Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

Hair Off the Dog

Eleven ways to cope with copious shedding

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

It’s October, and that means you are probably in the middle of fall -- the season of flurries and “furricanes” as double-coated dogs shed their summer coats so their winter coats can come in thick and heavy. Even if you don’t live in Alaska or Maine, your Alaskan malamute, Bernese mountain dog, Great Pyrenees, Norwegian elkhound or pretty much any dog with a thick, furry coat will go through this seasonal shedding process, making your life furrier in the process. And don’t think you are home-free if you have a short-haired dog. Labrador retrievers, beagles, pugs and puggles are also among the dogs who shed like nervous Chihuahuas this time of year.

Seasonal shedding, known to the dognoscenti as “blowing coat,” usually begins in September and completes its mission to layer your home, clothes and belongings in fur by November -- just in time for the holidays. (Maybe you can collect it to weave scarves and socks for loved ones?)

People new to double-coated dogs are sometimes stunned by the amount of hair that comes off their pets. Ankle-deep in dustpuppies, they call their veterinarians, wondering if their dog has a skin disease.

Nope, it’s normal. The good news is that it doesn’t last forever (it just seems that way). The better news? You can take steps to help relieve your dog of fur faster. The following tips can help you get through it, sense of humor and sanity intact.

-- Brush daily to remove dead hair.

-- Brush outdoors to keep hair in your home to a minimum.

-- Invest in fur-removal tools: wire slicker brushes, undercoat rakes, shedding blades, Furminators, hound gloves and Zoom Grooms are just a few of the options available.

-- Go easy. With tools such as Furminators, you can become so enthusiastic at the amount of hair that’s coming out that the next thing you know, your dog is bald. Don’t go there.

-- Go to the experts. If you purchased your dog from a breeder, ask about the best grooming tools to use on your dog. For instance, hound gloves, grooming mitts and Zoom Grooms work best on shorthaired dogs. A professional groomer can also give good advice (and take much of the labor off your hands).

For dogs with big, thick coats, pro groomer Julie Ellingson of Sacramento, California, uses a slicker, comb, de-shedding shampoo and conditioner, silicone brushing spray, a Mighty Wind high-velocity dryer and “a liberal yet scientific application of elbow grease.”

-- Draw a warm bath for your dog. That helps to release loose coat. A warm bath every two weeks for her collies encourages dead hair to let go, says Rosemary George of Virginia. Follow the bath with conditioner, and then blow-dry, brushing your dog thoroughly to remove loosened hair and undercoat. For best results, be sure your dog is dry all the way down to the skin.

-- Between baths and brushings, pull out your trusty lint roller and go over your dog with it to remove small amounts of loose hair.

-- Buy a good vacuum cleaner, one that won’t balk at sucking up all that fur. Better, choose one with an attachment, such as an upholstery tool, that allows you to vacuum your dog. If they are introduced to it at a young age and aren’t fearful of the loud noise, many dogs enjoy the feel of being vacuumed. Introduce him to the experience slowly so he doesn’t feel as if he’s being attacked.

-- Ask your veterinarian about fatty acid supplements. They may help to reduce the volume of shedding.

-- De-fur furniture and carpets with a rubber dishwashing glove, hound glove or squeegee. You can find pet hair lifters, lint removers or similar items online or at pet supply stores.

-- Most important, relax. Every fashionista knows dog hair is a neutral.


Hair-raising query

about cat fur

Q: Why do cats shed so much hair when they go to the vet?

A: That’s a fascinating phenomenon. They’re just sitting there on the exam table and you pet them and wads of fur come off in your hand. What’s up with that? Your cat’s fur, literally.

When cats get scared, they get goosebumps, just like us. But instead of manifesting as bumps on the skin, the feline physiological reaction is hair-raising, so to speak. Goosebumps occur in humans and apes as a result of stress and have the purpose of making them appear bigger and more frightening in the face of a threat. In cats, piloerection, as this vestigial reflex is known, results in raised fur to make the animal look more fearsome in the face of a stethoscope wielded by a strange veterinarian.

The phenomenon occurs when tiny muscles called arrector pili are stimulated by the sympathetic nervous system -- responsible for the famous fight-or-flight response -- causing them to contract. The arrector pili are located at the base of each hair -- so there are a lot of them -- and when they contract, the hairs are pulled erect. As an intimidation display, it works pretty well.

But then what happens? Lots of that raised fur comes out. That’s because certain of the hairs were already primed to be released. These telogen hairs are in the resting phase of the growth cycle, meaning they are about to be shed anyway. The anxiety caused by a vet visit or car ride or whatever has sent your cat into a tizzy simply accelerates the process, causing your cat to drop fur in an attempt to lighten his body’s load so he can make a run for it. Fortunately, the sudden hair loss isn’t harmful -- in fact, it’s perfectly normal. -- Dr. Marty Becker

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Dogs at risk for

Chagas disease

-- As if we didn’t have enough to worry about with our dogs -- heartworms, ticks, fleas -- now they are at risk from “kissing bugs.” The blood-sucking insects, found primarily in the southern United States and into Mexico, Central America and South America, seek out animals on which they can feed, including dogs, birds, reptiles and, yes, humans. Dogs can become infected with what’s known as Chagas disease when they are exposed to the bugs’ feces or when they eat the bugs. The potentially fatal disease affects the heart and other organs. According to Sarah Hamer, DVM, at Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine, approximately 60 percent of kissing bugs in Texas are infected with the disease-causing parasite. To help prevent infection, keep dogs indoors at night, seal cracks and gaps around doors and windows, and keep pet areas clean and bug-free.

-- Who is that masked cat? It’s not just Siamese and other pointed felines that can hide behind a facial mask. Bicolor cats -- a pattern also known as piebald -- have white fur and fur of another color or pattern. Depending on the spotting genes they have, some may sport what are known as “mask-and-mantle” and “black-mask” patterns. Mask-and-mantle cats resemble superheroes, with a colored “mask” and color over the back that looks like a cape. Black-mask cats look just the way the name sounds: They have a mask of black over the head.

-- When immunizing pets, don’t forget ferrets and other exotics. They are as susceptible to influenza, distemper and rabies as dogs and cats. Vaccines are not readily available for exotics, but they may be used off-label at a veterinarian’s discretion. Consider your exotic’s exposure to other animals when discussing the issue with your veterinarian. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker


Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by “The Dr. Oz Show” veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, founder of the Fear Free organization and author of many best-selling pet care books, and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. Joining them is behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.