SHEDDING THE MYTHS: Seven Steps to Healthy Coats for Pets

So, there’s fur on your socks, fur all over your coach, fur in the water bowl you changed an hour ago – and you’ve become an extension of your vacuum cleaner. Is this just par for the course of having a pet, or should you be worried about your pooch?

The answer is: it depends. Shedding in cats and dogs is a normal reaction to seasonal changes, as they grow thicker coats in winter and rid themselves of unnecessary hair in hot weather. In fact, since winter has less hours of light, the secretion from the sebaceous glands (responsible for hair production) will decrease accordingly, so shedding has as much to do with light as with temperature.

And some breeds will shed more than others. A Newfoundland dog, for instance, will shake off his entire coat twice a year (its called blowing). Huskies, German Shepherds and some other dogs also tend to leave a much bigger trail of fur behind them. And it stands to reason that the fuzzier the cat, the more hair she’ll release. Sometimes, however, excess shedding can indicate an underlying illness or other problems.

Here are seven tips to better care for your animal pals when the fur starts flying.

1) FOOD FOR FUR – Many sources state that brushing is the top way to “cope” with shedding. While grooming is important,  the primary factor in minimizing shedding is a healthy diet – just as it is in the overall well-being of your pets. Ditch commercial products with fillers and chemicals and go for a holistic high-protein diet (hormone- and antibiotic-free meats) that also includes other nutrients (foods rich in enzymes, vitamins and minerals) tailored to your pets‘ needs.

Essential fatty acids (EFAs) in particular are necessary for such critical bodily functions as regulating hormones, the nervous system and for cardiovascular health. Healthy skin and hair is simply a reflection that the animal is getting all the nutrients she needs. Adding EFA supplements (ie. flaxseed and fish oil) to meals is a great idea, especially if your pet isn’t on a holistic well-balanced raw-food diet, which will be rich in EFAs.

2) GOOD GROOMING – Daily grooming is another key step to a healthy coat – shedding or not. It reduces fur balls from forming in your pet’s tummy as well as in your home, and it makes your cat purr and your dog’s tail wag. Brushing is like a massage for animals. It’s bonding time with their human friends, which cheers them up and helps with stress (a factor that can contribute to excess shedding). It also improves stimulation of the animal’s circulatory system, which enhances well-being in numerous ways.

Tools of the trade: Numerous grooming tools are available, from combs and brushes to “love” gloves. You’ll have to find the right one for your sweetie. One gadget that seems quite popular is called the FURminator™. While the name has a scary buzz to it, the product has gleaned rave reviews from pet owners. Whatever you choose as a grooming tool, the gentle approach is always a good place to begin.

3) SPLISH SPLASH – Some owners bathe their pets regularly, thinking it’s a good way to keep them clean and shiny. But be careful of over-bathing and of the products you use, as both can strip the natural oils from their skin and result in an unhealthy coat and ingestion of unhealthy ingredients. Shop around and get an organic product suitable for your pet –remember, cats and dogs have different needs.

4) SUCK IT UP – This may seem obvious, but keeping a clean house (including the pets’ bedding) will go a long way, especially during the peak seasons of shedding. After all, humans shed dead skin, and dust accumulates in the home continuously. How would you like it if you couldn’t wash your bed sheets and had to pad about on dirty floors and lick the grime off your feet at bedtime?

5) CLEAR THE AIR – A humidifier will allow both you and your pets to breathe better and keep the skin moist when the furnace fires up in the winter. You may want to consider an air purifier also, to help remove indoor toxins.

6) CHECK FOR EXCESS – Some owners assume shedding (no matter how much) is natural. There’s such a thing as too much though (ie. if fur is falling out in clumps or shedding continues right after a good brushing. Especially be alert for other signs, such as changes in the pet’s behaviour (scratching, meowing more frequently, lethargy and other symptoms). The culprit could be an underlying illness and/or a skin condition, such as fleas or ringworm. For the latter, you can start with a simple inspection. Wear protective gloves (as ring worm can pass from pet to human); go through your pets’ fur  noting signs of fleas or fungal infection – redness or sores. Some conditions can be treated fairly easily with alternative remedies at home while others may require the assistance of a vet (see links to Vitality articles on fleas and ringworm in the references below).

7) SIGN OF SICKNESS – If your pet is shedding profusely, it may indicate a systemic problem. Hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease are two common illnesses linked to excess shedding. These diseases are related to problems with the endocrine system – the adrenal glands, or the pituitary gland (which is controlled by the hypothalamus and works together to  produce hormones critical for functioning of major organs and systems like the kidneys, thyroid, heart and nervous system). It should be no surprise, then, that diets which nourish the entire body will help fend off illnesses.

By feeding your pets healthy foods, and tending to their needs regularly, they will begin blossoming from the inside, out – and excess shedding will terminate naturally, without relying on heavy-duty grooming tools as a sole solution.

References

• Anatomy and physiology of animals endocrine system: https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Anatomy_and_Physiology_of_Animals/Endocrine_System#The_Endocrine_System.  Extracted from the WWW June 10, 2010.

• Information on Dog Shedding. https://www.bigpawsonly.com/dog-shedding-information.htm Extracted from the WWW June 7, 2010

• Paw and Claws Pet Pantry. The Raw Diet. www.freshpetfood.ca Extracted from WWW June 7, 2010

• Shultze,  Kymythy R. Your Cats’ Nutritional Requirements: The Basics. www.kymythy.com Extracted from the WWW June 9, 2010.

• Vet Info. Cushing’s disease. Extracted from the WWW June 10, 2010.

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