One of the most common questions that I am asked repeatedly is very simple: “How can I stop my dog from moulting so much?” Saul is a typical example of the type of animal whose hair loss causes problems – it is very obvious when a Golden Labrador is shedding. The light-coloured fur is very visible on dark clothing and carpets.
In nature, dogs moult twice yearly. In the early autumn, the fine summer coat is lost, and a dense, warm winter coat grows instead. Then in the late spring, the winter coat falls out, to be replaced by the lighter summer coat. These two seasonal moults are episodes of rapid, large-scale loss of hair, which is reasonably easy to deal with. There is a massive shedding of hair each time, and the dog then has a healthy, shiny coat for the following six months, with minimal ongoing hair loss. If this was the pattern followed by pet dogs, owners could focus their attention on frequent grooming during the moults, and then they would not need to worry about their pets’ coats until the next seasonal moult, six months later.
Unfortunately our domesticated dogs rarely have such a simple moulting schedule. Nowadays, many dogs seem to moult continually, all year round. If you stroke the average dog’s back, you will find it very easy to pick up a few stray hairs, or even a handful of loose fur. And if you visit a dog owner’s home, the hairy carpets and furry furniture offer clear evidence of continual moulting. So why does this happen and what can be done?
Moulting is controlled by hormones that are stimulated by neurotransmitters produced in the brain. The bodies of the wild ancestors of pet dogs had a continual awareness of the time of year, based on the environmental temperature and the day length. Their brains responded by stimulating moulting and fur growth at the correct times to ensure that dogs had the most appropriate type of coat for both summer and winter.
Modern pet dogs live very different lives. Most dogs live in centrally-heated homes with their owners. Their bodies are no longer subjected to the natural temperature changes of the seasons. And they live in artificially illuminated homes, so that their brain is not aware of the changing day length of the different times of year. As a result, moulting happens on a continual basis, little by little, day after day, for month after month.
What can be done about it? There is no ‘magic’ answer. A high quality diet, rich in vitamins and essential oils, definitely helps. A dog that is fed on a good diet has a shiny, glossy coat, with less hair loss, but the moulting is not stopped completely. Regular grooming is the only effective way to stop the loose fur from spreading around your home. Dogs that live outdoors, such as working sheepdogs, have healthier coats because they are exposed to more natural lighting and temperature, but very few pet owners would agree to send their beloved pet outside an unheated kennel during these cool winter nights.
Other ways of controlling moulting have been tried. A few years ago, a special shampoo was marketed, with claims that it reduced hair loss from moulting. The shampoo was never distributed in Ireland, and it seems to have dropped out of the market in other countries, so I can only presume that it was not as successful as pet owners had hoped. In the United States of America, some dog owners dress their pets in Lycra sports suits, from their necks to their ankles to the base of their tails. They wear these ‘shell suits’ whenever they are indoors, so that their loose fur cannot escape to mess up the immaculate home. This concept has not yet taken off in Ireland!
When Saul came to see me last week, Patricia explained that she has discovered a novel way of dealing with his hair-shedding. Whenever she takes out the vacuum cleaner to hoover her home, she takes a few minutes to vacuum clean her dog. Saul loves this attention, and Patricia’s carpets and furniture are kept permanently clean and fur-free.
- Continual moulting is a common problem in pet dogs
- A good-quality diet helps to create a healthy coat
- Frequent grooming is the best way to keep loose fur under control