Wampa, Wookie, Ewok in real life. <3
#1. Understand that The Force of shedding cannot be stopped only reduced.
Why do dogs shed anyway?
Similar to humans, canines and felines shed their coats on a regular basis. At any given point in time, a random set of hairs will be in one of the following 4 stages of growth: anagen (active growth), catagen (transitional), telogen (resting phase) and exogen (exit and return to anagen). Once the hair sheds, this makes room for a new strand to begin its’ growth cycle. This is normal and keeps hair strong and healthy.
The main relation between dogs that shed excessively and those that don’t is whether or not they are seasonal shedders. Though not always the case, a general correlation can be drawn between the seasonality of the shedding and whether or not there is an existing “undercoat”.
Princess Hair Vs Wookie Fur
Fur v Hair
Hair and the Undercoat – Free Variety
Dogs that shed moderately and year round tend to have coats that feel more like “hair” rather than fur. When the term “hair” is used, this is usually referring to dogs with single coats meaning they have little to no “undercoat”. Some sources may refer to these “hair” growing breeds as “Hypoallergenic”. This is usually a terminology shrouded in ambiguity, and a way for marketers to portray pets or relating products as being “allergen free” though the definition is limited to defining the allergic reactions as being “unlikely”. Unfortunately many people are unaware that this term requires no regulation and so is free for interpretation by the claim makers.
Also surprising to many, avoiding the allergen inducing perpetrator is not so simple. While single coats do tend to shed less, it is not so much the hair that causes the allergic reactions but rather the dander.
With the hypoallergenic disclaimer addressed, this term, when used responsibly can serve to appropriately group animals and products that contain less allergy inducing attributes. The key is to distinguish the Jedi from from the deceptive Separatists.
The breeds that usually fit within this ”Hypoallergenic” profile, are those with skin and coat that produce minimal dander which usually coincides with little to no shedding. The main coat categories include the following AKC breeds.
- Drop coated or soft silky coated breeds like the Yorkie, Maltese, Silky Terrier, and Shih Tzu, and Afghan, Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier,
- Curly coated breeds like the Poodle, Portuguese Water Dog and Bichon Frise, Bedlington Terrier, Coton de Tulear, Spanish Water Dog, Kerry Blue Terrier, Lagotto Romagnolo
- Wiry Coated breeds like the Giant Schnauzer, Standard Schnauzer, Miniature Schnauzer, Irish Water Spaniel,
- Hairless breeds like the Chinese Cresteds (lovingly referred to as Cresties), American Hairless terriers, Peruvian Inca Orchid, or maybe the Xoloitzcuintli that hails it’s name from famed Aztec god Xolotl, god of lightning, perhaps explaining its lack of coverage in the first place.
While less hair upending itself in your nostrils can feel less irritating, and some dogs can indeed leave you breathing easier, remember that hypoallergenic is a relative term. One human’s relief could be another’s Zyrtec nightmare.
Bring Forth the Wookies
As for seasonal shedders, things start to get a little furry. Opposite to the hair-bearing breeds these are dogs labeled as having “fur”. These will have the crucial undercoat, seen as soft, lighter colored tufts of hair hidden under the exterior coat. These double coats or fur-bearing breeds tend to grow thicker coats in the winter and shed or sometimes even “blow their coat” in the spring to ready themselves for the summer heat. This seasonal shedding is necessary for the thermoregulation and protection of the dog’s body but, can be suffocating. To look for this undercoat, spread the coat with your fingers and look for the softer hairs, usually shorter in length and normally can be removed with the slightest tug.
If you have yet to choose your companion and shedding is something you’ve got a bad feeling about…do some homework on the breeds that will fit your lifestyle the best. 🙂
#2. Take a look at your dog’s food
Excessive shedding can sometimes be a symptom of an internal imbalance of your dog’s health (a disruption in the force). While irritating products can absolutely cause allergic reactions or could simply be drying out the skin, it’s important to not skimp on the nourishing vitamins and basic nutrients found in proper diet in order to maintain skin and coat health.
Where is your food coming from?
The Republic’s Watchlist: Low quality fillers, lack of oils, allergies
When choosing the best food for your dog or cat, there are some keywords to look out for. Here is a quick bulleted list of these words, what they mean and whether or not they pose a danger to your friend.
Key terms: Light Side or Dark Side
- By-products – This term usually refers to products or parts of an animal that are not intended for human consumption. However, this does not make the product dangerous. By-products can actually be very nutritionally dense and include “lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, livers, blood, bone, stomachs, and intestines of meat animals, and the necks, feet, undeveloped eggs, and intestines from poultry. By-products do not include hair, horns, teeth, or hooves.” Overall Score = Light Side
- Fillers – This term can pose issues depending on the quality as the species. Cats are particularly susceptible to fillers as they are predominantly meat eaters. Conversely, many experts agree that dogs function best on a varied diet that includes vegetables, grains and fruits. Like anything else, the nutritional value of the “fillers” will be based on the quality. Also, if present, look for food that lists fillers low on the ingredients list, which should ensure a less relative amount compared nutritionally dense meat. Overall Score = Anakin Skywalker – (Can be light or dark depending on quality).
- Splitting – This refers to the practice of “when the same ingredient are listed in several guises within the first five ingredients so you’ll believe you’re getting more (or less) of that ingredient than you really believe you are.” Overall Score = Dark Side
- Allergy Inducing Foods – Consider common (or uncommon) allergy inducing foods. Some of the most common foods allergies come from unexpectedly common sources like beef, dairy, chicken, lamb, fish, corn, wheat, soy and yeast. Overall Score = Han Solo (Great when it’s great, frozen in carbonite when it’s not)
- Fish Oil – Increasing your dog’s oil intake of omega-3 fatty acids through salmon, tuna, fish skins and supplements has long been touted as a route to healthy skin, shiny hair as well as a reduced in inflammation by improving the often times imbalanced ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 oils. However, like most things, the prescription is proposed with moderation. According to pet.md, excessive amounts of omega-3’s anti-inflammatory properties can have a negative effect on platelet formation which enables blood to coagulate after injury. Overall Score = Light Side
Fish oil as recommended by Pedmd
“The National Research Council has established a safe upper limit of EPA and DHA for dogs. It has yet to establish one for cats. In light of that, it is probably safe to use the guidelines for dogs for both species. Translating the data suggests that a dose between 20-55mg combined EPA and DHA per pound of body weight is safe for dogs and cats. This dose is far less than those used to treat serious conditions where the risk of side effects is less important than the benefits of treatment. Consult with your veterinarian when treating conditions requiring higher dosages.
*EPA and DHA are the long-chains amino acids found in omega-3 fish oils and are considered more potent and beneficial for health than short chain ALA.
#3. Understand how Sebum is affecting your specific breed
Brushing your dog on a regular basis, especially smooth or short coat breeds, will help to remove excess sebum and thus help to reduce bacteria collection and odor.
What is sebum?
The definition I find to be the most encompassing is the following,
The oily secretion of the sebaceous glands, whose ducts open into the hair follicles. It is composed of fat and epithelial debris from the cells of the malpighian layer, and it lubricates the skin.
This oily secretion made by both humans and canines alike and really all hair-bearing creatures, aids in protecting against exterior infections. It also helps to push or slide hair to skin’s surface so that it can exit or shed naturally, much like oiling a machine.
However, too much sebum can lead to some unpleasant side effects. As you may imagine, oily residue built overtime can become a magnet for dirt and residue. The sebum itself is naturally odorless but its’ bacterial breakdown, like the occurrences in the pits of your arms, can release a foul aroma. An unfortunate accompaniment to this this potpourri can be acne. This is caused by clogging the hair follicle with this sebum & dead skin cells thus leading to bacteria build up, end result – unwanted bumps.
Similarly to humans, our canine companions do not have a one size fits all solution. How can they with their different skin and coat types and different living environments? Let us view these issues as we would for ourselves, by acknowledging and appreciating the differences in variation of skin and coat in order to find a solution.
Sebum Smooth Coats Vs Double Coats
Usually the coat type to experience excessive amounts of sebum production are understandably, those which produce the most amount of shedding. Remember the oiled machine.
These are generally categorized as Smooth Coats and Double Coats.
You will most likely not find undercoat or the soft down like fluff on a Smooth Coat which is why they often fall into the category of Single Coats. Their hair is short, often times a bit wiry in texture and looks more like skin itself rather than separate hair. Some examples of this are Boxers, Dobermans, and Weimaraners.
While smooth coats do shed less than their double-coated counterparts, they still produce more sebum than a breed with a coat containing more of a human “hair-like” texture like a yorkie. But this brings up an interesting question. Why would a coat lacking the fly-away, dandelion-like undergrowth require as much oil?
One thought could be that coat relation is incidental. However, one possible connection could be found in the skin’s purpose of the breed type. If we take a look at most smooth coated varieties, they tend to be sporting dogs. As such, they would require greater protection from the elements – snow, water, brush, sun etc. One of the functions of sebum is to help hair in it’s exogen phase to make it’s way and the other to protect the skin from external damage.
So if you have a shedder, either in the form of a Smooth Coat or Double Coat, look to the next few steps for some the varied approaches you can take to reducing their parting gifts.
#4. Using the right equipment and products to brush your pet
As you might have come to expect from this article, the right products for your pet will differ depending on the skin and coat type we are tending to.
For Smooth Coats, a high quality boar bristle brush will be your next best friend. At Pure Paws, we recommend the Pure Paws Indian Boar Hair Bristle Brush. The hairs on this brush are designed to essentially scrub the excess sebum and shedding hair off of you dog. This will help to alleviate some of the eau de doggi while saving you some money on lint roller purchases.
Indian Boar Hair specifically, helps to absorb excess oils, stimulate and exfoliate the scalp, distribute natural oils along the hair shaft, condition seal and polish the hair, and lift dead skin cells and loose hairs by trapping them in the bristles.
To keep your brush clean and effective, we recommend that you wash it with warm water and a mild shampoo. Any cleanser with limited additives will do. We use the Pure Paws Factor Zero Shampoo. This is the shampoo we recommend to use as a base shampoo, regardless of the line you choose for your companion. This is because, with limited additives, this shampoo removes impurities while depositing as little as possible and so readies the coat to absorb the nutrients of any following line
Now, for these adorable Wookies, a boar bristle brush won’t be enough to permeate the thick outer coat and the plush underlayer. For this, we will need something with more…force. For coats that are under regular care and unmatted, a pin brush is perfect for maintenance. However if you find yourself in Wampa territory, you may need to reach for your trusty slicker brush. This is a great tool if the coat is easy to matt, requiring a little extra love.
#5. Bathing your companion with the right frequency
A common question asked by both Padawans and Jedi of dog ownership is how often to bathe their companions. The answer will depend on the quality of products being used, the sebum/coat type, and the owners tolerance for smell.
This debate of canine washing frequency is not so different from that of humans. We are constantly feeling and smelling and adjusting based on health, texture and smell. Our recommendation ranges between once a week to once every 6 weeks.
Let’s start with a baseline exam. How healthy is your dog’s skin right now? Does he have any surface symptoms that are outside the norm. If so, make sure you consult with a vet before delving to quickly into home remedies. While solo missions can work, consulting the republic is never a bad idea.
Again, if your dog is a heavy shedder, they most likely fall into the category of Smooth or Double Coat.
For a healthy Smooth Coat, if you are using high quality, nutrient depositing products, you can bathe as often as every other week and if the smell doesn’t bother you, up to six weeks. Daily brushing with the appropriate brush and sprays can also lengthen the duration of perceived freshness.
Here is an example of a basic Smooth Coat Regimen, as recommended by us here at Pure Paws. 🙂
- First, shampoo with the Pure Paws Factor Zero Shampoo. This will help remove the majority of the excess dirt, oil and loose hairs without depositing too much of anything anything else.
- Next, wash with the Pure Paws Forte Shampoo or the Pure Paws Shed Ease (for the sulfate free option) (Also available in gallons). Chamomile and Aloe Vera work together to soothe the skin. The Hydrolyzed Keratin & Panthenol work to protect and build a healthy coat.
- Finally,condition with the Pure Paws Forte Conditioner.
- For daily maintenance, spray with a light hydrating spray while brushing with the Pure Paws Boar Bristle Brush. You can brush with the accompanying Pure Paws Forte Strengthening Spray, or for lighter weight spray, try the Pure Paws Finishing Show Spray.
- For a spot treatment bathe or to help remove odors in between baths, apply the Pure Paws No Rinse Express and wipe off with a damp cloth.
For Double Coats you can follow the same steps as recommended in 1-4, except for the the brush. The boar bristle will not be enough to permeate the thick undercoat. The Pure Paws Pin Brush is great for general maintenance, while the Pure Paws Slicker Brush will help with occasional matts.
#6. Understand Shaving – What are the dangers? How to minimize the damage when used as a last resort.
As humans, we do our best to take care of ourselves, our friends and family but sometimes we fall behind. We forget birthdays, we neglect the gym and fall through on habits on which we promised to follow through.
Similarly we have reached down to pet our sleeping creatures, and instead of smooth hide under your fingertips, you find clumps of wooly fibers instead. You meant to brush Chewie last weekend but your best friend from Naboo was in town. Now Chewie is riddled with matts. To many, this would mean time for a trip to a professional groomer in order to shave away these transgressions. But, before you make such a request please pause, and for the health and safety of your little or big wookie, carefully read the following.
To Shave or Not to Shave?
This has been a hotly contested debate with reasonably concerned parties on both ends. Should you find yourself in a position where you are left with little choice but to remove the precious down, here is a practical list of questions to ask, concerns to consider and widely held adages or beliefs to differentiate from scientific truths.
The Naturalistic fallacy of the Double Coat.
Speaking about the evolution of canines and more specifically of the double coat and its’ necessity is a bit difficult given the forced hand of humans in proactively creating different breeds in order to fit our particular functions (hunting, working, racing) or beauty ideals (color variation, coat texture, “baby-doll faces”, brachiocephalic noses). And even as faulty as this form of evolution is, even in the best case of breeding, of what we think would be ideal for an environment (a huskies in Alaska), we uproot and ship these creatures to climates that are completely foreign to their intended function (a husky in Texas).
The co-evolution of domesticated dog and man is believed to have diverged from the single species, the gray wolf (Canis lupus) about 2 -40,000 years ago. Current research points to our modern dog (Canis lupus familiaris or Canis familiaris) as first diverging from the gray wolf, or at least early fossil evidence of “dog-like canid” found in the “Razboinichya Cave (Altai Mountains of southern Siberia)…33,000 cal BP [calibrated years before the present]” or 33,000 years ago. (plos.org).
One theory for this early domestication is that hunter gatherers selected wolf puppies and raised them as their own. Another, and in my opinion, more plausible theory is that of “flight-distance”. In this theory, the wolves that were less afraid of humans and willing to hover close to camp or those with “short flight distance”, would be the ones to obtain the scraps and so would favored by and eventually adopted by humans.
Through the millennia, as humans became more discerning, so did our tastes for beauty, form and function and so to the best of our abilities, we tried our hand at manipulating evolution.
In this artificially produced environment, evolution’s natural “survival of the fittest” was and is still to this day unable to take full affect. Those that might not have been naturally selected through survival or sexually selected through female choice can now possibly be artificially bred by human selection. We have created drones to do our bidding and built into the nature of these creations are human error. This manipulated breeding has led to the extremes in canine diversity we see today and coincidentally, a host of issues that evolution didn’t have a chance to pluck out.
The reason I diverge into the brief history of the modern dog is to acknowledge that many of the attributes of this creature, were hand selected and perpetuated by human desire, thus left more susceptible to fallibility in function. And it is because of our responsibility of creation, our hand in making these creatures so dependent on us, that we owe them the time to understand them better so that we can better serve the animals that have served our needs for so long.
Put into more practical use, when deciding what is “healthy” or “good” for our dogs, we must take into account both the internal and external stimuli caused by both nature and nurture, that could be having an effect on the shedding cycles.
- Internal – physical illness, emotional state, stress levels, allergy causing foods
- External – temperature of environment, allergens, invasive pests
So now the question, should you shave your dog?
To answer this question in terms of a simple yes or no answer would require that we ignore the necessary supplementary questions surrounding it. Before you decide if shaving is the right call, please take note of the following considerations.
- What do you mean by shave? – There are different blade numbers sizes that a groomer can use to trim or shave? There is also a difference between clipping, hand stripping and shaving. To prevent shaving burns, we would ideally recommend leaving about 1 inch of hair and at the very least ¾ of an inch. This will help to prevent skin irritation and burns.
- Is your dog healthy enough to shave? – If your pet is in distress sometimes shaving can exacerbate issues. Check with your vet to see if your pet has any possible symptoms of ringworm, yeast infections or any other skin infection that can spread through shaving.
- How does your dog’s personality change when shaved? This is a side effect that unfortunately has no black and white diagnosis but is left to the owner’s discretion. Though perhaps not as vain as humans, animals still seem to have emotional responses to being shaved, some positive and some depressive. Pay close attention to any mood or personality changes in your dog when shved and adjust your treatment accordingly.
- What do you do if you absolutely have to shave? If the coat is matted down to the skin, shaving may be the only option. If this is the case, there are some precautionary steps you can take to decrease injury or negative side effects.
- Minimize time outside. Since the coat acts as a thermoregulator and protector from the elements, minimizing exposure to harsh sunrays, extreme temperatures and rough terrain will help prevent harm from sunburn, frostbite and normal nicks and cuts.
- Use dog clothing and sunscreen. If you do take your pet outside, cover them with weather appropriate clothing and apply sunscreen if necessary. Rather than a hotdog try a dog in a blanket.
Dog in a blanket
If you have read through this article thoroughly, I want to thank you for taking the time to learn more about how to care for your companion. In their coevolution with humans, canines have come to require similar, human-like individualistic treatment. To take great care for these creatures is not a luxury but a responsibility. The more we cultivate empathy and choose to see the likeness between ourselves and the other sentient beings with whom we share the planet, the greater chance we will have at fostering understanding and peace.
May The Force be with you. 🙂
Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, Seventh Edition. © 2003 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved.
Ovodov ND, Crockford SJ, Kuzmin YV, Higham TFG, Hodgins GWL, van der Plicht J (2011) A 33,000-Year-Old Incipient Dog from the Altai Mountains of Siberia: Evidence of the Earliest Domestication Disrupted by the Last Glacial Maximum. PLoS ONE 6(7): e22821. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0022821