Friday, May 11, 2012
Column: Lake tails
The hair of the dog and what to do about it
One of the most frustrating problems dog and cat owners face this time of year is trying to limit the amount of hair that falls off pets and subsequently sticks to clothes and accumulates throughout the home.
As cold weather leaves, so goes the beautiful thick undercoats that kept our beloved pets warm over the winter. This seemingly endless supply of unwanted hair magically attaches to anything and everything in its vicinity, which is annoying to most pet owners.
The amount of hair that many pet owners need to clean up on a daily basis can sometimes seem overwhelming. At my house, it is not unusual to start every day by picking up small clumps of Pomeranian fur caught in the bedroom carpet. Next is clearing the kitchen counters of the cats' hair from their nightly patrol duty (good job cats), then using a lint roller to remove Tonka (my yellow Lab) hair from every square inch of my clothes.
This is all done before I step out the door.
Many owners have similar scenarios that vary depending on the number and type of pets they have.
One of the most common questions I get asked by clients is how and why their pets shed so much.
I then dazzle them with my expert knowledge of the anatomy of pets' fur, how it differs from humans and how they are able to produce so much hair. However, my Einstein moment is short-lived as I am quickly reduced to a babbling veterinarian with no solutions as they ask the inevitable next question, "What can I do to stop the shedding?"
I typically regain my composure quickly as I remember that the last question has no straightforward answer that can be applied to every situation.
The first thing to check is that the pet's shedding is normal for the breed. Different breeds have different shedding patterns; some "blow-out" their unneeded winter undercoats (huskies, shepherds) while others do not shed and need to have their hair trimmed (poodles, Yorkies).
If healthy, all breeds should have a nice lustrous coat and healthy skin with minimal itchiness or scaly debris. Many health problems can cause your pet to shed excessively and abnormally.
Parasites such as fleas, ticks or lice are very common in the summer and can cause severe skin irritations. Similarly, food allergies and environmental allergies to grasses or pollen can cause unhealthy skin that can become odorous, flaky and painful.
A thorough examination by your vet can help determine if your pet's skin is healthy. It might also be necessary for your veterinarian to evaluate your pet's endocrine system as hypothyroidism and Cushings disease are common causes of abnormal skin shedding and excessive hair loss.
If it is determined that your pet's shedding is normal for the time of year, there is no need to resign yourself to a house full of hair. There are a few simple steps to help control this seemingly never-ending problem
The first is to remove the hair before it falls off the pet by brushing as often as possible to remove dead hair before it hits the floor. I swear by the Furminator, a comb that pulls out the loose hair with great efficiency. It is a good idea to brush the pet outside so hairs that fly off the brush will not accumulate in the house.
Use a quality brush designed for your pet's type of coat. Wire-haired breeds require a different brush than a poodle. Depending on the breed, an amazingly large amount of hair can be brushed out daily - I am sure I could fill a pillow after brushing my Labrador every day.
Adding some moisture to your pet's coat is another way to encourage healthy shedding. This can be done by using moisturizing conditioners and shampoos or by supplementing the diet with essential fatty acids. This will not stop your pet from shedding, but healthier moisturized skin means a healthier coat and better overall shedding.
Nutrition also plays a large role in the health of a pet's skin and how it sheds. Realize there is no perfect diet that is right for every pet so it might take a little trial-and-error to find the right diet for your pet. Your veterinarian can assist you in deciding what products are right.
While most pet owners, including myself, become annoyed with the amount of shedding that occurs this time of year, it is the way dogs and cats have evolved. It is going to happen no matter what we do.
Make sure they are healthy, eat a good diet and are brushed daily to limit what we can not completely control. As far as I am concerned, it is worth the trade off for the enjoyment they all give on a daily basis. I just make sure I have a lint roller nearby.
Dr. Brian Weitzman practices at Smith Mountain Lake Animal Hospital. He can be reached at 297-9188 or firstname.lastname@example.org.