By David F. Kramer
We love our dogs, from the tips of their wet noses to their happily wagging tails. However, when it comes to the problems associated with pet ownership, the issue of shedding hair often tops the list.
Why Do Animals Shed Their Hair?
For as long as mankind has been living alongside dogs, we’ve spent countless hours removing shed fur from our clothes, food, homes, and possessions. Dog owners do our fair share of shedding, too—just check out the drain after you’ve had a shower. But why do animals shed in the first place?
“Animals shed their hair as a natural process to remove damaged and old hair and replenish with new hair,” says Dr. Adam Denish of Rhawnhurst Animal Hospital in Pennsylvania. “Hair has a multitude of purposes, including sensation, protection of the skin, and regulation of body temperature, among others.”
How Much Shedding is Too Much?
Shedding is a perfectly normal occurrence, but what’s considered normal? In many cases, this will depend upon the breed.
“Some breeds shed year-round, as in boxers or most short coated dogs, while others, such as Huskies or Akitas, usually shed twice a year. Most people think long coated dogs shed more often, but that is not usually true. Most long coated dogs have shedding seasons when the weather changes,” says Dr. Denish.
“When an animal sheds, whether due to nerves, injury, or normal shedding, it is a good thing in most cases. However, for animals that do not groom properly or have certain illnesses, too much or too little shedding can be a result.”
How much shedding is too much? According to Dr. Jennifer Coates of Fort Collins, Colorado, “Owners should be concerned when they observe an increase in shedding accompanied with itchiness, patchy hair loss, skin lesions, or signs of generalized illness. These are signs that your pet needs to see a veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment.”
“If shedding is abnormal, such as with thyroid disorders, diabetes, or poor nutrition, it can be helped by improving the health of your pet,” says Dr. Denish. Animals that have dry skin, dandruff, or skin diseases will tend to have more shedding problems as well.”
How to Control Dog Shedding With Diet
Whether your dog leaves a light coating of fur in its wake or clumps the size of small mammals, here are some things you can do to stem that hairy tide.
According to Dr. Coates, once health problems have been ruled out, a well-balanced and healthy diet can go a long way to keeping shedding at an acceptable level.
“A mediocre diet will not supply all the nutrients a pet needs to grow and maintain a healthy coat. Adequate amounts of high quality protein and fat, particularly essential fatty acids, are needed to reduce shedding,” says Dr. Coates.
And when it comes to your choice in food, it’s best not to skimp, says Dr. Denish.
“The quality of food that your pet eats greatly influences the degree of shedding and the quality of the coat,” says Dr. Denish. Of course, there is a genetic and breed component to an animal's shedding too.”
The ‘Non-Shedding’ Pet Myth – What is a Hypoallergenic Pet?
In recent years, certain types of dog breeds have been touted as “hypoallergenic,” but this is a misnomer. Allergen researchers have concluded that there are too many factors in play to prove that there is indeed a truly hypoallergenic dog. While some allergic people might tolerate some breeds better than others, allergens are present in dander and saliva, and all dogs shed to some degree—so there really is no guarantee that a dog won’t aggravate your allergies, much less not shed at all.
“Any person with dog allergies might respond more or less strongly to any individual dog," Coates says. The only way to determine if a dog is a good match for you is to spend time with that dog on multiple occasions and see how you react.”
How to Control Shedding with Grooming
Advice from vets is all fine and good, but if you really want to get the skinny on shedding, you need to talk to someone who’s spent time in the trenches where the fur is always flying: a dog groomer.
Mari Rozanski, of Plush Pups Boutique and Grooming in Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania, has been primping pooches for more than 25 years. Proper grooming, like so many other aspects of dog ownership, begins at home. In short, you’ve got to brush them. But how often?
“In a perfect world, I would say brush your dog on a daily basis. It's good for their coat and skin, and it can serve as quality time with your dog,” says Rozanski. “More realistically, brushing your dog at least once or twice a week should help keep shedding to a minimum.”
The Best Grooming Tools for Controlling Shedding
While a multitude of home grooming tools are available for your pet, you certainly don’t need to spend a fortune to manage your dog’s shedding. A few basic (and inexpensive) items are all that you’ll require to keep your dog looking fine.
“I personally prefer a slicker brush and a metal comb,” says Rozanski. “There is wide assortment of tools available, but some instruction on choosing the right one is necessary. Usually a groomer or breeder can help with this. A hand-mitt, although I have never tried one, is good for a very short haired dog such as a Doberman or a Dalmatian.” Rozanski recommends the FURminator line of products. FURminator manufactures a wide array of brushes, shedding tools, combs, shampoos, and conditioners that are available in most pet supply stores as well as online.
When to See a Professional Groomer
When it comes to grooming, sometimes it’s best to just leave it to the pros.
“Professional grooming every 4-6 weeks is a good way to keep shedding at a minimum and to avoid a mess at home; groomers have all the proper tools and specialty shampoos for shedding dogs,” says Rozanski.
“Bathing at home can be fun, but if the dog is not rinsed or dried properly, or if the wrong shampoo is used, a skin condition can occur. Also, the pH balance for a dog is different than a person, so only dog shampoos should be used,” added Rozanski.
Keeping Your Home Clean of Pet Hair
When it comes to keeping your home clean, there are many things you can do to either pick up cast-off dog hair or keep it from becoming a problem in the first place. According to Rozanski, it’s always a good idea to keep furniture and other desired areas covered with a throw or sheet, but vacuuming is your best weapon in the fight against dog hair. While a conventional vacuum can be used, there are special devices and attachments that are designed to deal with pet fur, which can make the job easier.
When it comes to quick pickups of dog hair from clothes and furniture, Rozanski is partial to hand rollers from companies such as 3M. If you have wood flooring in your home, a Swiffer or similar type of broom might do just as well as a vacuum, but you will still need one to get in the nooks and crannies of your furniture. Again, none of these actions will completely eliminate shed hair from your home, but they will help you combat it.
Using Air Filters to Control Pet Hair in the Home
Pet hair and dander in the air can exacerbate allergies, asthma and other conditions, and often the conventional filtering that comes with heating and air conditioning systems won’t be robust enough to create an easy breathing environment. There are many standalone air filters you can purchase, but Rozanski says she has had particular success with Aprilaire products.
Obviously, frequent filter changes are a must, and for heavily shedding dogs, you might even want to change filters more often than the company recommends.
Perhaps the most important thing you can do to stay ahead of shedding is to think ahead.
“My suggestion for most owners is to learn about your dog and the breed before making a decision on purchasing or adopting the pet. You need to understand the requirements for that pet in terms of veterinary care, nutrition, and maintenance,” says Dr. Denish.