Spring is here and with the spring flowers and nesting birds also comes canine shedding.
It's a springtime ritual for many dogs and their owners. Although some breeds don't shed, most breeds do. Some, like Alaskan Malamutes and German Shepherds, are known for the amazing amount of coat that is shed every spring and fall. Although the significant shedding seasons are spring and fall, some shedding does occur all year.
Shedding is a normal function that helps keep the coat healthy; dead hair is discarded so new, healthy coat can grow in. While shedding is normal and most dog owners are prepared for it, there are some things you can do to help keep the hair from taking over your house. It's also important to pay attention to your dog's shedding as an abnormal shed can be a symptom of a health problem.
Your dog's breed (or mixture of breeds) and the type of coat he has will affect much of his shedding. A German Shepherd with a normal, thick undercoat will shed garbage bags full of hair each spring whereas a Beagle will shed lots of those short hairs, but nowhere near as much as that German Shepherd. Then some hypoallergenic breeds like Schnauzers and Poodles don't shed much at all—it happens slowly every day, all year round, just like your own head hair.
The dog's geographical location and the climate will also affect the coat's growth and the resulting shedding. I live in Southern California and my dogs have sufficient undercoat to keep them warm in the winter but not nearly as much as their littermates who live in snow country.
Spaying and neutering also tends to affect the amount of coat a dog has and how much is shed. Typically, with some individual and breed variances, spayed and neutered dogs have more coat than intact dogs.
Normal shedding occurs all over the dog's body where he has undercoat (as most of the shed hair is undercoat). You'll see some of the outer hairs, called guard hairs, but most of the shed is the thick, soft undercoat. For the breeds without undercoat, the spring shed will be significantly less. For example, with my Australian Shepherd, he sheds tremendously on his body, especially his hips, but significantly less on his belly. He doesn't shed at all on his face or his lower legs.
Brush, Brush, and Brush Some More
Regular brushing won't rid your home of the coating of hair that occurs during shedding season, but every hair that you catch on your dog's brush is one less hair floating around your house. Contrary to many advertisements, there is no one grooming tool that will catch all the hair. However, that doesn't mean you can't try a variety of brushes to find the one (or ones) that work best on your dog's coat.
When my husband and I had German Shepherds, I used slicker brushes (a brush with many fine teeth), pin brushes (a brush with fewer teeth more widely spaced), and even a horse's curry comb. Those dogs shed so much I was willing to try anything and finally developed a routine with those three tools. Today, with an Australian Shepherd with lots of coat and an English Shepherd with significantly less coat, I use pin brushes on both dogs.
If you don't have any idea what to use, talk to a professional groomer and ask what they recommend. Then try a few different tools and see what works best.
Throughout most of the year, I brush my dogs two to three times a week unless they get dirty or pick up some burrs or foxtails (grass seeds). When shedding season arrives, though, I brush daily. By doing it daily, I can keep the grooming sessions shorter so that my dogs don't get upset and their skin doesn't get sore from over brushing. Too much brushing can scratch the skin so pay attention; if your dog cries or gets antsy, take a closer look at his skin.
Bathe Your Dog
When you bathe your dog, you'll loosen up all that dead undercoat and he'll shed even more. So why should you bathe him if it's going to escalate the shedding? By loosening the hair, you can brush him after the bath and get more of it out of his coat at one time.
So bathe him, dry him, and then brush and brush and brush some more. You'll get a lot of hair off of him.
This isn't going to stop the shedding but it will lessen it for a while. Depending on your dog's coat, two or three baths during the spring shedding season might be a good idea.
Get a Good Vacuum Cleaner
If you want to survive shedding season with as little bother as possible, make sure you have a good vacuum cleaner. I'm not going to push any particular brand as I've had many and find that most of the ones advertised for pets do a good job. I will, however, recommend one with a large container for dirt and hair. A few years ago, I had one recommended for pets but it had a smaller than normal dirt container and it seemed like I was always emptying it. So my next machine had a larger dirt container.
Vacuum often, too. If you normally vacuum once a week, vacuum every other day during shedding season. Although this might be the last thing you want to do, it will help keep the hair down in the house and will lessen the stress, anxiety, and discomfort of the shedding season.
If you see any changes in your dog's shedding, it might be a sign of an underlying health condition. Hormone changes, skin conditions, disease, or even some medications can affect the coat. Fleas, lice, and mites cause many skin and coat problems.
If shedding turns into hair loss, a thin coat, or bald spots, that's a problem and you need to take your dog to the veterinarian. If you see bare skin, bald spots, red/irritated skin, crusty skin, or scratching and itching, your dog needs to see the vet.
A healthy coat and skin also needs good nutrition. There is no one food that is right for every dog but a healthy coat needs a good quality, well balanced option like The Honest Kitchen's foods. Poor quality foods rarely support a healthy coat.
Shedding is Normal
It's hard to be patient when it seems like your dog is going to lose every hair on his body. This is especially true when it seems like all that hair ends up on your clothes, in your food, or in your bed. Shedding is normal, however, and if you can spend some extra time grooming your dog, you can help control the amount of hair in your house. Whatever you do, don't get angry at your dog. It's not his fault he's shedding.