Why Dogs Shed and How You Can Control It
Whether you're getting ready to adopt a new dog or are used to all your furniture and rugs covered in fur, learning to control dog shedding is an important aspect of pet care. And it's not just for keeping your house tidy: Loose hairs on your dog can get matted, trapping dirt, debris, and oils on the skin. This can make your dog uncomfortable and lead to skin issues.
Luckily, there are shedding remedies you can try to keep the fur from flying.
Why Is My Dog Shedding So Much?
Despite what you might have heard, all dogs shed. In fact, all animals with hair shed—even humans. We all just shed at different rates.
"To better understand how coat type affects shedding, you need to understand how a dog's hair grows," says groomer Dawn Squadrito, owner of Hairy Poppins, a mobile grooming service in Loxahatchee, Fla. Hair growth and shedding occurs over four phases:
- Anagen: This is an active period when hair grows to its genetically predetermined length. New hairs push out any remaining old hairs.
- Catagen: During this transitional phase, the hair stops growing and the root shrinks and attaches to the hair.
- Telogen: The hair and root rest while a new hair root develops underneath.
- Exogenous: The old hair sheds to make room for new growth. The new root moves to the anagen phase.
The No-Shed Myth
Dog shedding frequency differs by breed. Some dogs will significantly shed only once or twice a year. Other pups shed hair from different parts of their bodies at different times, so it seems like they're constantly shedding. And if a dog's coat spends more time in the anagen phase, it can seem like he barely sheds at all.
Dogs with low rates of shedding are sometimes misleadingly called "non-shedding breeds" because the process is infrequent and not very noticeable. But don't assume these dogs are low-maintenance—many low-shedding dogs have greater grooming needs than their high-shedding counterparts.
Understanding Dog Coats and Choosing a Breed
To combat your dog's shedding, you have to know the kind of hair you're dealing with. Dog coats vary in length, texture, thickness, and hair-growth patterns, and fur can vary on different parts of a dog's body.
Before bringing home a new fur baby, know the types of dog coats (and how much shedding and grooming you can expect).
- Smooth coat: The hair is sleek, shiny, and close to the body. Some dogs with short, smooth coats (such as beagles, boxers, and bulldogs) need to be brushed daily to reduce shedding.
- Double coat: A short, thick undercoat beneath a longer topcoat of guard hairs. Double-coated dogs with wiry guard hairs—such as the Lakeland terrier—need their coats to be hand-stripped to remove dead hair by the root.
- Wire coat: Hair texture ranges from coarse and wiry to smooth. Dogs with wire coats, including Airedale terriers, Brussels griffons, and Scottish terriers, shed less than many other breeds, but you still need to remove tangles as necessary.
- Silky coat: The hair is long, straight, and silky. Such coats require daily brushing and are found on cocker spaniels, Irish setters, and Yorkshire terriers).
- Curly coat: Coats range from tight curls to beachy waves. Corded coats, like what's found on the pumi, are a variation of curly. Grooming needs vary dramatically between breeds, so check with a professional groomer for the best approach.
When Is Dog Shedding Season?
Not all dogs experience an obvious shedding season. Along with a range of hair types, dogs display a variety of shedding patterns influenced by seasonal conditions such as hours of daylight and temperature.
"They're also governed by hormones, metabolism, reproduction cycle, and age," says certified master dog groomer Christina Pawlosky, owner of Pet Connection Care Center in Warren, Ohio. "And with some dogs, the longer the hair grows, the less often that dog will shed."
When seasonal shedding does occur, it tends to be in the spring and fall as the coat prepares for summer and winter weather.
Tips for Reducing Dog Shedding
Research grooming requirements for your dog so you know what type of shedding patterns to expect and how to combat them year-round, Pawlosky says. If you've adopted a mixed-breed dog, use a DNA test to determine his primary breed makeup, which will give clues to how much shedding you're in for. Use this information to create a routine that matches your pup's needs.
1. Start a Grooming Routine
It's important to establish a grooming routine soon after bringing home a new puppy. The same goes for adopting an older dog (although it may take a little longer to convince him that grooming time is a happy time). Positive reinforcement can help teach your dog that being brushed and combed is something to enjoy.
For practicality, set up a table outside on your patio or in the garage so you don't have to bend down during grooming sessions. Cover the table with a towel, yoga mat, or other surface your dog feels secure standing on.
2. Use the Right Tools
Regular brushing and bathing greatly reduces dead hair accumulation, thus preventing it from sticking to your favorite chair or pair of black pants. "It's a good idea to brush before a bath and again afterward," Squadrito says. Pre-bath brushing helps loosen mats and knots that might get worse with water and shampoo. "I also like to use a rubber-backed curry brush in the tub to loosen the hair. It's an inexpensive but very effective tool. And most dogs love the gentle massage [it provides]."
You may need more than just one dog shedding brush. If your dog has curly hair or a thick double coat, he may require a slicker brush and spray conditioner to remove dead hair and tangles. Fortunately, most grooming tools spell out specifically what type of coat they're best suited for, so take time to read packaging descriptions or seek advice from a professional groomer.
Above all, keep your dog's comfort in mind. "It's important to find tools that are gentle on the skin; repetitive motion can cause irritation," Squadrito says. "A deep-conditioning shampoo followed by a conditioner helps soften skin so hair is released more easily."
3. Try Home Remedies and Supplements
Some pet parents turn to vitamins and supplements or even home remedies as dog shedding hacks. But while certain dog shedding products and tricks (like feeding your pup olive oil) may help improve the condition of the skin and coat, not all are risk-free. Always ask your veterinarian for advice before starting any treatments at home.
4. Know That Flying Fur Is Part of Being a Pup Parent
Shedding is a natural and healthy process for all creatures with hair, so don't expect to eliminate all signs of dog fur from your home. And as tempting as it may seem, shaving your dog down is not a great solution. Depending on your dog's coat type, pet hair removal may require frequent vacuuming and the use of other pet hair removal tools.
Is My Dog Shedding Too Much?
All pups shed, but it's important to understand what's normal for your dog and when to get help. If you think your dog is shedding more than normal based on his coat type, start with a good grooming session.
Brush your dog and look at the whole coat as well as the skin underneath. Contact your vet if you notice any patches of hair loss or baldness, redness or irritation of skin, crusting or severe dandruff, foul odor, discharge, or discomfort. Increased shedding may be a sign of a skin condition or other disease. If the skin appears normal, a professional groomer may be able to help you better manage your dog's coat.
A version of this article, written by Sandy Robins, first appeared in Happy Paws Spring/Summer 2020.