Caitlin UltimoGrooming / Health

All About Shedding in Senior Dogs

Shedding does not discriminate! Young or old, if your dog has hair, he’s going to shed. Of course, some breeds shed more than others, with shorthaired dogs leading the pack in producing lots of loose hair. Shedding coat can cause some specific concerns in older pets, but you can help.

The 411 on Shedding

Contrary to popular belief, all dogs shed. Here are some facts:

  • By its nature, hair grows to a certain length that is predestined by the genetics of each particular dog. Then, at some point, the hair falls out and is replaced with new hair.
  • Hair serves multiple purposes for dogs. It insulates them from both cold and heat, is a source of protection for their skin and is beautiful.
  • Hair gets its start in the follicle. Dogs have compound follicles, meaning many (up to 20!) hairs grow from each one. In comparison humans have just one lonely hair per follicle.
  • Most dog breeds have a primary, or “guard” hair, accompanied by several secondary hairs in each follicle.
  • As dead hair separates from the skin it can tangle up with new, growing coat and cause matting problems. Matted hair can put stress on the skin and cause discomfort.

How Grooming Can Improve Your Older Dog’s Life

As dogs age, they often become less flexible due to arthritis or generalized stiffness and lack of muscle tone. Pets who previously licked themselves in order to self-groom sometimes lose the ability to do so. This is when owners can step in to help their senior pet. For example, I have a 14-year-old Pug. Her quality of life is still quite good despite some joint discomfort, but she can no longer bend and flex to reach places that itch. I make a point to run a gentle dog brush over her every day, sometimes a couple of times a day. It doesn’t take more than a few moments, and she is often in my lap as I read or watch television anyway. She really enjoys these sessions, and shows me with her body language when I reach a spot that feels especially good. I go over that area several times, and I can tell by the look on her face that she is happy about it. While I am doing this, I am removing dead, shedding coat at the same time. I also take the opportunity to check her over and make sure her skin and coat look normal and healthy.

Take a look at your dog grooming supplies. Older dogs are sometimes more sensitive to touch, so make sure you are using combs and brushes that are gentle to aging skin. Ask a professional groomer for recommendations as to what types of tools would be best for your particular pet. Use gentle strokes, especially over bony areas like the spine, top skull, shoulders and hipbones. These areas are prone to having a reduced layer of fat and muscle in many seniors, and a firm touch could cause discomfort or even abrasions.

A good brushing makes many dogs feel happy all over, and you might find that your pet is quite perky after a grooming session. Don’t forget to reward your dog with a few tasty treats to make brushing time feel even more special. If you choose to have your elderly pet professionally groomed to remove shedding hair, try to arrange a time when the groomer can get your dog in and out in a reasonable time.

Senior pets who have to spend long periods of time in a cage waiting for grooming can become stiff and uncomfortable. If your pet normally has his coat length clipped, consider going a bit shorter than normal for ease of care between grooming sessions.

Your senior dog’s coat is a mirror of his general health. Older dogs’ coats sometimes become thinner as part of the general aging process, but it should still be glossy and healthy looking. Most breeds of dogs, young or old, experience what is known as seasonal shedding. Seasonal shedding is triggered less by the change in temperature than it is by the increased or decreased hours of daylight that pets are exposed to. In the spring, the thick coat dogs grew in preparation for the cold season begins to shed out. So why do dogs seem to shed so much in the shorter days of autumn? The answer is that the reduction in light triggers them to shed the lighter coat of summer to make way for the heavy winter coat.

Along with these very normal changes, individual pets’ shed cycles can be affected by their age, general nutritional status, hormonal factors, parasites, illness or even stress. A healthy, well-nourished animal will be able to maintain his coat better than one who is infested with internal or external parasites, is ill or is not receiving appropriate nutrition.

Cleanup Tips for Fur Control

During times of heavy shedding you may find pesky clumps and tumbleweeds of dog hair littering your home and car. Consider these simple steps to help keep things under control:

  1. Keep several lint brushes on hand — in your car, at work and in various rooms of the house — to do quick cleanups on clothes and furniture.
  2. Rubber tipped “brooms” and hand brushes are great for cleaning up loose hair from floors, rugs, baseboards and stairs.
  3. A damp kitchen sponge is a great tool for lifting hair from carpet and upholstery.
  4. A light mist of static reducing spray on rugs and fabric will make it easier to lift up shed coat with cleaning tools.
  5. If you pet is allowed on the furniture, consider covering upholstered pieces with a blanket or sheet for easier clean up.
  6. Just five to 10 minutes of gentle brushing every day or two will remove a lot of hair before it falls out in the house.
  7. Quick “middle of the room” sessions with your vacuum cleaner every day or two will keep your living areas looking nice between more in-depth cleaning sessions.

Older dogs make such wonderful companions. Even if they decorate our homes with cast-off hair, each day with the senior set is something to be treasured.

By: Daryl Conner

Featured Image: John Howard Digital Vision/Thinkstock