Shedding pet hair—or “molting,” as it is sometimes referred—is a leading concern most dog and cat lovers deal with. For those with allergies, shedding can aggravate serious health issues, often dictating whether pet ownership is even possible.
Most of us have no idea why our furry companions shed their hair in the first place. The question we’ve all asked at some point is, “Can shedding be stopped?” Unfortunately, the answer is a resounding no. Now don’t get discouraged just yet. Shedding can be mindfully managed with many of today’s advanced grooming liquids, sprays and methods. It also helps to know some facts about shedding and the intelligent design revealed by how an animal’s coat actually works. This knowledge leads to better application methods for optimal results.
Every dog or cat with a coat sheds its hair. It’s merely a progressive cycle that occurs naturally on its own. So what’s “normal” and what’s “excessive”? This varies vastly from pet to pet. Many factors like hormones, gender, environment, stress, health, diet, neutered/spayed or not and genetics will not only affect coat quality but shedding volume and molting patterns, too.
Unlike human hair, which grows one strand per follicle, dogs and cats can grow several strands per follicle. Pet coats and fur primarily protect the skin and help regulate body temperature. When the coat is wet, water is blocked from getting down to the skin by hairs naturally coated in oil. Hair and fur can also act as armor to defend from sustaining injuries.
There are various types of pet hair strands. Primary hair shafts, known also as “guard” hairs or “outercoat,” are long, shiny, stiff and, dependent on the breed, can be soft or coarse. They protect the skin from water penetration and the sun’s rays. Secondary hair shafts, known also as “undercoat” or “underfur,” provide an insulated coat layer that is short, fluffy and thick. Typically one finds undercoat on breeds that live in colder climates. Some canines and felines from more temperate climates will have an undercoat for winter months, then shed it in the spring. Then there are whiskers, which grow to help dogs and cats with sensing their surroundings and for balance, depending on its breed.
The biggest difference between “heavy shedders” and those breeds that tend to hang on to their hair (often referred to as hypoallergenic breeds) is the kind of coat they possess. For example, a “double-coated” breed has longer guard hairs (for waterproofing and protection) with a soft, downy undercoat (to block air and keep them warm and insulated).
In the canine world, double-coated breeds include dogs of all types and sizes like Border Collies, German Shepherds, Labradors, Malamutes, Pomeranians, Samoyeds and Shiba Inus, to name a few. These breed types and their mixes typically shed a lot of hair year-round.
There are many dog breeds that have hair shafts with short life spans. It is this short life span that causes continuous hair shedding all year-round. Among these breeds are the Akita, Border Collie, Labrador Retriever, Chihuahua, Welsh Corgi, St. Bernard, Chow Chow, German Shepherd, Rottweiler and Pug.
On the other hand, hypoallergenic dogs shed very little because they have hair shafts with longer life spans. Many are still prone to tangles and mats nonetheless. These breeds include the Yorkshire Terrier, Poodle, Lakeland Terrier, Shih Tzu, Scottish Terrier, Portuguese Water Dog, Bichon Frise, Italian Greyhound, Afghan Hound, Miniature Schnauzer, Giant Schnauzer, Kerry Blue Terrier and Wheaten Terrier.
Closing lifted cuticle scales along each hair’s shaft is the secret to safely managing shedding. Manipulating these cuticles is also essential to general maintenance, achieving more manageable coat and producing desired coat finish or shine.
The skin’s glands produce sebum, a naturally oily substance that protects hair and seals in moisture. For many breeds, this is essential for waterproofing, regulating body temperature and protecting the skin. Unfortunately, sebum is a virtual dirt magnet, attracting unwanted debris and oils.
Shampoo works by removing the sebum along with other oily debris that accumulates. Washing can undoubtedly strip away the hairs protective sebum resulting in dry lifted cuticles that trap shedding undercoat. If left unmanaged, shedding nightmares soon occur. Remember after shampooing to follow up with an appropriate conditioner to release any trapped shedding.
Routine conditioning is one’s best defense against shedding. Some of today’s conditioners will act as a superior sebum replacement that repel oil, rather than attract. They will help manage coat porosity by closing cuticles, rehydrating and extending manageability. Best of all, they help safely release shedding undercoat in the tub and with one’s force dryer.
BIO: Dave Campanella is an informative and entertaining seminar speaker, contributing trade columnist and genuine grooming enthusiast. He is Best Shot Pet Products sales and marketing director and has over 30 years of pet industry knowledge and experience. He and his wife, Tracy, co-owned a full-service pet salon and self-wash in Ohio prior to relocating with Best Shot to Kentucky. Together they enjoy exhibiting at grooming shows, being industry ambassadors and showing their Kerry Blues, Lowland Polish Sheepdog, and Sammy.