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Spring for most people means lovely warm days, budding trees and blooming flowers and that wonderful feeling of renewal and lazy summer days to come. For dog owners, however, spring is often a dreaded time of year when literally drifts of dog hair cover the yard, the furniture, the carpets and of course the inside of your car.
Dogs that are double coated, which means they have a coarser, outer coat covering a dense inner woolly coat are the heaviest shedders. This shedding is most pronounced when the dense inner coat is released to provide more cooling options for the dog in the hot summer weather. Since dogs don't sweat through their skin as humans and other animals, having less air trapped between the skin and the outer coat helps with temperature regulation. The complete inner coat is not shed, but it is considerably lighter and thinner than it is in the colder weather. This shedding also rids the dog of the old hair, allowing a new, healthy coat to grow in. All dogs will routinely shed throughout the year, however this seasonal shed, known as blowing the coat, is the most pronounced in most breeds.
Dogs shed in reaction to the changes in temperature as well as the increased daylight hours as the spring and summer approach. In some cases keeping a dog indoors in a constant temperature can help minimize the extreme seasonal shed, but this is often a trade off for a heavier all round shed throughout the year. There is really no way to stop a dog from shedding, just as there is no way to stop people in your family from losing hair on an ongoing basis. Dogs that don't shed properly often have health problems and hormonal imbalances that can signal much more significant conditions. Dogs that don't shed also are typically more prone to heavy matting and knotting of the coat.
Mats and tangles in the coat are more than unsightly; they are also a very real cause of bacterial infections, hair loss and even hot spots. When a mat forms in the dense inner coat, it forms a hard ball or lump. This ball of hair then rubs against the skin, especially if it is in an area around the legs, body, base of the tail or the neck. This constant rubbing causes abrasions to the skin, leading to bacterial infections. With repeated bacterial infections hot spots can form, as can patches of complete hair loss. If these areas are not treated the hair loss can be permanent and more significant internal infections can rapidly spread.
Grooming your dog when the coat is changing is good, not only for your household but also for your pet. Routine grooming helps remove all the shed hair from the coat, resulting in fewer mats and tangles. In addition grooming with the proper grooming tools will help gently remove the loose hair, leaving less to fall out in the house. One easy grooming method for shorthaired dogs is to use a stiff bristle brush, followed by a slicker brush. The bristle brush will dislodge the shed hair and the slicker brush will pull it out of the coat. There are several sizes of slicker brushes, some with a handy button on the handle that pushes the hair out of the bristles for easy cleaning with the press of the thumb.
A shedding rake or comb is ideal for longer haired dogs. This tool is sometimes called an undercoat rake as it removes only the dense inner coat without changing the appearance of the outer coat. The teeth on these rakes or combs are stiff and fairly long, allowing even a very thick coat to be groomed right to the skin's surface. Generally for longer coated dogs two rows of teeth on the shedding rake is the best option as the volume of hair that needs to be removed from the coat will be substantial. These rakes can be used year round as well; they are not just used during the spring and fall sheds.
There are also different spray on formulas that can be used to help your dog's coat release the dead hairs, minimizing hair loss after grooming. Sometimes these products can be effective on different breeds of dogs but in some dogs they can cause problems with allergic reactions. It is always a good idea to try out a very small area on the dog before liberally applying the shedding product to avoid a major allergy problem. Often these products act like a human hair detangler or conditioner and help the loose hairs slide out of the rest of the coat.
Some breeders and owners of particularly heavy shedding breeds supplement the dog's diet with extra Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids either on a year round basis or prior to the regular seasonal shedding times. While this may help in keeping the coat looking healthy during the shed as well as promoting a faster shed, it will not eliminate the situation. Remember that shedding is both natural and necessary for the dog to keep a healthy coat, so it does need to happen.
If your dog is a breed that can tolerate a bath, a warm bath with a shed enhancing shampoo can really help to speed up the process. Only bathe as frequently as recommended and don't over-bathe, as the result will be dry, brittle hair and an increased likelihood of hot spots and dry patches on the skin. If you are bathing to help with shedding, groom first to remove all the current dead hair, then bath in warm water, using dog shedding shampoo or herbal shampoos and conditioners. Be sure to brush the hair dry and don't allow the dog out in chilly or cold weather until he or she is completely dry. Always completely dry the ears and check the eyes for any signs of irritation or stray hairs that may have become lodged in the eyes or ears.
Finally, during the shedding season it may be easier and less stressful to do a bit of preventative redecorating around the house. An old blanket or a cover can protect the chairs and couch for a couple of weeks until the dog has stopped shedding, and it makes clean up much easier. Regular daily vacuuming of the house will also help in preventing the massive amounts of hair from collecting on everything.
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