Understanding the ins and outs of shedding—and knowing how to curb, control and clean up after it—is instrumental to making it a non-issue.
When it comes to their pets, some people wear their heart on their sleeve. Many more wear their pets’ fur on their sleeve—and their jackets and pants and furniture. Yet while shedding is quite normal, it is an issue that many pet owners are looking to address. Minimizing shedding or its effects requires education on the subject and guidance on the many products available to address it.
With this in mind, here is a guide to understanding shedding, including why it occurs, when it may indicate a health product and what to do about it.
What is shedding and how does it happen?
Every mammal sheds and regrows hair. There’s no stopping it. Unlike humans, which have a single hair in each follicle, dogs have several hairs growing from each follicle: usually a guard hair (thicker, longer, stiffer hairs that grow through, protect and conceal the undercoat) and several secondary hairs, or undercoat. The hair that dogs shed comes mostly from its abundant undercoat, which is hardly seen while still on the dog. That’s why the dust bunnies of dog hair under the couch are usually a lighter color than the dog is—undercoat is generally lighter. A black dog will tend to shed mostly gray hairs; a Golden Retriever will leave nearly white hairs behind.
Hair grows in cycles. Anagen is a growth phase in which the hair grows until it’s reached the length determined by genetics—long for Shih Tzus, short for Pugs, etc. Then it transitions into telogen, a neutral phase, which is followed by exogen, the shedding phase, when new hair growing into the follicle pushes the old hair out. How long each phase lasts varies according to the breed and individual genetics. Like humans, dogs that would naturally have long hair like Poodles and Lhasas stay in the growth—or anagen phase—most of the time, resulting in less shedding. Some breeds that stay in anagen much of the time also have a curlier coat, so that shed hair is caught up in the coat rather than falling to the ground, leading to the somewhat inaccurate “non-shedding breed” characterization. Kerry Blue Terriers, Poodles and Bichons Frises are a few examples.
Some thick and longer-coated northern breeds such as Malamutes may stay in the resting (telogen) phase for lengthy periods—perhaps years, resulting in less shedding than some shorter-haired dogs with similar double coats. For pet owners, this means that those coats may remain quite thick no matter how much brushing is done.
Double-coated dogs like Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds and Akitas tend to have a couple of heavy-shedding times a year that are seasonally driven—in spring when they shed their winter weatherproofing and the end of summer when much of their coat is shed in order to grow in that thicker, heavier version for winter. In cold climates, seasonal shedding can be extensive. In more temperate areas, it can go nearly unnoticed. Slicker brushes, rake style tools and a brushing spray to reduce static are the best answers for this coat type. Other breeds, like Pugs, Beagles and Dalmatians pretty much shed the same amount all the time with a milder seasonal variation.
Rubber or silicon brushes or grooming gloves are excellent sellers for these. Furminator has a specific tool for most coat types, but their original is ideal for these shorter coats.
What dogs shed the most?
Dogs with short anagen (hair growth) stages, usually those with short- to medium-length coats. Dogchannel.com includes Pugs, Beagles, Chihuahuas, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, and Labrador Retrievers on their list of top shedders—all popular breeds to target for marketing shed-control solutions.
Will shaving help?
Not really. Shaving cuts the hairs off at one length. Normally, when hair sheds, it falls out in its entire natural length, so shaving will result in hairs being shed that are shorter and harder to pick up with a vacuum. Also consider that much of what is shaved will be the longer guard hairs, exposing the softer, shorter undercoat. Since the guard hairs carry most of the natural oils and are thicker, stronger hairs, shaving can remove the dog’s protection against weather and environment. Unless it is badly matted, hair is a great natural insulator and helps keep pets warm in winter and cool in summer. Air itself is a natural insulator, and air trapped between the hair follicles and hairs on a dog’s body does a very efficient job keeping body temperature in balance year round.
What can pet owners do to control, alleviate and reduce shedding?
Make sure the shedding is not abnormal, as unusual shedding can be a sign of a medical condition that needs a veterinarian’s attention.
Otherwise, brushing the animal as often as possible will keep the hair in the brush for easy disposal instead of all around the house on clothes, floors, and on and under furniture. Retail staff should help with selecting the right tool for each pet, and stores should offer a range of tool types, as well as price points, for customers.
ConairPet has a line of grooming tools that are blister packaged for easy retailing, including a DeShed Kit for both large and small dogs. Customers familiar with Bass Brushes from the human beauty industry will be delighted to see the company’s pet brushes with highly finished bamboo handles and natural boar bristles, which also reduce static.
Pet owners can also use a brushing spray. They reduce static, which leads to tangling, and many double as coat fresheners and cleaners, making them even easier to sell. Espree’s Aloe Hydrating spray removes static and hydrates skin and coat, which helps prevent static from recurring.
Shampoo distributors can often point retailers to companion sprays in lines already in-store.
If the animal is bathed at home, the use of a quality shampoo and conditioner aimed at loosening as much coat as possible can be a help. Furminator, Espree, Lambert Kay and many other brands have shampoos aimed at getting coat to shed where and when owners want it to.
Nutrition is also an important aspect to consider when trying to reduce shedding. Make sure the customer is using a high-quality food that provides all the nutrients, but even if they are, the addition of coconut oil, omega-3 and -6 oils, and other coat-specific additives is a good idea. According to Alyssa Guertin, manager of marketing communications for Pet-Ag, Inc., “When a pet’s skin and coat is dry, flaky, brittle or breaking off, many pet owners start looking for topical solutions to fix the problem. However, more often than not, the cause is actually poor nutrition, allergies or even disease-related. Pets, like people, need essential vitamins and minerals to maintain optimum health. While all dog food does contain ‘complete and balanced nutrition,’ the quality of the ingredients and the manufacturing process can reduce the effective percentage level of vitamins or minerals to less than what a pet needs.”
Guertin adds that other factors such as dry, hot or cold conditions can also make the problem worse. Skin and coat supplements like Linatone Shed Relief Plus Added Zinc by Lambert Kay can offer a healthy boost by providing vitamins and minerals specific to nourishing skin and supporting healthy coats. “Pet owners should look for daily food supplements that contain omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, antioxidants like vitamin A and E, zinc, and linolenic acid,” she says. “Coat health starts from the inside out.”
What about the hair that, despite owners’ best efforts, does get left behind?
David Stern, vice president of marketing at Metropolitan Vacuum Cleaner Company—a popular manufacturer of pet dryers for both professional and home use—suggests a few things to help with the ever-present shedding problem. “Use an Air Force dryer on your dog outside,” he says. “It will blow out a lot of undercoat, which reduces what’s left to shed inside. Also, use it on a dry dog. Whatever hair is not attached will blow right out.”
But for the inevitable hair left in the home, pet owners can use a quality vacuum to remove it. They should seek a company that makes a good product and backs it up with a warranty. Stern recommends Metropolitan’s Full-Size Canister Vacuum. The electric power head means that in addition to the suction of the canister, there is a motor-driven beater bar brush that agitates carpet and pulls hair up into the vacuum. This is the best type for dog hair removal. It has a five-year warranty and is made in the USA, as are all of Metro’s dryers and vacuums. For pet parents looking for a handheld that is ideal for pet hair on furniture, the company offers a lighter-weight vacuum with a rotating brush—the Metro 500 Watt Stainless Steel Vac n Go.
Retailers are in a perfect position to show customers how to use a multi-pronged approach to shedding issues. We can’t change genetics, so dogs that are predisposed to shed a lot will. But we can keep it to a minimum, and more importantly, control what drops in the house.
Retailers should strive to ensure that their customers can control shedding with good nutrition, medical care and proper grooming, and that they have the right tools on hand to remove what shed hair will inevitably be present in the home.
Carol Visser is a Nationally Certified Master Groomer and Certified Pet Dog Trainer. Formerly a pet product expert for PetEdge, she and her husband Glenn now own Two Canines Pet Services in Montville, Maine, which provides grooming, boarding, training and day care services to Waldo County