat which can cause diarrhea if you give your pet too many. Store the leftovers in an airtight container.

Because pumpkins are big and canned pumpkin is plentiful too, you can end up throwing most of it away if you don’t plan.

Pumpkin puree will only last a week in the fridge. And since you will only give your pet about a teaspoon a day, a good amount will end up in the garbage at the end of the week. But here’s what you can do.

Use ice cube trays to make individual daily servings. Once frozen, separate a weeks worth into small containers. Then each week defrost one container at a time.

If you freeze the pumpkin puree, be sure to mix it when it defrosts because the water will separate from the pulp.

You can feed your pet a teaspoon of pumpkin by itself as a treat, or mix it in with their food. But get the okay to add pumpkin and find out the right amount from your vet.  Otherwise, you may end up with a case of diarrhea.

Do you feed your pet pumpkin? If so, do you buy canned or feed fresh pumpkin? Tell us the effect it’s had on your pet in the comment section at the top of the page.