Why is my dog shedding so much?

When the days get longer, it may seem like your dog’s shedding goes into overdrive. That’s not too far from the truth. Dog’s have a normal hair cycle that includes periods of higher hair growth and shedding than at other times. If you’re a pet parent to cold weather or water breeds like Malamutes and Labrador Retrievers, you should expect near year-round shedding. The canine hair cycle also changes as dogs age and during different periods of life. A better understanding of how much shedding is normal can help you manage your dog’s hair cycle and give you a heads-up on when a change in shedding could indicate a health problem.

When (and How Much) Shedding is Normal and Healthy

Shedding Dogs

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First, all dogs shed, but some dogs shed more than others.1 Normal shedding patterns depend on the breed’s coat type, their living environment (inside or outside), and the season/climate. Some breeds like Akitas, Chow Chows, German Shepherds, and Labrador Retrievers shed year-round. Water dogs and dogs bred for colder climates often have a double coat with a finer inner hair layer covered by a longer coarser hair layer. Some breeds have periods where they “blow” through their coat, shedding large volumes of hair that come out in handfuls. Yet, for these breeds, that’s normal.

Breeds with a single coat and/or short hair tend to shed lightly throughout the year but have a typical shedding period at the change of seasons. Higher temperatures and longer days trigger hair growth in the spring and early summer. The new hair pushes out the old, damaged hair to maintain a healthy coat. This process also helps spread the natural oils needed to maintain the skin and hair’s natural moisture.

Health and grooming factor into shedding, too. Dogs who eat a healthy, balanced diet and receive regular grooming tend to shed less. Seasons of life can also change a dog’s normal shedding pattern. For example, puppies, with their fine, fluffy coats, shed more than adults as their adult coat grows in.2 The hormonal changes of pregnancy and birth can cause excess shedding, too.

Potential Causes of Excess Shedding

Shedding may be normal, but a drastic change in hair loss patterns can indicate a problem. Factors that can affect shedding include:

  • Allergies: Skin allergies can contribute to excess shedding, but other allergies like food, airborne, or chemical allergies can also cause hair loss. 3
  • Stress and Anxiety: Whether it’s a stressful situation or a dog that’s naturally frightened and nervous, stress and anxiety can get the fur flying.4 A trip to the vet, moving to a new home, or giving birth can all be stressful enough to cause your dog to shed more than usual. If it’s a temporary situation, like a trip to get groomed or a checkup at the vet’s office, try to soothe your dog as much as possible, but the shedding will subside once he’s not stressed anymore. Some dogs have serious anxiety issues, which usually come with more symptoms than just extra shedding. However, you can get shedding under control by talking to your dog’s vet to determine ways to help ease anxiety.
  • Thyroid Issues: Hypothyroidism causes hair loss in humans and canines.5 A veterinarian will perform a blood test to diagnose a thyroid issue, which can then be treated through medication. 
  • Poor Diet: A dog that doesn’t get enough of or the right nutrients may lose hair and experience other nutritional deficiency symptoms.6 If diet is at the heart of the hair loss, you can work closely with a veterinarian to determine a solution. It could be dog food with the right nutrition for your dog’s breed, size, and age or a nutrition supplement. The problem could also be an allergy or other medical condition that interferes with the ability to absorb certain nutrients. 
  • Adrenal Disease: The most common adrenal disease is Cushing’s disease, which causes excess cortisol production due to a non-cancerous tumor on the pituitary gland.7 Other noticeable symptoms may include increased appetite, pot-bellied appearance, and changes in drinking and urination patterns.
  • Parasites and Infections: Pay attention to whether the hair is falling out on its own or being scratched out by the dog. If bald patches unrelated to scratching and licking show up, a nutritional or another internal issue could be at work. However, if your dog can’t stop scratching and itching, the excess shedding or irritated bald spots may be due to a skin infection or parasite.8 Once treated, the hair should grow back. 

How to Manage Your Dog’s Shedding

Manage your dog's shedding

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Managing that shedding is part of pet ownership. The best way to make sure your dog’s coat, and therefore his shedding, remain healthy is to feed him a nutritious diet, groom him regularly, and schedule regular veterinary care.

Depending on the breed and their coat type, you may need to brush out your dog once or twice a week. Some dogs need more brushing, and others less. For example, an indoor, short-haired dog may only need a good brushing once a month. (Indoor pets tend to shed less because the light/dark and temperature remains more consistent than the outdoors.) In the spring and summer, when shedding increases, plan on doing a little extra brushing.

Stay on top of any health issues. Dogs with allergies or other health conditions may need a skin and coat supplement or medication to keep their skin and coat healthy. Mental health is important, too. If your dog shows signs of separation anxiety like excess shedding, unexplained barking, digging, or chewing while you’re away, you may need to consult a canine behaviorist to determine how you can help your pup stay calm.

Final Thoughts

It pays to keep an eye on and know your dog’s regular shedding patterns. Familiarity with when and how much is normal for your dog can alert you to changes that indicate a health issue.

  1. AKC Staff. Dog shedding: What to expect and how to manage it.  AKC.org. Published April 3, 2019. Accessed March 12, 2021.
  2. AKC Staff. Why do puppies shed their coats? AKC.org. Published February 5, 2021. Accessed March 12, 2021.
  3. White SD, Moriello KA. Allergies in dogsMSD MANUAL Veterinary Manual. Updated June 2018. Accessed April 12, 2021.
  4. Weir M and Buzhardt L. Signs your dog is stressed and how to relieve it. VCAHospitals.com. Accessed on March 12, 2021.
  5. Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid). niddk.nih.gov Accessed March 12, 2021.
  6. Marchegiani A, Fruganti A, Spaterna A, et al. Impact of nutritional supplementation on canine dermatological disorders. Vet Sci. 2020; 7(2): 38. doi: 10.3390/vetsci7020038
  7. Cushing’s disease. Vetmed.wsu.edu Accessed March 12, 2021.
  8. Common canine skin conditions. vetmed.tamu.edu Published on July 15, 2016. Access on March 12, 2021.