Written By Disha Ramanan
For most of us, the Indian summer is symbolised by flush yellow Amaltas trees, plump, juicy mangoes and iced glasses of roohafza. But for us pet parents, summer is also synonymous with something else – dog hair just about everywhere!
Many of us face the frustrating problem of dog shedding every year. We run from pillar to post trying to figure out at what point we’re supposed to intervene because honestly, THIS huge a furball every single day just can’t be normal right?!
We spoke to three canine experts – Gurugram-based senior veterinarian Dr Shally Mattoo Jalali, canine nutritionist and founder of Doggiliciouus, Manssi SK Saha, and President – Professional Pet Groomer’s association, India and Business Owner - Petsburgh, Mumbai, Andrea Cyrill Khurana, to get the lowdown on whether summer dog shedding is normal, how to manage all this shedding, when to seek expert care and diet tips for excessive shedding in dogs.
Is Dog Shedding Normal During Summer?
Dr Mattoo sets it straight. “Shedding is common at the start of every season. At the start of summer, the body’s natural response to the heat is to shed the hair, so that the coat gets lighter.”
Manssi points out that recognising your dog’s “normal” is important. “Seasonal shedding can be pretty severe in some breeds. For most dogs, it’s twice a year, whereas some other dogs shed a little bit throughout the year, with heavy shedding during the seasonal sheds. You need to get to know your dog, and know their patterns. "Normal" vs "Abnormal" shedding can only be determined once you know what is “normal” for your dog.”
When is Shedding a Cause for Concern?
According to Dr Mattoo, while generalised shedding is commonplace, serious underlying reasons behind shedding usually present themselves in some ways. “Bald patches over the skin is a big red flag. When a whole patch of hair has gone, it could be a fungal or bacterial infection. It could also be mites, ticks or a perhaps other reasons (hormonal, thyroid-related etc). Then there is generalised itching all over the body and food allergies. A vet can look at a dog’s skin and coat to tell you what the underlying cause could be, or advise a test such as scraping or a blood test.”
Other signs, as Dr Mattoo explains, could be little bumps, moist patches, eczema etc.
Manssi adds, “Some signs that should make you seek immediate holistic intervention is if you touch your dog and huge chunks of hair come off in your hands. Or if shedding is off season or sudden onset. I mention holistic help because there may or may not be medical reasons behind this; It could be mental, environmental, stress and/or nutritional.”
Shedding and Itchy Skin
Dr Mattoo says itchy skin should not be the case during this season.
Manssi agrees, “Itchy skin is not a part of shedding. Dry skin can be seasonal for some dogs though, and it’s also the tick and flea season. So first and foremost, check to see whether your dog is itching the same spot or is the itching more or less even across the body. Investigate the spots that are itching and check for bite wounds or dry flaky skin. If it’s tick and fleas, it must be treated accordingly. If it’s dry skin, you can start applying coconut oil, but the problem needs to be solved internally in the long run. You may want to look at getting a diet designed. If your dog hasn’t had seasonal dryness till now, there are no ticks and itching has started suddenly, it could be a deeper underlying issue. There are no generic solutions and you may need to seek out help from a holistic practitioner / nutritionist for this.”
Treating Shedding and Skin Issues due to Fleas, Mites etc
Dr Mattoo advises, “For fleas and mites, there are over-the-counter solutions available and misuse of drugs is prevalent. Ridd and Ivermectin are commonly available, but don’t give these to pets without understanding factors such as age, medical history etc and without consulting a vet. This actually causes further damage to the pet.”
“Brushing your pet should be done every day. Spraying Apple Cider Vinegar or Neem oil is a good strategy for repelling fleas. You could spray these (diluted in water, of course) before walks. The only issue with these is that it has to be a regular, everyday thing – imagine this as being our pets’ Odomos! Sometimes the pet parent might be busy or might forget, which is why allopathic over-the-counter strategies for fleas might be better suited for you – after consulting with your vet.”
Another point to note is deworming. She explains, “The pet has to be dewormed regularly, otherwise this may lead to hair loss too. This has to be done every 3 months.”
How Does Diet Affect Shedding?
Manssi says diet plays a major role in how much your dog will shed. “When normal shedding gets excessive, it could be nutritional deficiencies. A proper balance of vitamins and minerals, proteins and healthy fats is essential for healthy, shiny coat and skin. It is difficult to achieve this with synthetic supplements and having these nutrients in their food as fresh and natural sources will show results very quickly.”
Foods to be Included During Shedding Season
Manssi points out that there isn’t exactly one single thing that leads to healthy hair. “Just like there isn’t any one particular item that would lead to health for us too. But if you are already on a fresh food diet that is wholesome and balanced then the one thing you could add a little more of is healthy fats - Omega 3 (human-grade, clean source), coconut oil (virgin and organic) and ghee (organic and homemade is better!).”
Dr Mattoo adds, “Zinc and Vitamin E are also necessary too as they take care of the skin barrier. I suggest checking with the vet and working with them.”
Common Deficiencies in Pets
Manssi says that most of the common deficiencies are good, bioavailable sources of nutrition because many dogs are on kibble or processed food. Kibble-fed dogs have the most amount of deficiencies. Hair and skin are both made of protein. If the diet lacks good quality and quantity of fresh protein, then these will suffer. Good quality, cold-pressed Omega 3 can be added to the food on top. It’s not just useless but also harmful, if the Omega fats have been pre-added to the food.”
Dr Mattoo continues. “During the summer, some of our pets’ appetites go way down. They prefer cooler things such as dahi, chhaach etc. Either the animal itself doesn’t eat as much protein as before or the human feels they should give lighter foods like curd. The protein in the diet decreases, resulting in increased hair shedding.” She also adds that omega 3 and 6 are common deficiencies in dogs and taurine, for cats.
Summer Bathing and Grooming Process
Dr Mattoo says brushing/combing fur should be done every day. Dogs with long hair are especially prone to tangles and the hair can get matted on the coat. As for baths? “Baths every two weeks are okay as too much bathing takes away the coat and skin moisture. Especially in the case of people with white pets, I see excessively frequent bathing. But unless there is a skin condition, I will recommend a bath only once in a fortnight.”
She warns of using human shampoo for dogs (a common practice) as dog shampoos are formulated for a different pH. She also points out that your dog’s skin type must be considered. “I see people buying fancy shampoos from the market or online, all the time. Even though it might have good feedback, it doesn’t mean it’ll work out for your pet’s skin! Just like for us, a shampoo that suits you may not suit me. So I recommend only using shampoos formulated for pets, and buying ones that suit your animal’s skin type and specific skin conditions.”
Is Shaving a Dog’s Coat a Good Idea?
Andrea Cyrill Khurana weighs in. “When it is hot the hair stands away from the body to allow air circulation over the body and when it gets cooler, like in an AC room, the hair flattens to conserve body heat so that the dog does not catch a cold. When you shave your dog, you are taking away this natural ability of the dog to naturally keep itself at a desirable body temperature.”
She also lists out the following reasons why you shouldn’t shave:
- Pimples, Rashes and hotspots due to ingrown hair
- Inability to protect themselves from bruises, bumps, burns and scratches
- Inability to protect themselves from insect bites, dog bites and their own nails
- Raising and flattening their hair is an important form of dog communication within the species
- An important immunity layer on the skin that helps fight infections is lost due to exposure to the sun. This point is important for dogs with skin conditions. Think, if the skin has low immunity, is it going to heal faster or slower?
- Dogs also tend to feel insecure when they loose their protective layer, which could result in depression or behavioural problems.
- And an extreme long-term problem related to low skin immunity is, skin cancer!
Dr Mattoo is in full agreement. “Never expose the skin of the animal – that’s just all wrong. It’s damaging for the skin barrier, exposing it to harsh heat and elements. For longer-haired breeds, a trim is fine – enough that the dog’s skin is not exposed.”
She points out that a lot of pet parents do it because they want to help their dog beat the heat. “There are other ways to make the environment cool. Also, early morning or late evening walks should be done, and having water available at all times.”
We’d like to call out a special product here. It is an all-natural powder blend of 5 herbs and is used to kill parasites as well as keep the skin & fur healthy. It helps with dry skin, infections and much more (a reviewer of the product even mentioned that it helped her get rid of a big wart on her senior dog’s body!).
It is available here (along with instructions on how to use it).
Hemp Seed Oil is also known to be effective in controlling excessive shedding and coat improvement for your dog. It's available with Happy Puppy Organics in India.