Not another shedding question


You know shedding is normal, but your veterinary clients (who are likely covered in dog or cat hair) may not. Heres how to handle concerns about excessive shedding.

Our veterinary clients often complain about “excessive” shedding, but how do you politely tell them that shedding is simply a natural part of owning an animal? Here are some key points and suggestions to keep your clients satisfied and your sanity intact.

Shedding is normal

Dogs have approximately 15,000 hairs per square inch. Cats have between 60,000 and 120,000 hairs per square inch. All of these hairs cycle through the same four stages of development (anagen, catagen, telogen and exogen-just in case you need a refresher), but they aren't all in the same stage at the same time. Growth happens in a mosaic pattern, so shedding does too, which explains why dogs and cats can shed large numbers of hairs without developing any bald patches.

Shedding is one way an animal can adapt to its environment. Changes in photoperiod and external temperature are the two main factors that determine when major shedding will occur. In North America, this means that outdoor pets are going to shed the most in the spring and fall. However, because most pets now live indoors with a relatively consistent temperature and photoperiod, the result is near-constant shedding.

When should you be concerned?

Obviously, any time our clients are concerned we should be concerned. Our clients know their animals better than we do, and if they perceive a change we need to listen. As objective medical professionals, after we discuss our clients' concerns, it's our job to perform a complete physical exam to check for any abnormalities.

The first step when faced with an exam for “excessive shedding” is to determine if there is obvious alopecia or true thinning of the coat. Other abnormalities to look for include excoriations, erythema, debris on the skin and poor body condition.

Click on the image to download this client handout on shedding.The list of medical problems that can result in alopecia or a thinning hair coat is very long. It's easiest to group the problems into four categories: infectious, hormonal, autoimmune or immune-mediated, and other.

Infectious causes include demodicosis, sarcoptic mange, dermatophytosis, Malassezia dermatitis and bacterial folliculitis. 

The most common hormonal abnormalities that can cause excessive shedding include hypothyroidism, hyperadrenocorticism and alopecia X. 

Common autoimmune or immune-mediated diseases that cause alopecia include alopecia areata, vasculitis and sebaceous adenitis. 

The other category includes medical problems such as cutaneous neoplasia, follicular dysplasia, some forms of ichthyosis, color dilute alopecia and cyclical canine alopecia, which is also called seasonal or cyclical flank alopecia. (Note: This is not an extensive or all-inclusive list).  

If you are unable to find any signs of excessive shedding, you can reassure clients by giving them this handout. It can serve as a handy home reference regarding what's normal and what's not when it comes to shedding and can perhaps spare your client from another unnecessary shedding exam in the future.


Dr. Darin Dell is a veterinary dermatologist at Animal Dermatology Clinic in Indianapolis, Indiana.

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