I received an email from Brenda B who, two months ago, adopted a 5 year old female collie from a rescue centre. Brenda says that her dog is losing her coat almost in handfuls since she brought her home and because she’s Brenda’s first dog she’s very worried, but would like to avoid an expensive visit to the vet if possible.
All dogs shed their coats, of course, but Brenda’s description was quite clearly one of a dog with a problem that could be serious.
Brenda and I have exchanged emails about this but because I didn’t cover shedding in my books and the subject can be very worrying, it deserves a public airing.
Shedding is usually a sign of an underlying health problem, although not necessarily a serious one. Check your dog’s skin around the areas of heaviest shedding and, if you find any redness or broken skin then the cause may be an allergy or parasitic. In these cases make an appointment with your vet as soon as possible.
I suspect, however, that 95% of coat shedding incidents will be either dietary or environmental, so I’ll deal with diet first.
A lot of dog foods contain grains in varying proportions and dogs have difficulty digesting them. Increasing your food spend slightly to a food that contains a higher proportion of meat which will be much more nutritious because less of the nutrients will pass through your dog.
As the health of your dog is so important, I recommend moving to a meat-rich fairly expensive range to achieve maximum benefit (always read the label, of course) and shifting down somewhat when you see an improvement.
I also advised Brenda to add 10ml of olive oil to her dog’s food bowl. The omega 3 from this can bring about quite a rapid change in the condition of a dog’s skin and coat. If you eat fish and buy it with the skin on then once cooked the skin can be reserved as an additional beneficial supplement. Cut it into 2cm wide strips and keep it in the freezer, removing two strips each evening for the following day’s feeds. It really doesn’t take a lot to make a big difference.
Any leftover salmon, mackerel or sardine flesh will also be a beneficial addition to your dog’s diet (but beware of bones from larger fish).
Water is essential for all of us and the recommendation that dogs have ready access to clean fresh water is not one to ignore. Clean does not mean pouring clean water into a filthy bowl full of potentially damaging bacteria. Poor hydration will result in dry skin and fur and, as a natural consequence, shedding.
Fresh fruit and vegetables can also help with balanced nutrition, but do beware those that are toxic for dogs (apple pips contain traces of cyanide, for example). There are lists on the internet and also in my book, ’50+ Things your Dog will Wish You Knew Before he Arrived’ (that is a blatant plug for which I’m not ashamed because knowledge is important).
Environmental conditions are also quite simple to examine and address. If, having thoroughly examined your dog,you found no evidence of red or broken skin it’s unlikely that there is parasite activity.
Wash your dog’s bedding regularly (do remember to take it outside to shake and beat out excess fur, grit and anything else that may be tangled up in there).
Wash your dog, but not too often because over-frequent bathing can cause precisely the problem you’re trying to solve.
Brush your dog. Grooming will remove loose fur and tangles. Use a brush type that is suitable for the breed. Dogs with two coats, such as Springer Spaniels, may surprise you with the amount of fur that brushes out.
Central heating dries out the air in a home and you’ll probably find that your dog drinks as frequently and in similar volume during the winter months simply because of this.
If you try all of these things and there isn’t a noticeable improvement after 10 days then call your vet for an appointment.