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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Do shed, or not do shed, that is the question.

I am often asked what can be done for a dog that sheds a lot and the first thing that comes to my mind is, what breed of dog are we talking about, because some breeds are prone to seborrhea, red mange, or hypothyroidism. So top of the list would be a health check. Second guess, barring any medical problem, would be plain old dry skin and dull coat from not enough omega fatty acids. I always try to supplement my dog’s food with 3-6-9 fish oil gel caps from Puritans pride. I don’t go nuts over special shampoos that claim to help shedding because if you really think about it, the simple act of washing, then brushing, and drying your dog is going to rid it of the dead hair for about a week anyway. You can probably remove just as much hair with a slicker brush and it takes less time. If you have a short haired dog, get a large spray bottle, fill it with water and a bit of some doggie cush, cush cologne, spray the dog and wipe it down with a dish towel. You’ll be amazed at the amount of dirt and hair that comes off the dog, and again, less time consuming than a full bath. Don’t get me wrong, if the dog has dry or itchy skin a good oatmeal bath can do wonders, so bathe away my friend, but don’t buy into non shedding shampoos, unless of course you have money to burn.

A dog’s skin and coat are conditioned just as much from the nutrients it gets on the inside as it does with daily brushing on the outside, so giving omega fatty acids daily can make a difference in a dog’s coat within two weeks. For those interested, Puritans pride usually has a sale going on, and I have not yet found a better deal in a drug store as I have found online with Puritans pride. (Click on the title of this article and it will take you to their site) I also found that fish oil pills help greatly with… well… dog and people stinkers! Please don’t even ask how I discovered that, just know that it works! ( and I say this with a little dignity, very little!)

My last group of six dogs was very different from the six I have now. They consisted of, 1 Belgian Sheepdog, 1 Chow/Lab mix, 1 Sheltie/St Bernard mix,(I know) 1 Bearded Collie, 1 St. Bernard and 1 Cocker Spaniel. All very different breeds with very different coats, all ate the same food, and all had equal inside and outside time, so which do you think caused most of the problem with shedding? Most would think it a tie between the Belgian Sheepdog and the Bearded Collie because of the long hair, coming in second may be the Sheltie mix, and St Bernard, then the Cocker, and lastly the Chow/lab mix with its very short hair.

Of course we must factor in the seasonal changes, colder weather brings in more of a coat than warmer weather and with the winter thaw comes more shedding to get ready for the spring/summer seasons. If there’s a female heat cycle happening you can also expect some extra hair loss at that time. Well guess what, all six of my dogs seemed to shed the same amount of hair! Hmm, why? They were different breeds, different sizes, and different coat lengths.

Dogs actually shed all year long, there is no real start point, and what I mean by that is that new hair does not push out old hair, it is continual and although it does have something to do with the cold and hot weather, it also has to do with the amount of time the dog spends in natural light (sunlight) as opposed to spending time in artificial light (inside lamps). Why? Enter photoperiod (The duration of an organism's daily exposure to light), which triggers the amount of shedding you will see in your dog. Dogs which spend a lot of time in natural light will shed more at one time in the spring/summer than a dog that spends more time in artificial light. The dog in artificial light will continue to shed all year long as well but it will be consistent so it may seem like lesser amounts at once than a dog that spends most of its time outside in natural light.

By the same token, some breeds have slower hair growth then others and the hair may stay in the “resting/transitioning phase” longer which can contribute to less shedding, thus leading some breeder’s to play on the words "This breed doesn't shed." . in order to sell their dogs. All dogs shed, all year round, so really what they should be saying is that breed X has a slower hair growth rate so you won’t see as much shedding as you might see from breed Y.

Of course genetics, health, and feeding have a lot to do with it as well. A cheaper grain filled food may yield dryer skin leading to a poor coat condition by causing hair breakage and loss. Illness such as hypothyroidism will cause poor appearance of the skin and coat, as well, stress in a dog can also cause hair loss.

So, getting back to my dogs, in the end it seemed like my short haired Chow /Lab mix Maxie was the worst shedder out of all 6 dogs, but actually, I think it had more to do with her hair length because it seemed to stick like tiny needles into every nook and cranny of every piece of furniture I owned, whereas the longer haired breeds lost their hair in a clump which was much easier to clean up. What did they all have in common aside from the food? All spent the same amount of time in artificial light.

I would have to say that if you want your dog to have a nice thick coat some of the things that can help are natural light over artificial light, a dog food that is well balanced (always with a meat listed first, not grains) and good overall health. Supplements that contain omega fatty acids such as the fish oil or Derm Caps are a nice added bonus as well but check with your vet before using any over the counter meds even if they are just vitamins. Vitamins are the most poorly regulated meds on our store shelves. You want to get the right amount into your dog and some of the omegas do come in your dog's food.

Here are the different growth phases that your dog’s hair goes through.
1 Anagen: is the phase of new hair growth
2 Catagen: is a transition phase where the hair stops growing and the outer root sheath attaches to the hair.
3 Telogen: is the resting phase where the hair doesn't grow or shed.
4 Exogen: is when the hair falls out and the hair follicles move back into the anagen stage

A good article on omega fatty acids: what they do for the body and what to use as omega fatty acids. I use fish oil but you may choose to use another source.

For a list of breeds that shed hair at a slower rate making them more allergy friendly copy and paste the below link. When you see a dog of interest click on it and a separate page will open on that breed.

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