What is Shedding?
All dogs, with the exception of fully hairless dogs, shed. It’s the way that the canine body rids itself of old and damaged hairs so that new hairs can grow in. Some breeds, such as Alaskan Huskies and Malamutes, German Shepherds, and most Retrievers, tend to shed heavily naturally, while others like Poodles, Bichon Frise, and Yorkshire Terriers shed very little.
- Dietary imbalance
- Hormonal imbalance
- Seasonal shedding
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Why Shedding Occurs in Dogs
The rate and amount of shedding seen with dogs can be influenced by several different conditions or circumstances. Some breeds may shed more than others, and aging dogs may lose more hair than they did when they are younger. Some of the common causes of hair loss and increased shedding can include:
Canine allergies of all sorts tend to show up on the skin, causing itching and swelling that can lead to your dog licking or scratching themselves raw. The constant agitation can cause hair to weaken and fall out and may lead to bald patches.
A poor quality diet can lead to a number of conditions that can contribute to poor skin and coat quality. Hair loss due to deficiencies in nutrition most often occurs all over the body and is frequently preceded by a dulling of the coat.
Certain thyroid imbalances, such as hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease are known to cause loss of hair that tends to occur in clumps rather than all over the body. Imbalances in estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone can also contribute to the overall increases and decreases in shedding. Excessive shedding during pregnancy and lactation may also have a hormonal component.
Infections and Infestation
Skin that has been damaged, or is kept moist for too long, may develop bacterial infections that can lead to loss of hair. Dogs who have lost hair due to skin infections may also have areas that are scratched and raw as well as a foul odor coming from the skin and fur. Infestation by parasites can take the form of mites, such as in mange, or it could be a sensitivity to the saliva in fleas.
Some medications, such as long-term treatment with corticosteroids, are also known to cause hair loss. Most shedding and hair loss due to drugs is reversible once the medication is stopped.
Many dogs will have a tendency to shed a great deal during the change of seasons when they are changing from summer to winter coats and back again. As the animal loses its seasonal coat, you will frequently see both an increase in standard shedding as well clumps of fluffy undercoat.
Anxiety and stress can affect your pet in a number of ways including increases in heart rate, loss of appetite, and moody behavior. In some cases, it can also cause a temporary increase in the rate that the animal is shedding.
What to do if your Dog is Shedding
If your dog is suddenly shedding more than usual, the first course of action is checking to see if there are any circumstances that may normally lead to this type of increase, such as seasonal shedding. From there, the first things to check in cases of generalized shedding are the patient’s diet in order to determine that there is not too high a ratio of either sugar or salt that may be causing the additional shedding, and if there have been any recent changes in circumstances which may be causing the animal any additional stress. If you are unable to determine the additional trigger to your dog’s shedding, then you may want to consult a veterinary professional for further advice.
If the skin is damaged or if the underlying condition is causing any bald patches, a sample of the affected area will be examined microscopically using a technique known as cutaneous cytology. This will allow the examining veterinarian to check for any parasites such as mites or tick, as well as to see some things that are even smaller, such as some types of fungus and bacteria. They will go over the patient’s medical history, including any medications that are being administered to your animal to see if any medications may be responsible for the loss of hair, and general diagnostic tests, including a complete blood count, biochemical profile, and a urinalysis, will help to detect or rule out bacterial or fungal systemic illnesses and hormonal issues, and may reveal the presence of eosinophils, a type of blood cell that may indicate a recent reaction to an allergen.
If allergies are a suspected cause, your veterinarian may choose to do an intradermal allergy test, injecting minuscule amounts of the suspected allergen under the skin to see if a localized reaction develops. Depending on the particular circumstances of your animal, you and your veterinarian will draw up a treatment plan that could include allergy testing, dietary adjustments, and the administration of antibiotic or antihistamine drugs.
Prevention of Shedding
Although your animal will likely always shed to some extent, normal shedding can be reduced by a number of different methods, and abnormal shedding can often be prevented by preventing the underlying condition. Abnormal amounts of hair loss may be due to disorders such as hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disorder, which is generally caught earlier if the dog has been getting regular veterinary treatments as it may be caught during routine blood tests. Ensuring that the dog’s skin is well maintained and microorganism free is paramount for avoiding unnatural amounts of shedding as skin that is too dry may trigger a great deal of hair loss and skin that remains too moist is put at risk for bacterial or fungal infection. This is a particular problem for dogs that have a thick undercoat which can hold moisture near the skin as it encourages the growth of bacteria or fungus.
It is also crucial to ensure that the patient’s daily diet is suitable for their age, size, and breed and that there are no environmental factors leading to the loss. Canine bodies age as the dog gets older, and their nutrition requirements may change; in some cases, older animals may need to be switched to a senior food, specially designed to be more digestible for their systems. Normal shedding can be reduced by the use of Omega-3 treatments, vitamin supplementation, and regular, thorough washing and brushing to keep both the coat and the skin at their healthiest.
Cost of Shedding
The cost for disorders that cause additional shedding can be variable, but generally the costs are fairly tame, with a notable exception or two. Although Cushing's disorder may average around $2000, the more common reasons have somewhat tamer price tags; allergies may set your back $250 on average while bacterial infections that affect the skin run around $350.