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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