Welcome to “Debarking Pet Myths,” a monthly series dedicated to addressing common myths, misconceptions and old wives’ tales about dogs and cats.
Were you expecting a break from fur balls and pet-hair accessories now that it’s winter? If you’re disappointed by the amounts of dog and cat hair that you’re still finding around your home, you’re not alone. Many pet owners believe this month’s myth:
Pets don’t shed during winter months.
Actually, it isn’t that uncommon for dogs and cats to shed during winter months. In reality, those pets kept indoors most of the time will shed more lightly and regularly throughout the year.
Pet shedding is most influenced by amount of daylight
Shedding is a normal, natural way for dogs and cats to get rid of old, dead hair and replace it with new growth. The process, which is controlled by changes in hormones, can take anywhere from three to eight weeks.
Several factors influence the pet hair growth and shedding cycle:
Day length exerts the most influence on shedding in dogs and cats. As the days get shorter in the fall, many dogs and cats shed their summer coats to grow a heavier, thicker, protective undercoat to insulate against the coming cold. Then, come spring, cats and dogs shed their winter coats to make way for lighter, summer coats.
When pets live primarily indoors, they’re exposed to more consistent, controlled artificial lighting and temperatures. This makes it more difficult for their bodies to recognize seasonal changes and, as a result, they shed hair more lightly and consistently year-round. But if your pet spends most of his or her time outside, you’ll notice quite a bit more shedding each spring and fall.
Shedding varies with dog breed
Fur shedding, which varies widely from breed to breed, is one of the criteria some pet owners use when choosing a dog. Although no dog is 100 percent hypoallergenic, there are breeds with coats that produce less dander, the culprit that causes most pet allergies in people. Dog breeds with less hair — those with no undercoat — and those with wiry or curly hair, such as poodles and Bedlington terriers, appear to shed less than dogs with double coats or straight hair.
In contrast, double-coated breeds, such as collies, Australian shepherds, huskies and keeshonds, seem to shed a lot due to their heavy undercoat. (A dog with a double-layered coat has a soft undercoat that helps insulate the dog’s body and a coarser, long topcoat that helps repel water and dirt.) Dogs with double coats usually lose their undercoats twice a year, while their topcoats are shed once a year.
Minimizing the fallout
There’s no way to truly stop your pet from shedding, but you can reduce the fallout.
First, make sure you’re feeding a high-quality pet food that provides highly digestible protein, essential omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, vitamins A and E, and zinc. Pets whose diets don’t adequately meet their nutritional needs tend to have a dry, brittle and dull coat and often will shed excessively.
Second, brush your pet regularly, even daily. Brushing not only removes loose hair and keeps it from falling onto furniture or the floor, but it also helps distribute skin oils throughout the coat. The result should be a cleaner, softer coat.
Should you talk with your veterinarian?
What may seem like excessive shedding could actually be normal for some dogs or cats. But stress, poor nutrition and medical conditions like thyroid gland disorders and Cushing’s disease can also be underlying causes of increased hair loss. If you think your pet may be shedding more than normal, talk with your veterinarian who will be able to rule in or out any previously undiagnosed health problems.
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