Samoyeds come from the group of dogs known as “sled-pulling dogs”. They were bred in Siberia by nomadic reindeer herding people. As well as pulling the family possessions along on a sledge, they would have been used to herd reindeer, and they would have slept with the family at night, helping to keep them warm with their thick, dense coats.
Samoyeds are good natured, friendly animals. The wonderful, long, white coat is one of the best features of Samoyeds, and Angel’s coat has looked magnificent since she was very young. It occasionally gets mucky, but a quick brush-out is enough to return it to a clean snow-white appearance. Angel’s owners spend a lot of time grooming Angel, and they have always been surprised at the quantity of soft, downy fur that comes out during the daily grooming sessions. Angel has once-monthly anti-flea drops applied to the back of her neck, to make sure that she remains parasite-free.
A few weeks ago, Angel’s coat began to look different. The long white fur began to look bedraggled, especially on her underside. Her coat began to have a moth-eaten appearance. Could Angel be going bald? His owners brought her to see me for a check up.
Angel was an easy dog to examine – she just loves attention of any kind. I examined her carefully all over. Her skin was very healthy, with no red sore areas, and no bald spots. But her coat did look irregular and patchy. Samoyeds have a very distinct “double layer coat”.
First, there is a dense, soft, downy undercoat, close to the skin. This is the insulating layer that is so important in the Samoyed’s land of origin. When you groom a Samoyed, huge wads of these fine, curled hairs gather on the brush, and when you pull them off the brush, they can be scrunched up like a ball of cotton wool. If a Samoyed is not groomed frequently enough, this soft undercoat can easily become matted, which can be impossible to sort out with grooming. A dog with a matted coat sometimes needs to be fully clipped off, down to the skin, using electric clippers. Some other breeds have a similar type of undercoat – Old English Sheepdogs and Shetland Sheepdogs are examples, and they also need frequent thorough grooming to prevent matting. In Angel’s case, this undercoat was in perfect condition.
The second coat of a Samoyed, known as the “top coat”, is made up of long, straight, coarse hairs. This layer acts as a water-resistant protective layer, shielding the more porous undercoat from water and muck. The top coat is the coat that is most obvious when you look at a Samoyed – it hides the undercoat beneath it. As I examined Angel, I could see that whereas the topcoat on the upper side of her body looked normal, the top coat on her underside was ragged and irregular. We turned her onto the back on the consult table, and examined her underside. The usual long hairs of her top coat were shorter and had grown less evenly than normal. When I parted her coat, and examined her skin, I could see that new hair was growing in, as it should be. The problem seemed to be a simple one – she was losing a lot of her full-length guard hairs before the new ones had grown in properly. Angel was simply having her first full-on moult.
Dogs tend to shed fur all year round, in small quantities, in a so-called mosaic pattern – little bits here and there all over the body. But once or twice a year, most breeds have a moult, where there is large-scale loss of hair, and the coat is completely replaced. This tends to happen in the spring, when the long, dense winter coat is replaced by a lighter summer coat, and then again in the autumn. There is a huge amount of variation in how dogs moult, even between breeds, but whenever a dog starts to lose fur in the spring or autumn, moulting is often the cause. There is no cure for moulting, but there are two things that can minimise the problem.
First, a high quality diet, including plenty of essential oil supplementation, is very important. Angel has now been changed from a supermarket brand of dried food to a so-called premium brand, available from vets and pet shops, that has been designed specifically to optimize coat condition.
Second, thorough, frequent grooming is very important. Angel’s owners are looking again at the implements they are using, and their technique. I know one Samoyed owner who regularly uses five combs and two brushes.
- Samoyeds have a very distinct “double coat”
- Frequent, thorough grooming and a good quality diet are needed to keep the coat in good condition.
- Once or twice a year, moulting can make even the best kept coat look a little bedraggled.