Shedding is a normal phenomenon. As normal as it is, it is also one of the dog owner’s main complaints – Right there next to the smell.
Some breeds of dogs shed more at the beginning of spring and fall while others shed all year long. As a dog owner it is important to know what is normal, abnormal and when to seek medical advice.
First a quick physiology lesson;
For a better grasp of what happens with your dog hair and the skin, you might have to remember some of your high school lessons.
I’m sure you remember from the high school biology class that the skin is the largest organ in mammals which among other purposes, grows hairs.
Each hair from your dog body passes through three evolution stages. It starts with a rapid cell multiplication in the depth of the skin. Then, these cells start clumping together forming first the root and then step by step the hair starts to grow. In the next phase the hair migrates to the surface and the cell multiplication slows to a stop; and voila a new hair!
After these three stages there is another phase, known as the shedding stage. This is when hairs detach from the skin and fall.
You must understand that not all hair follicles are in the same stage; they grow and fall at different times.
Since we are talking about hair right now, you might have noticed different types of hairs on your dog. That is because from the structural point of view, there are three types of hair follicles. (Follicles are the spaces/cavities where the hairs start growing into.)
Types of hair follicles:
There are primary hair follicles that grow the long and shiny hair types; as seen on most types of animals except the bald breeds.
Then there are secondary hair follicles which grow the secondary hair. These hairs are the short and fluffy type of hair that can be seen in dogs like Huskies. – If you move the long grayish hair in huskies underneath, there is a shorter fluffier layer of hair. That is the secondary hairs which is very helpful to them keep warm at extreme cold temperatures.
The third types of hair follicles are a special kind and serve a special purpose. They grow as whiskers. All those pointy, firmer hairs on your dog’s face are the third kid of hair follicles.
These hairs are connected to the central nervous system and have tactile role. They help your dog navigate through narrow spaces and alert them if there are other objects closing in to their face.
Keeping the skin healthy:
In order for the skin to grow long and healthy hairs it needs to be in good physical shape. In the skin layers there are different types of glands that help keep the skin moist and hydrated at all times.
The skin is covered with a film like layer that contains microorganisms and sebum. This is a special type of secretion made by the skin glands giving the skin that oily feel. That mixture of sebum and microorganisms are part of the normal skin ecology, any disruption at this level will have severe repercussions on the health of the skin and hair.
In order to keep the skin and all its components healthy, it is essential to provide an adequate nutrition, with the right amount of minerals, vitamins, amino acids and so on.
Also of great importance is the grooming. Cats are usually more interested in this aspect than dogs so you will have to do this for your dog.
The best cure for shedding is a daily grooming routine with an appropriate comb or brush. This is going to help remove the fallen hairs before they fall on your carpets and furniture. Furthermore, this will help with the bonding between you and your dog.
What about bathing your dogs?
Even if washing/bathing is the most used and preferred grooming technique, it isn’t the best choice for your dog’s skin. On the long term, repeated washing destroys the balance of components on your dog’s skin. This disturbs the natural ecosystem. Dogs unfortunately weren’t designed for regular baths, no matter of their size or breed.
Some skin diseases look like an abundant shedding at first, but end up with your dog having bald spots. If your dog is scratching and showing serious discomfort, that is not a sign of normal shedding. In that case it is time to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian.
- Sue Paterson – Manual of Skin Diseases of the Dog and Cat, 2ndedition, Wiley-Blackwell, May 27, 2008
- Merck Veterinary Manual, 10th Edition, 2010