Shedding can be one of the less enjoyable aspects of having a dog in the house. Although dogs shed their coats twice a year, it can sometimes feel like dogs shed all day, every day. You aren’t the only one who feels that way! If you look closely at your dog-friendly coworkers and peers, they are probably carrying some loose dog hair on their clothes and personal items too.
Undoubtedly, you have found hair in places that you had no idea it could hide. You don’t have to hug your dog and roll around on the ground to find it all over your clothes, bags, and car. Despite the constant presence of dog hair, most dogs only lose their coats seasonally. Here are some reasons that dogs shed more in the winter, and how you can anticipate the next wave of shedding.
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The Root of the Behavior
Different breeds of dogs have different hair lengths and coats, and all dogs are capable of shedding at any time. This is why you will find loose dog hairs everywhere, no matter what the time of year. Most dogs lose hair a few strands at a time, just like you do. The old hair gives way to the growth of newer, healthier hair, and this can help keep the coat consistent and healthy over a lifetime. Some dogs, like German Shepherds, are notorious for shedding all year long. Other dogs, like Poodles, seem to shed rarely, if ever. Knowing how much your dog typically sheds is important in determining whether or not something else is causing your dog to shed.
Your dog’s wardrobe consists of two biologically engineered outfits, and the changing seasons and weather patterns are responsible for when your dog takes one off and puts the other on. When the days become shorter and colder, your dog drops its lighter summer coat and grows out a thicker, heavier winter coat. Conversely, when the days become long and warmer, your dog will shed this thick winter coat in favor of a lighter, thinner coat. Typically, these changes take place at some point late in the fall and spring, although indoor dogs may experience the changes in climate in a slightly different way.
As winter gives way to spring, most dogs drop their winter coats in bulk, resulting in large clumps of hair that may seem to drop suddenly depending on the breed. This is especially true for double-coated dog breeds. If you have a double-coated dog—for example, an Australian Shepherd—you will deal with heavy seasonal shedding. Double-coated dogs have a dense, shorter undercoat that sits beneath a longer coat of hairs designed to keep out dirt and moisture. When these coats are shed, they are often shed simultaneously, resulting in the clumps of hair that drift throughout your home and get stuck on chair and couch legs.
Encouraging the Behavior
The best course of action for dogs that shed heavily is to anticipate the shedding and remove the hairs from your dog before they end up on every business casual button-down you have in your closet. Before the hairs drop from a dog, the follicles open up and the hair becomes loose. With a brush, you can remove the loose hairs and discard them so that they don’t end up falling out all over your house. Since dogs shed almost every day, the best course of action is to find a consistent schedule to brush your dog down. You should plan on brushing your dog down two to four times a week, up to every day if the shedding is that rapid. Some pet stores sell brushes designed specifically to reach the undercoat of a double-coated dog, while a standard hairbrush should take care of all but the heaviest shedders.
If you begin to notice bald patches on your dog or dull and dead-looking hair that falls out too easily, you may need to take your dog to see a veterinarian. Sometimes, skin irritations and sores will show up in cases of unhealthy shedding. Your dog will also display signs of discomfort, pain, or irritation by scratching, licking, or biting himself frequently. The cause of these symptoms could be any number of things, including everything from parasites and bacterial infections to cancer and autoimmune disease. If symptoms persist for a week, take your dog in and make sure that the underlying condition is identified and appropriately handled.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Some people decide to shave their dogs instead of waiting for hair to fall out, but this can have negative effects on a dog’s wellbeing. It may also fail to resolve the shedding problem, as dogs will still shed whatever shaved hairs remain in attempt to keep to their biological programming. Shedding and growing new coats are essential to a dog’s temperature regulation and shaving your dog’s coat could make it difficult for your dog to adjust to changing climates. This is true for both summer and winter coats. Although it seems counterintuitive, a dog’s thick undercoat acts as protection from the sun and the heat as much as its winter coat acts as protection against the elements and the cold. Furthermore, once a dog has been shaved—especially double-coated dogs—the coat may never grow back the same.
Shedding can be difficult to deal with, and at times it can feel like there aren’t enough lint-rollers in the world to keep up with the seasonal infestation of dog hair. Still, nature knows what’s best for your dog, and shedding is a part of that. Keep a dog brush close at hand, and while you are at it, don’t forget to clean the hair out your own hairbrush!