The Water Bowl
Breed & Health Resources

The Seasons are Changing and Dogs are Shedding

By Liz Palika

Dog Shedding

My first dog was a German Shepherd. Watachie was a handsome, intelligent dog. He and I enjoyed training, competing, and search and rescue work. He was an awesome dog, but boy did he shed. Every spring and fall I would spend hours brushing out his loose coat. I was in awe that I could brush that much and he wasn’t naked.

The Basics of Shedding

Seasonal shedding is normal; think of it as a renewal of the dog’s coat. However, the shedding will vary according to the type of coat. Many breeds have what is called a single coat. These coats have one type of hair from the skin out. Jack Russell Terriers, Boston Terriers, and Greyhounds have single coats. When shedding, these dogs will lose these short, stiff hairs.

Breeds with a double coat have two types of hairs. The hairs in the outer coat are called guard hairs. The undercoat is closer to the skin and is soft and fluffier than the outer coat. During shedding seasons, some of the guard hairs are lost but vast quantities of the undercoat will be shed.

Most breeds who shed do so in the spring and fall. Females, however, can also shed during or after their season, or during or after a pregnancy. Dogs who undergo surgery often shed after that also.

Abnormal shedding can be a symptom of a disease or health problem. If your dog is losing too much of his coat – to the point that the skin is visible – talk to your veterinarian as this is not normal shedding. Your dog needs to visit the veterinarian also if the skin is red, scabby, if the hair is thinning in spots, or if your dog is chewing or scratching.

Dealing With All That Hair

A healthy dog should have a shiny, clean coat no matter what type of coat he has. Regular combing or brushing can keep the coat clean and stimulate the skin’s oils that help keep both the skin and hair healthy. Brushing twice weekly is fine for many breeds, although dogs who play hard or get dirty may need more frequent grooming.

When shedding begins, increase the combing and brushing. Single coats can be groomed with a soft bristle brush or a rubber curry comb every other day. Many owners are amazed at how much hair dogs with a single coat can lose.

Dogs with a double coat usually need daily brushing during shedding season. This will help remove the loose hairs and prevent tangles and mats. Breeds with a thick, soft undercoat, such as Chow Chows, Collies, Shetland Sheepdogs, German Shepherds, and Australian Shepherds, can develop tangles and matts in the undercoat if the loose hairs remain in the coat.

When brushing, the comb or brush needs to go through the coat to the skin. If you brush over the top of coat, the grooming tool will go through the guard hairs but not the undercoat. A grooming rake has long stiff teeth that will go through the coat; just be careful not to harm the skin underneath. Part the coat and work on one section at a time, from bottom to top. Then move to another section. If your dog gets impatient, take a few breaks.

If your dog has tangles and mats, a mat splitter, a rake, or a long toothed comb can be used to work those out of the coat. If these don’t help, rub on some hair conditioner (yours is fine) and work it in with your fingers. Then work out the tangle.

The goal of regular combing and brushing during shedding seasons is to remove the loose hair so that the coat remains clean and healthy. But regular brushing can also help keep some of the hair out of your house.

A Vacuum Cleaner is Your Friend

If you have a dog that sheds heavily, invest in a good-quality vacuum cleaner. Dog hair can easily overwhelm a lesser quality machine and you’ll have to replace it sooner. Several companies make models specifically for homes with pets.

Once you’ve selected the right vacuum, use it often. With two Australian Shepherds and one English Shepherd, all of whom shed heavily twice a year, I vacuum daily. It’s a pain, but by doing it daily I can keep some control over the amount of hair in the house. Shedding is normal but that doesn’t mean you have to live in a house full of hair.

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