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When there's hair, hair everywhere: shedding is usually seasonal, but factors such as diet, genetics and even temperament can all trigger it.

If clouds of dog hair don't complement you, your furniture or your home, you may be among the owners looking for solutions to excessive shedding. Dermatologist William H. Miller, VMD, Medical Director of the Cornell University Companion Animal Hospital, has a simple prescription to tame it: a brush and a vacuum.

Shedding is a normal function. However, if your dog's shedding appears to be unusually heavy or results in bald spots, make a veterinary appointment to determine if he has an underlying medical condition, Dr. Miller says. "Normal shedding does not produce bald spots."

These are among the many possible reasons for abundant shedding:

* High fevers

* Food or inhalant allergies

* Hypothyroidism, a disorder involving the inadequate production of the thyroid hormone, which can cause dry, brittle hair

* Cushing's disease (hyperadrenocorticism), a common endocrine disorder resulting from overproduction of adrenal cortical steroids

* Injuries, infections, even a new soap or shampoo

If your dog doesn't have a health-related problem, Dr. Miller offers an explanation of hair growth to help you understand and cope with shedding. Hair growth in nearly all species occurs in cycles throughout the year:

* In the active anagen phase, the hair is hard to pull out, or epilate.

* In the telogen phase, hair stops growing and remains in the hair follicle. "It can be epilated easily with fingers, combs, brushes, etc.," Dr. Miller says.

* In the photoperiod, or light cycle, the length of daylight triggers changes in shedding. Except for those living in very hot climates, dogs generally will not lose hair in summer, as you might expect. Instead, they'll shed in the fall to accommodate thicker hair for winter. They'll shed that thick hair in the spring.

The seasons can be a clue if you're worried that your dog's shedding is abnormal. If a dog living in the North undergoes a major shed in the summer or the dead of winter, he has a problem, Dr. Miller says. "Obviously, the influences for shedding are different in the Northeast than they are in Florida. In warm weather, the dog doesn't want a thick dense coat, whereas that type of coat is desirable in cold weather."

The challenge of some indoor dogs is that they can shed year-round, Dr. Miller says. "Many different factors influence shedding, including the lighting in the house, the intensity and duration of the ambient light outside the house, and whether the owner is a night owl and stays up late into the early morning hours."

You can take steps to reduce factors that can affect shedding:

Lower the Anxiety Level

Hyper-excitable animals tend to shed more than placid ones, Dr. Miller says. During the stress of a veterinary visit, telogen hairs that aren't anchored into the hair follicle may begin to fall out. "Think of the dog with a beautiful coat who all of a sudden starts to shed when he walks into the veterinarian's office."

Anxious dogs don't get goose bumps like we do when we experience a chill or a sudden scare, but a dog's hair follicles can straighten in a process known as piloerection. It's an erection of the hair due to contraction of the tiny muscles that elevate the hair follicles. A similar process helps form goose bumps in humans. Piloerection loosens the telogen hairs, and some fall out.

Feed a High-quality Diet

Hair is made from the protein keratin. Dogs who don't get adequate animal protein in their diet may experience unusual shedding. Excessive fat in the diet can also cause shedding, but --to confuse things--omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are important for healthy skin and coat. It's best to consult your dog's veterinarian or ask for a referral to a veterinary nutritionist for help in creating a balanced diet. The American College of Veterinary Nutrition has a directory of board-certified specialists at www.acvn.org.

One final factor in hair growth is a process described as asynchronous, meaning it's unsynchronized. Some hairs actively grow, while adjacent ones are in the no-growth telogen phase. This may seem an odd act of nature, but Dr. Miller says it's fortuitous. "If all hairs were in the same phase of growth, the dog or cat would go totally bald when he shed. That would make housecleaning easier, but bald dogs and cats really aren't beautiful."

THE BAD NEWS: NO DOG IS HYPOALLERGENIC

Despite popular belief, non-shedding, "hypoallergenic" dogs don't exist, says dermatologist William H. Miller, VMD, at Cornell. Some breeds do have a different hair cycle than other breeds, so shedding may not be as obvious, but it still does occur.

If these "non-shedding breeds" truly didn't shed, they would grow their coats continually and their hair would drag on the floor, Dr. Miller says

Breeds that tend to be "low-shedders" include:

* Bichon Frise

* Border Terrier

* Greyhound

* Irish Terrier

* Maltese

* Poodle

* Portuguese Water Dog

Breeds that shed a great deal include:

* Akita

* Beagle

* Boston Terrier

* Chow Chow

* German Shepherd Dog

* Golden and Labrador Retriever

* Pug

* Shih Tzu

Dogs with double coats like the Nordic breeds can shed profusely in the spring and fall to allow new coats to grow in. The shedding, called "blowing coat," last about a month.

BRUSHING IS BETTER THAN BATHING

Dogs don't need to be bathed unless there's specific reason for it, says dermatologist William H. Miller, VMD, at Cornell. "Brushing is far better for the coat. If the dog is dirty, smells or has a skin disease, then bathing is in order. Otherwise, brush."

Most dogs with medium-length or thick coats need weekly brushing. Those with long silky coats like Yorkies or those with double coats like Norwegian Elkhounds need daily care. Brushing removes loose hair and dirt, distributes natural oils and makes dogs feel more comfortable. You can book an appointment with a professional groomer if you don't have time for maintenance grooming.

For management of shedding in general:

* Try various gloves, wipes, brushes and rollers that are on the market specifically for your dog's coat to remove loose hair on him and in the home.

* Vacuum floors and furniture often. And if you or other family members are allergic to dog dander, use a vacuum with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate arresting) filter. Dander, which is the dead skin that dogs shed, is the cause of allergies, not the hair itself.
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Publication:Dog Watch
Date:Aug 1, 2015
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