Why is my dog’s hair falling out?

Blog photo - Yorkshire Terrier with overgrown hair

This is one of the top 3 questions we get asked on a daily basis.  Why do dogs loose hair?  What causes them to shed or moult?  Does shaving my Jack Russel help for hair falling out?  In this article I am going to try and cover this topic from all possible angels.

What is shedding? Also referred to as Moulting

Dogs and cats lose hair that are either dead or damaged.  This makes space for new healthy hair to grow.  Some dogs shed constantly and others are seasonal shedders, normally twice a year. The dead hair that are being shed, will be found all over the areas that the dog frequents. The hair from short haired dogs such as Jack Russel Terriers, are much harder to remove, because they tend to stick into clothing and furniture.

Dogs with curly coats, shed in a different way.  Dogs that are referred to as hypo-allergenic dogs, also shed, but the hair does not fall off the dog, instead, it stays on the dog, locked in by the curly coat.  That is why curly coat dogs are prone to matting.  Hypo-allergenic is a term used for dogs that cause less allergies in people with for instance asthma. Even though your curly coat dog might not leave hair everywhere in the house, it is still important to brush him regularly, to avoid matting.

Genetics

What type of breed is your dog?  Certain dogs are prone to shedding and it’s hereditary and there is not much you can do about it.  You can certainly lesson it, but you can’t stop the shedding.

Breeds that shed the most:

  • Jack Russel Terrier
  • Dalmatian
  • Fox Terrier
  • Saint Bernard
  • German Shepherd
  • Great Pyrenees
  • Chow Chow
  • Akita
  • Golden Retriever
  • Labrador Retriever
  • Siberian Husky
  • Alaskan Malamute

How to manage shedding

Regular Grooming

Regular grooming is a must!  Certain breeds need professional grooming on a regular schedule.  In between grooms, you have to maintain the coat by daily brushing using the correct equipment for the breed.  There are many brushes and combs available, each one designed for a specific job to do.  If you use the wrong brush, you could hurt the dog and secondly you won’t accomplish anything.  Slicker brushes work great for brushing dogs with thick undercoats and long coats.  A hand glove will work better on short haired dogs, such as Jack Russel Terriers.

There are specialized shampoos available that will assist a great deal in lessoning the shedding, such as Furminator Premium De-shedding Shampoo & Conditioner and another fantastic product that we have been using in our grooming parlour lately, made in South Africa, which is a natural plant based shampoo bar made by My Beloved.

There are also de-shedding tools that can be used, such as a Furminator.  This tool has ultra fine tooth and a blade at the bottom of the tooth.  It works like a comb, and pulls off any dead hair on your dog’s coat.  It leaves the coat beautifully shiny because the dull dead hair is no longer on the coat.  It also works on short, medium and long hair coats, there are different sizes available.  Just take note that your dog must be clean before you use it, otherwise it will make the blade blunt.

Professional groomers also make use of forced air dryers for de-shedding, especially in large breed dogs such as Alaskan Malamutes and Saint Bernards.  The air is blown into the coat at high velocity, which removes the dead hair.  It is very satisfying to watch the hair being blown out!

Will it help if I shave my dog?

Shaving your dog will not lesson the shedding at all and could cause skin problems.  Not all breeds are meant to be shaved (clipped).  When you shave a Jack Russel for instance, the hair will still fall out.  The hair is just much shorter so the shedding looks less.  Shaving can cause skin irritations and itchiness.  Because of the itchiness, the dog will start scratching and end up having skin problems.  Groomers are often blamed for this, but it’s not the groomer that is at fault here, it’s the owner who insisted on the shaving.  Any reputable groomer will always advise against shaving on non-shaving breeds and will advise on a maintenance program to keep the dog in tip top condition.

Parasites

External parasites, such as ticks, fleas and lice, causes severe itchiness.  This leads to constant scratching and hair loss.  Keep your pet parasite free by putting him on a regular tick & flea control program.  It is always best to ask your vet for recommendations on these products and always remember, what works for someone else’s pet, might not work for your pet.

Mange Mites

Sarcoptic Mange is also called Scabies.  Mites bury into the skin and feed off the hair.  It can’t be seen by the naked eye and causes severe itching and hair loss.  It is treatable and is contagious between humans and pets, and pet to pet. If you suspect mange mites, consult with your vet so that a diagnosis can be made and treatment can begin.

Nutrition

Poor diet can cause shedding and hair loss.  Dogs need Omega 3 and 6 oils to ensure a healthy coat and skin. There are many great supplements available that can boost skin and coat.

Compromised Health

Lactating bitches can lose condition very quickly because her puppies are taking so much from her.  This can also lead to hair loss or shedding.  Always ensure that your lactating bitch gets the correct food for her condition, they should be on a special diet to help them recover and sustain motherhood.

Dogs that were ill, injured or that received surgery, might also shed more than usual, because their bodies are focussed on recovering.

Hormonal imbalances can also cause hair loss and shedding.  Your vet will have to take blood and send it to the laboratory for testing.  Once you have the results back, and their is in fact a hormonal imbalance, it can be rectified with medication.

Stress and Trauma

Stress kills.  If you have ever gone through a period in your life where you had to deal with a lot of stress, or a traumatic experience, you will know what a terrible effect it had on your health.  The same as with humans, when dogs stress, it affects their over all health and wellbeing.

You need to determine what is causing the stress to begin with, so that you can remove the stressor. Trauma is normally something you would know about, but not always.

A client of mine had a break in at her house while they were out one evening.  They don’t have cameras, so they have no idea what happened.  When they arrived home, one of the dogs were missing.  The other dog was cowering in a corner.  They found the missing dog the next day, someone spotted the dog running down the freeway and was lucky enough to catch it and took it to the nearest animal shelter.  Both dogs had no marks or injuries and seemed fine.

As the days went on, the dog that went missing, started behaving oddly.  He became reactive towards loud noises and he developed a dislike in men.  His behaviour went from bad to uncontrollable.  He became unstable, aggressive and fearful of just about anything.

It was at this time that the client phoned me and explained that her dog needed grooming but that he has become so aggressive ever since the break in, they have not been able to catch him and bath him. I went to assess the dog and I must admit, I was apprehensive, expecting to get bit.  What I found when I got there, was a tiny little Yorkshire Terrier, huddled inside a bedroom cupboard, growling and flaring at me.  I was expecting a big brute of a dog, so I was so relieved!  Wink wink!

We had the dog assessed at their vet and he was put on calming medication.  I started working with him, desensitizing him, until he would allow me to touch him.  I noticed that he had bald patches on his body.  He was self mutilating out of stress.  Like someone biting their nails.  It had become a habit.  Whenever he started feeling anxious, he would start scratching and nibbling his skin and coat, until it started bleeding. In the end, we did manage to get the dog to accept touch and being handled but unfortunately, whatever happened the night of the break-in, left a deep emotional scar on the dog.  We did manage to break his habit of self mutilating and although his hair started growing again, it was much thinner than previously.

Lastly

Shedding is a very normal part in a lot of dogs and cats.  Before you decide to get a pet, read up on the breed first, especially if you suffer from asthma or allergies.

Make sure you are in a position to maintain any grooming that is needed, to minimalize shedding.  A dog that sheds and that never gets proper grooming, is uncomfortable and will not be a pleasure to have around.  It is not the dog’s fault, but your responsibility.

Do right by your pet. Be kind. Be a responsible pet owner.

 

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