Hair, hair, everywhere

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One of the most frustrating parts about being a dog owner is the hair. It ends up everywhere; on your clothes, on your furniture, even in your food.Except for the few truly hairless breeds, all dogs shed. So, what can you do to stop the hair?

Shedding is part of the natural life cycle of hair shafts, which goes through phases of growth and shedding. These phases affect the rate of growth, and can vary by breed, age, environment, climate and overall health. Some dogs do shed more than others. Heavily double-coated breeds, like Labradors and Malamutes, shed profusely; while breeds with continuously growing hair, like Poodles, Yorkies and Shih Tzus, shed very little. Your dog’s health can also be a factor in shedding. Skin problems, endocrine diseases, ringworm, stress, mange, cancer, nutritional or vitamin deficiencies and other metabolic disorders can cause hair loss or change the rate of hair growth, so it is important that you understand how much shedding is normal for your dog.

Seasonal shedding is the most common cause of hair loss, and there is no way to stop it. It is a natural part of the lifecycle of the hair. Most dogs are double-coated, meaning they have undercoats.An undercoat is typically a shorter, softer coat that grows under the longer top coat. When the weather warms, dogs shed their heavier winter undercoats to make way for a lighter summer coat. Then, when it begins to get cool again, dogs shed their lighter undercoats and grow a thicker, warmer coat for winter. Because this is a natural process, there is no way to stop it. Management is the key.

Daily brushing is the best way to get the hair gone quickly. Use a brush suitable for your dog’s coat.  A Zoom Groom is a rubber curry comb with soft rubber fingers that move through the hair and pull out the loose coat while massaging your dog’s skin. Most dogs love these sessions.

De-shedding tools can also be very effective in loosening dead hair. A warm-water bath also helps the follicles to release the dead hair and allows you to get much more out at a brushing. When you brush your dog outside, let the hair drift through your yard. Birds really seem to enjoy lining their nests with the soft undercoat.

One thing you should not do to prevent shedding is to shave your dog down. Shaving your dog can interfere with his natural self-cooling and self-warming mechanism. You can make your dog susceptible to sunburn and he’ll be very itchy when his coat starts to grow.

If you do an internet search, you are likely to come up with all kinds of products promising to stop your dog from shedding. Remember, seasonal shedding, or shedding that is caused by the natural growth cycle of the hair, cannot be stopped by any pill, application or shampoo. There are some things you can do to lesson shedding caused by other factors though.

First of all, it’s important to feed a quality dog food. A high quality dog food with good, digestible protein sources will give your dog healthier skin and a healthier coat. Lower quality dog foods are often made with fillers, especially corn and wheat, which are the two most common food allergens in dogs. Make sure the dog food you choose has a good source of fatty acids for coat health. There are supplements you can purchase which contain vitamins and fatty acids that will improve the quality of your dog’s coat.

Make sure your dog is wormed properly and is on a good flea preventative. Dogs with fleas will constantly scratch themselves, damaging their coats, and can even get hotspots and other infections due to the scratching. If you notice your dog doing a lot of unusual scratching and you don’t see evidence of fleas or flea dirt, it is worth a trip to the vet to see if there is anything else going on.

Remember that excessive or unusual shedding, and/or a dull, dry coat, can be signs of cancer, mange, or metabolic diseases. If it is not the typical time of year for your dog to shed, or if his coat looks unhealthy or he’s developing bald spots, see your vet. Allowing some conditions to go untreated while you try to resolve the problem yourself can make them much more difficult to treat when veterinary assistance is sought.

Any dog with hair will shed. Diligence on your part will make the shedding manageable.

Happy brushing!

Karlene Turkington, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, is a lifelong animal lover who has been training dogs for over 20 years. Readers are welcomed to send their questions to: info@TrainMyK-9.com This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it for possible inclusion in future columns. Information provided here is a basic overview of issues. Specific health or behavioral concerns should be discussed with your veterinarian or qualified animal trainer or behaviorist.

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