We talk a lot about dog shedding on this blog and are often asked questions about why dogs shed, when they shed most, how to minimize it, and other related questions. So we thought it’d be helpful to create this FAQ to answer some of the most common questions we receive.
Here’s a quick overview of what we’ll be covering:
- Why Do Dogs Shed Hair?
- What is Seasonal Shedding?
- What is a Single vs Double Coated Breed?
- Hair vs Fur – What’s The Difference?
- What is a Hair Growth Cycle?
- What is a Hypoallergenic Dog?
- Do Big Dogs Shed More?
- How Do You Stop Dog Shedding?
- Which Dog Brush is Best for Shedding?
Why Do Dogs Shed Hair?
Most dogs shed (moult) at least some hair. So for the most part, shedding is perfectly normal. What differs is the amount of hair they lose.
Some breeds, like the Miniature Schnauzer or Basenji for example, shed very little and therefore “normal” shedding among breeds like this is very low. However, heavy shedding breeds, like the Great Pyrenees or Saint Bernard for example, shed a lot. So “normal shedding” for these breeds is actually quite high.
So, what actually causes shedding?
The main determining factor as to how much a dog sheds is the breed of the dog. Put simply, some breeds shed more than others. But there are some common characteristics between the coats of low and high shedding breeds, and other factors that contribute to shedding.
Here are some of the main factors that determine how much a dog sheds:
- Double or Single Coat: Dogs with a single coat can shed just as much as those with a double coat (top coat and undercoat). However, double coated breeds tend to shed more, especially during certain times of the year due to seasonal shedding.
- Hair vs Fur: The terms hair and fur are used synonymously to describe a dog’s coat, but some breeds do have more “hair-like” coats and these do tend to shed less. With respect to shedding, the main difference between hair and fur is that hair typically has a longer growth cycle which means it takes longer to grow and falls out less often.
- Coat Texture: Long, wavy hair (for example) can trap hairs that fall off of the dog more so than short fur. Which can make the shedding less noticeable between brushes.
- Season: The time of year can make a big difference as to how much a dog sheds. It is common for dogs to shed their coat seasonally once or twice per year, typically during spring and/or fall.
Dogs shed, there’s no getting around it. And these are some of the main reasons why a dog sheds under normal circumstances. In a healthy dog, it basically comes down to the breed, what sort of coat they have, and the time of year.
However, sometimes shedding can be excessive, or beyond what is considered “normal.” So let’s take a look at some of the factors that can contribute to excessive shedding.
Common Causes of Excessive Shedding
Some dogs lose their hair for reasons that don’t fit within the scope of “normal” which may indicate a problem. Here are some of the most common causes of excessive shedding:
- Dry skin and hair: Dryness in the skin and hair is one of the most common causes of excessive shedding. And common causes of dry skin include bathing too often or with the wrong shampoo, less than ideal diet, and not brushing often enough.
- Allergies: Dogs are susceptible to different types of allergies like fleas (which can cause Flea Allergy Dermatitis), environmental allergies and food allergies for example.
- Stress: Just like humans, dogs can become stressed out and that stress can lead to excessive hair loss.
- Poor diet: Feeding your dog a healthy, balanced dog food made of quality ingredients can help promote a healthy coat and skin. Likewise, feeding them a less than ideal diet can cause problems.
- Skin infections: Bacterial or fungal infections can cause irritation in your dog’s skin and excessive shedding to occur.
- Pregnancy or lactation: Dogs can shed more when they are pregnant or lactating, so if you notice a sudden uptick in shedding during this time, that could be why.
- Other: In some cases, a serious health concern like cancer, liver or kidney disease or an immune system disorder may potentially be the cause of excessive shedding.
As mentioned, most dogs shed. And for some breeds, shedding a lot can actually be quite normal and nothing to be concerned about. But if you are concerned about any of these, contact your local veterinarian for assistance. They should be able to advise you on what the cause of the shedding is and how to remedy it.
What is Seasonal Shedding?
Seasonal dog shedding occurs when a dog sheds their coat more heavily during certain times of the year, typically during seasons like spring and fall (autumn). And the reason dogs shed more during these times has to do with the changing weather conditions.
For example, many dogs shed their thicker winter coat in spring to prepare for the coming summer months that are much warmer, and shed their summer coat in fall to prepare for the colder winter months ahead.
This is often referred to as “blowing coat” because the dog is shedding their old coat to make way for a new one. This is a very natural, normal process that helps the dog to stay warmer in the colder months and cooler in the warmer months.
So, if you’re wondering when dogs shed the most, it’s during the times of year (like spring and fall) when they shed seasonally. And, while it does vary from breed to breed, this period of excessive shedding normally lasts about 2-4 weeks.
Just how noticeable this will be does depend on the breed though.
Some dogs barely shed seasonally at all, and instead shed more steadily year round. While for other dogs, especially those with a double coat, the shedding can be so noticeable you’ll wonder how on earth he could possibly lose so much fur!
What is a Single vs Double Coated Breed?
The main difference between a single and double coated breed of dog is that a single coated dog has a single layer of hair (called a top coat), while a double coated dog has two layers: a top coat and an undercoat. But there are some other differences, so let’s dig a little deeper.
Single Coated Dogs
Single coated dogs have a single layer of hair covering their skin.
There is a common misconception out there that dogs with a single coat don’t shed, but this is simply not true. They do shed, they just shed less than a double coated breed because they’re only shedding one layer of fur.
Like most dogs, single coated breeds can shed seasonally too. So at certain times of the year (like spring and fall) you may notice more shedding. However, for the most part, single coated dogs shed about the same year round. And when they do shed seasonally it’s not as noticeable as a double coated dog because they’re not shedding a thick, woolly undercoat.
With that being, most “non-shedding” dogs, and dogs that are considered to be “hypoallergenic,” have a single coat. This does depend on the individual breed though, but single coats tend to shed less overall.
In some respects, single coats can also be easier to groom, because you don’t have to brush as thick of a coat. But on the same token, many single coated dogs have longer hair, which can be time consuming to brush. So it really depends on the breed.
For example, the Greyhound is a single coated dog with short hair that sheds moderately year round, and is quite easy to groom. While the Afghan Hound, also single coated, is basically non-shedding but is much more difficult to groom given the length and texture of the coat.
So it really does depend on the breed itself and some of the other factors mentioned earlier as to how much they shed, and what they’re like to groom.
The main downside for a dog with a single coat is that they’re not as well insulated from hot and cold weather extremes. But unless you need a working or hunting dog, this isn’t going to be a big deal and it’s not difficult to find a good coat designed to keep your dog warm.
Double Coated Dogs
Double coated dogs have both a top coat and an undercoat.
The top coat (or outer coat) is made of guard hairs that can in some cases be water resistant, while the undercoat is often dense, soft and fluffy. And helps to insulate them from extreme weather, either hot or cold.
Breeds with a double coat tend to shed more than those with a single coat, mostly because they have more fur to lose. This is especially true during shedding season because instead of shedding just one layer of hair, they are shedding a thick undercoat as well as a top coat.
There are lower shedding double coated breeds too, like the Norfolk Terrier and Havanese for example. They’re just not as common.
What about grooming? Double coated breeds aren’t necessarily more difficult to groom, because grooming difficulty mostly comes down to what sort of outer coat they have.
However, grooming them can take more time because you are brushing to remove two layers of dead fur instead of one, which can take longer and often means using multiple types of brushes to get the job done.
Hair vs Fur – What’s The Difference?
The terms hair and fur are synonymous when it comes to describing a dog’s coat, which may be why there is some confusion out there as to whether or not there’s any difference.
The truth is, hair and fur are the same thing.
They are both made from a protein called Keratin, so from a technical point of view, they are one and the same. The difference mostly comes down to the fact that fur is used to describe animals like dogs and cats, while the term hair is used to describe what we humans have.
Fur is a thick growth of hair that covers the skin of many animals. It is a defining characteristic of mammals. It consists of a combination of oily guard hair on top and thick underfur beneath.Wikipedia
With that being said, there are some differences between hair and fur with respect to how they are described within dogdom. Which may help to demystify things a bit.
Firstly, hair is often associated more with being longer and finer in texture, whereas fur is often used to describe shorter, thicker hair.
Second, hair tends to grow continuously, whereas fur stops growing at a certain point (typically much sooner) and therefore falls out more often. In other words, hair appears to have a longer growth cycle than fur. Which is an argument supported by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine.
The second reason could be why the term “hair” is often used to describe low shedding or hypoallergenic breeds (dogs that don’t cause allergies). But this isn’t very accurate since (technically) all dogs have hair. With this in mind, a more accurate statement would be that dogs with a longer hair growth cycle tend to shed less.
What is a Hair Growth Cycle?
How much hair a dog loses depends largely on what stage of growth the hair is in at any given point in time. The three stages that make up the hair growth cycle include anagen, catagen and telogen.
- Anagen is known as the “growing phase” where new hair grows from the follicle. How long this lasts depends on the dog, but the longer his hair stays in the anagen phase, the lower shedding they will be.
- Catagen is where the hair transitions from a period of growth to one of rest. During this relatively short phase, the hair growth slows and the hair follicle shrinks.
- Telogen is the phase where the old hair falls out and the new hair begins to grow out of the same hair follicle.
One article published by the Journal of Investigative Dermatology describes a distinct fourth phase of shedding called exogen. Which may explain why some sites say there are three stages to the hair growth cycle, while others say there are four stages.
Either way, when it comes to shedding in dogs, the key thing to understand is that when the dog’s hair is growing it is in the anagen phase of growth, and the longer it stays in this phase, the longer it will grow and the less it will shed. Likewise, the shorter the growth cycle of the dog, the more often the hair will fall out.
This is not the only determining factor in dog shedding though. And just because a dog has long hair, doesn’t mean they shed less. Shedding is determined largely by the individual breed, what sort of coat they have, and the season.
What is a Hypoallergenic Dog?
In dogdom, the term “hypoallergenic” is used to describe dog breeds that are generally more more suitable for people who suffer from pet allergies. But no dog is truly hypoallergenic, so there is some controversy surrounding the use of this term.
A hypoallergenic dog breed is a dog breed (or crossbreed) that is purportedly more compatible with allergic people than are other breeds. However, prominent allergen researchers have claimed that there is no basis to the claims that certain breeds are hypoallergenic…Wikipedia.org
No dog is completely hypoallergenic, not even hairless breeds like the American Hairless Terrier, which means any type of dog can cause an allergic reaction in some people. And the reason for this is because the dog’s hair itself isn’t the problem, it’s their dander (similar to dandruff), saliva, sweat, and urine.
Allergens from cats and dogs are found in skin cells the animals shed (dander), as well as in their saliva, urine and sweat and on their fur. Dander is a particular problem because it is very small and can remain airborne for long periods of time with the slightest bit of air circulation. It also collects easily in upholstered furniture and sticks to your clothes.Mayoclinic.org
So the dog’s hair isn’t the issue, it’s mostly their dander. And because this dander attaches itself to the dog’s hair, lower shedding breeds tend to spread less of it around the home.
How do you know which dogs are better than others with respect to allergies? The American Kennel Club has a list of hypoallergenic breeds on their website. And because they’re a reputable site, they disclose the fact that no dog is ever completely hypoallergenic.
While there are no 100% hypoallergenic dogs, there are many breeds that do well with allergy sufferers. Dander, which is attached to pet hair, is what causes most pet allergies in humans and these dogs have a non-shedding coat that produces less dander.www.akc.org
The list the AKC provides should help you find a less allergenic breed if this is what you’re looking for. But it does pay to do your own due diligence before deciding anything and to keep in mind that even non-allergenic breeds may cause problems for those with allergies.
Do Big Dogs Shed More?
No, the size of the dog does not make them shed more or less. The actual rate at which a dog sheds their fur is determined by the factors we mentioned earlier.
With that being said, a moderate shedding dog that is larger in size has more hair on their body than a smaller dog. Which means they logically will drop a higher volume of hair overall.
In other words, the physical size of the dog does not impact the speed at which a dog sheds, but the more hair they have, the more of it they can lose and therefore the more noticeable the shedding will be in comparison to a small breed.
How Do You Stop Dog Shedding?
You cannot stop a dog from shedding their hair. Shedding is natural and something that most dogs go through to varying extents. So it is not possible to stop this, nor is it a good idea to try.
Some have their dog shaved to save themselves some effort in cleaning, but not every dog should be shaved. This is especially true for dogs with an undercoat (most dogs) because the undercoat protects them from hot and cold conditions, as well as sunburn for example. So shaving them down to the skin might save you some work, but it’s not a good solution.
There are some very simple, practical ways to significantly reduce shedding in dogs though, and it mostly comes down to brushing, bathing and diet.
- Brush: Brushing is one of the most effective ways to reduce shedding, and it’s not difficult or expensive to do. Not only does brushing remove the dead fur from the dog before it ends up in your home, but it helps to spread the oils of his coat which can promote a healthier coat that overall sheds less.
- Bath: Bathing with a good quality dog shampoo can help to remove dead fur from his coat, and it can loosen the fur, so a good bath works well immediately prior to a brushing session. However, try to avoid using poor quality (or human) shampoo, and bathing too often, as this can dry out his coat which in turn can increase shedding.
- Diet: Feeding your dog a proper dog food made of high quality ingredients (including Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids) can help him to maintain a healthy skin and coat, which in turn may prevent excessive shedding.
- Supplements: There’s no magic pill for shedding, or substitute for a healthy diet, but there are some great shedding supplements and home remedies you could try, like adding a small amount of virgin coconut or olive oil to your dog’s food occasionally.
These are the main ways to combat shedding. They are simple and can work well if you’re consistent. If you want to learn more,check out this article about stopping dog shedding.
Which Dog Brush is Best for Shedding?
There is no “one size fits all” dog brush, the best type of brush really depends on what type of coat your dog has.
Short coated dogs are best suited to a bristle brush, which is a brush made of soft, medium or hard bristles. While longer coated dogs are suited more to a pin brush or slicker brush.
A pin brush is a brush made of fairly thick wire bristles with rubber or plastic tips on the end, and a slicker brush is similar but the stainless steel bristles are finer.
You could also try a Deshedding tool, these work well on just about any coat type and can be a worthwhile investment if your dog is a heavy shedder.