Before getting into this week’s health tip, I need to introduce another addition to our team. Being the only vet here at All Pets has lots of advantages – I get to meet all of you whenever you stop in! It also has a few disadvantages – thank goodness my family likes me, they just want to be able to take me away more often! Anyway, I’m very exited to introduce Dr. Christy Stone to all of you. Dr. Stone started two weeks ago and will be working at All Pets one day each week. She graduated from Kansas State in 2005 and lives in Fairmont with her husband Steve and one and a half kids (she is due in November to have their second child!). I’ve spent quite a bit of time with her and she does a great job with small animal medicine and surgery. Besides making it easier for me to get to my kids’ cross country meets this fall, it will be great to have another doc around to discuss cases, etc.
Wow, we get a lot of hair left at our clinic! Shedding is one of the most common things that I hear clients expressing (usually mild) frustration about – our pets are definitely part of our family but it would sure be nice if they didn’t leave their coat behind on all the furniture. Of course, getting my kids to pick up after themselves is sometimes a challenge also, so maybe we shouldn’t view it as a problem specific to the furry family members!
Although concerns about excessive shedding are common among my clients, in most cases the shedding is normal. Understanding what causes shedding and how to tell when it is abnormal helps pet owners to make more sense of it all.
Dogs and cats don’t grow hair continuously. Their hair grows in cycles, and each cycle has a growing phase, transitional phase, and a resting phase. The most important things that influence these cycles are the amount of light each day (called the “photoperiod”) and changes in environmental temperature. Lesser important influencers of the cycles include nutrition, hormones, and the “health status” of the pet.
In our geographical area outdoor pets tend to shed their coats twice a year – in the spring and in the fall – due to changes in temperature and photoperiod. The up/down changes in temperature and photoperiod cause the brain to tell the hair follicles to increase activity, the old hair gets pushed out and new replaces it. Pets that are kept primarily indoors experience year around changes in temperature (going in and out of the house) and in photoperiod (lights being turned on and off) and so – hurray! – they shed all year around!
So, what’s a poor indoor pet owner to do? Modifying the temperature and photoperiod of your house to reduce shedding is the equivalent of moving outside with your pet, which is much less comfortable than moving him or her inside with you. Well, that’s were we get into some of those “lesser important” influencers of the hair growth cycles – we can’t eliminate shedding but it’s worth doing everything we can to control it.
Diet is the first place to look. The skin is a very large organ and requires a large amount of nutrients in the right proportions. In the majority of cases feeding a quality diet (please go to our web page and read my health tip on what pet food to buy – quality diet and best tasting/fanciest label are not the same!) goes a long way toward healthy skin and minimal shedding. Some pets have a larger requirement for omega fatty acids, and supplementing that area can also be beneficial, especially if your pet also has dandruff. We carry several omega fatty acid supplements; Welactin has given the most satisfactory results for me in both dogs and cats.
If your pet is going to shed a certain amount of hair, the more hair you get them to shed in your hair brush, the less will end up on your furniture. Daily brushing is also a fun time to spend with your pet!
Bathing can loosen the hair follicles, so that in the day or two following a bath the pet looses the hair it would normally have shed during the next week. Then later in the week the hair loss is correspondingly less. I’ve talked with clients about using this approach to time taking their pet on vacation, trying to increase shedding before they leave and have less shedding while traveling. Never use human shampoo on your pet, it will dry the skin and cause several problems including increased shedding.
Anxiety definitely increases shedding. Thoroughly socializing (I have an upcoming health tip on pet socialization) your new puppy or kitten has lots of advantages. One you might not have thought about is that the more relaxed your pet is (whether you are home or away, when you have visitors, etc.) the less anxiety is present and shedding due to anxiety is minimized. Stress actually causes the hair follicles to loosen, which is one reason why pets shed so much during a visit to the vet or groomer. If you have an anxious pet, give us a call, there are some things we can discuss trying.
Hormones can affect shedding directly (pregnancy/nursing hormones can directly cause increased hair loss), or indirectly (in-heat females or males who are aware of in-heat females definitely have higher anxiety levels). So reduced shedding is another reason to make sure your pet is spayed or neutered.
Long haired breeds shed more than short haired breeds. Giving those long haired breeds a hair cut, especially in the summer, will significantly reduce the hair you find on your furniture. It will also reduce the discomfort due to being hot – remember more stress or anxiety results in more shedding.
Shedding can be breed specific – breeds without undercoats or guard hairs shed less. Examples of low shedding cat breeds that I’ve seen locally include Siamese and Burmese. Heavier cat shedders include Persian, Maine Coon, and our ever-present Domestic short/long hair. Looking at dogs, poodles are known for their low shedding which has resulted in several poodle crosses such as Labradoodles and Goldendoodles. Double-coated heavy shedding dog breeds that I see locally include Akita, American Eskimo, Collie, German Shepherd, Newfoundland, and Dalmatians.
If you are concerned that your pet’s hair loss is not normal, have us take a look. Signs that you should have your pet examined include bald areas (may be due to hormone problems or excessive licking), crusty areas, areas that are very itchy, or red/inflamed areas.
Sometimes we have to perform surgery on our patients. Cleaning the surgical area to allow a sterile surgical field requires clipping, and a common question is “how long before the hair will grow back, and what can we do to make it grow back faster?” A study reported in Veterinary Dermatology in 2004 showed that the average number of weeks for total hair regrowth after surgical clipping was 14.6 weeks and that there was no difference from the season of the year. The slowest hair to grow back was in along the dog’s back just in front of the hindquarters, which sometimes took 6 to 24 months to grow back (I’ve seen this also). The reason for the slow growth in that area is not known. A 2006 study, also reported in Veterinary Dermatology, showed that efforts to increase growth rate after surgical clipping including vigorous brushing, and application of melatonin had no affect on hair regrowth rate. So our standard answer of “it will grow back in 3-4 months, as long as you’re feeding quality food and the pet is in good health” seems about right.
I wish we had the “cure” for shedding. It would even be nice to be able to bale the hair we get here at the clinic and market it! Alas, some things are not to be. I think the main things for our clients to focus on are whether the shedding is normal, are they doing everything they can to minimize the normal shedding, and if they feel that the shedding may be abnormal to bring their pet to us without delay.
Is your pet a heavy shedder? Do you have any “anti-shedding tips” for the rest of our clients?
Do any of you have things that our clients should remember when heading out on vacation with their pets? Just e-mail us and we’ll pass them on!