"My dog is losing a lot of hair. Is that normal? What is seasonal shedding, exactly? What can I do to keep my dog from shedding or, if that's not possible, reduce the amount of hair I constantly have to pick up?"
In this article, we answer all your questions and give you pro tips for getting through the seasonal shedding period with a relatively clean home. You'll also learn what you can do to make your dog's coat healthy, silky and shiny, naturally.
Why is my dog losing hair?
Your dog’s hair grows, falls out and grows back throughout the year, but the hair loss intensifies when the seasons change. This is called seasonal shedding. It's a perfectly natural—and unfortunately unavoidable—phenomenon.
The good news is that there are a few ways to reduce the amount of hair your dog loses, which we will get to later on. But first, let's take a closer look at the nature of dog hair and what spring and fall shedding involves.
The basics: the structure and functions of a dog’s coatases
Functions of a dog's coat
A dog's coat contributes to their health and well-being in many ways, all equally important:
- It regulates body temperature.
- It provides physical protection from UV rays, humidity and bad weather.
- It helps the dog communicate non-verbally. For example, raising its hackles—the hair on its back and neck—to express dominance.
- It acts as camouflage in wild dog species.
- Your companion's coat also reflects their state of health. A dense, shiny coat is a sign of good health.
The hair life cycle
The hair life cycle differs according to breed and fur type. Hairs are renewed in a cycle that lasts from 21 days to several months and involves three stages:
- Anagen: hair growth stage, mainly determined by genetics;
- Catagen: growth arrest stage, lasts several weeks or months;
- Telogen: deterioration stage (hair dies and falls out), associated with shedding.
The anatomy of a dog's coat
Like the hair on our body, dog hair grows out of a follicle (pore) in the skin. One peculiarity of breeds with an undercoat, especially Nordic breeds, is that several types of hair can grow in the same hair follicle:
- The main hair, also called "primary hair " or "guard hair" (outer coat) is rigid and coloured. It provides physical protection.
- The secondary hair, also called "undercoat" or "down hair," is supple and thin. It provides thermal insulation.
What is shedding in dogs?
The Cambridge Dictionary defines shedding as: "the process of losing a covering, such as leaves, hair, or skin, because it falls off naturally.”
Mammals shed hair while birds shed their feathers (in a process called moulting) and snakes shed their skin, for example. To better understand the phenomenon in other domestic animals, see our articles on cat shedding and bird moulting.
Dogs lose their hair year-round. It is called shedding when this hair loss increases, usually twice a year, in spring and fall. The shorter days or nights give the body the signal that it is time to prepare the animal’s coat for the next season's weather conditions.
In spring, dogs with an undercoat often lose a considerable amount of hair as they shed their winter coat. After, their coat is lighter, more aerated and not as warm, to keep them cool in warmer weather. In the fall, they grow a longer, denser, more insulating coat in preparation for winter.
Factors that affect shedding in dogs
In addition to the photoperiod we just mentioned (length of days and nights), several factors can trigger or affect shedding:
- Weather conditions, including temperature;
- Sunshine and exposure to natural light;
- Whether the animal spends most of its time indoors or outdoors;
- Their state of health;
- The food they eat;
- Their hormonal cycle (reproduction, gestation, lactation);
- Endocrine disorders;
- Even age and sex.
The dog's living environment also plays a role. A dog that lives indoors, in a heated space with artificial lighting, will shed year-round, but less noticeably. A dog that spends a great deal of time outdoors will shed more when the seasons change.
Finally, there are nearly 400 dog breeds of all body types, sizes, and fur types. How, when and how much they will shed depends on all of these factors. For example, breeds from more northern regions, such as the Husky, Shiba Inu and Newfoundland dog, will lose much more hair than breeds with short, rigid hair, like the Pug, French Bulldog and Boston Terrier.
So how do I keep my house from being covered in dog hair?
As we've explained, shedding is a natural, normal, cyclical, and therefore unavoidable, phenomenon. However, there are several ways to considerably reduce the inconveniences.
And why not seize the opportunity to make your animal companion even more radiantly healthy, with a soft, strong, shiny coat?
Should I shave my dog?
We get it. You're sick and tired of endlessly picking up dog hair. And you think, “If I shave my dog, that will solve the problem.” It sounds like a great idea.
Except for dogs with woolly hair, which need to be shaved on a regular basis, we strongly advise you NOT to shave your dog.
Dogs need their fur to regulate their body temperature. Deprived of their coat, they will be without protection from the cold, heat, UV rays, bad weather and humidity. This makes them more vulnerable and can weaken their immune system, which is very harmful to their overall health, especially if their body is already fighting a virus, a disease or a tumour.
And worst of all (for you), the body will respond to this shock to the system by growing twice as much undercoat, doubling your problem next shedding season. With repeated shavings, the problem grows exponentially! Try the following tips instead. You and your dog will be much better off!
Tip 1: Brushing
Brush your dog on a regular basis. Daily, if possible. Make it an enjoyable moment the two of you share. This way, you’ll be regularly dislodging and removing dead hair, preventing knots and mats from forming.
Always brush in the direction the hair grows, to keep it from getting tangled. Give your dog a gentle massage to get their blood circulating. Your dog will love it and it will keep parasites from getting a foothold.
There are several types of brushes and combs available according to hair type. A currycomb (a comb with rows of metal teeth) generally does a good job of penetrating to the down layer.
The FURminator deShedding Tool is designed specifically for shedding. It is even more effective at penetrating deep down and removing large amounts of hair. However, this stainless-steel comb with its tight row of teeth can irritate the skin, and should not be used more than once a week.
Dog breeds, shedding and brushing according to hair type
The texture and length of your dog's hair will determine the maintenance and tools required. You wouldn't groom a Poodle and a Labrador the same way, for example. Read on for details on shedding and appropriate grooming by fur type or breed:
Dogs with normal or "primitive" hair
German Shepherds, Australian Shepherds, Newfoundland dogs, Leonbergs and some Nordic breeds have predominant, abundant and waterproof secondary hairs (undercoat). The telogen stage is very long. After being shaved, the hair takes a long time to grow back.
Regular brushing during the shedding period will help remove the dead hair. When these breeds suffer from skin lesions, shaving is often a lifesaver, because skin maceration can occur quite quickly due to the undercoat being waterproof.
Dogs with short hair
Dalmatians, Boxers, Pinschers, Bulldogs, German Shorthaired Pointers, Rottweilers have a coat consisting mainly of primary hairs. The hair cycle is short, and these dogs lose a lot of hair. Shedding is almost constant, growing more intense during the change in seasons. This hair type requires regular brushing with a rubber glove or a fine brush.That said, some very short-haired dog breeds, like the Boston Terrier, Whippet, Spanish Italian and English Greyhound, Teckel (Dachshund) and Basenji, lose very little hair and require little brushing.
Dogs with long, fine hair
Collies, Cocker Spaniels and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels have long, fine, silky hair and no undercoat. Their hair is fragile and tangles easily. Shedding is seasonal, with regular hair loss occurring throughout the year for most, with the exception of the Cairn Terrier and Yorkshire Terrier, whose shedding is more discrete and continuous. Shih Tzus have fine hair that grows constantly and needs to be cut on a regular basis.
This kind of coat requires gentle maintenance. It needs to be brushed frequently to keep knots from forming. Since the hairs are fragile, any friction or stretching can damage them and cause them to fall out.
Dogs with curly hair
In Poodles, Lhasa Apsos, Bichons Frisés, Maltese dogs, Bolognese dogs, Miniature Schnauzers, Portuguese Water Dogs, Yorkshire Terriers, West Highland White Terriers, Lagotto Romagnolos and Coton de Tulears, secondary hairs account for more than 80% of their coat, hence their woolly appearance. Shedding in these breeds is very negligible and discrete. Daily brushing is recommended to keep knots from forming.
Originally from Mexico, the Xoloitzcuintli, or Xolo for short (also called Mexican hairless), has little to no hair. It is the descendant of one of the world's oldest and rarest dog breeds and was worshipped by the Aztecs. This breed, and other hairless breeds, do not shed.
Tip 2: Shampooing
To accentuate the results of the brushing, you can also shampoo your dog, but not too often! Once a month is sufficient, plus a rinse if necessary when your naughty boy or girl has rolled in the mud, or something worse…
Caution: Never use cleansing products made for humans on your dog. Even baby shampoo can irritate your dog's skin and increase their hair loss.
Tip 3: Grooming
A good groomer will use specific methods during the shedding period and can advise you on the best approach for your dog's breed. Groomers work the hair deep-down, using professional-grade products, tools and accessories, such as a high-speed hair dryer. A trip to the groomer at each change of season can greatly reduce your hair problems at home and help relieve your companion of any discomfort for the season.
Tip 4: Diet
Growing new hair uses up more of your dog's inner resources than usual. This is why it's important to pay attention to their nutrition, and give them quality food rich in all the nutrients their metabolism requires.
Intense shedding can be the sign of an inadequate diet. The more complete your dog's food is, the less hair they’ll lose and the shinier and more beautiful their new coat will be. Serve foods rich in good (polyunsaturated) fatty acids, protein, omega-3 and vitamins.
Tip 5: Supplements
If you're not sure whether your dog is getting a sufficient quantity of all the essential nutrients, you can add canine-specific pre and probiotic supplements to their food as they will reinforce your furry companion's intestinal flora, stimulate the natural digestive enzymes and optimize nutrient absorption, in addition to strengthening their immune system.
Dog shedding tips to remember
Your loyal companion's coat reflects their health and requires regular care. A healthy diet, supplemented as needed, plays a key role in ensuring a smooth shedding process.
If you apply our five tips, your pet will feel more comfortable and you'll feel less like tearing your own hair out. Take advantage of the seasonal shedding periods to pamper your beloved pet while making your life easier.