Dear Dr. Baum --
My cat and dog
have been leaving hair all over the place, and even though it's
warm, it's making me pull my own out. Can you give me
some information on hair loss in pets and whether I should be
worried about how much they're shedding?
Alma G., Boston,
Dear Alma --
everywhere. And it's one of the main things that I talk about
everyday to a multitude of clients. I'm talking hair!
Veterinary hospitals generate
lots of hair everyday. Patients deposit their hairs through
shedding (which is actually exacerbated by the visit to the
hospital), grooming services, surgical preps as well as other
medical services requiring the clipping of hair. Next time you
shampoo your hair, check out how much is released and imagine how
much more there would be if you were totally covered by hair. The
effect of this outpouring of hair often leads to plumbing
stoppages. Luckily for me, both my father-in-law and brother-in-law
were plumbers. They always expressed astonishment at the amount of
hair that they found clogging the pipes (with the occasional
exception of balls and other assorted doggie toys). They tried
rigging up screens and traps, but nothing has ever been a panacea.
Floating hair effect the air conditioners, where filters need to be
changed every two weeks, the computers, where canned air must be
repeatedly used, to the washer/dryers, which inevitably break down.
I'm amazed that nobody seems to be sneezing!
I've already reconciled myself to
the fact that I will forever be caught in the blizzard of hairs that
the activities in my office continually generate. Even though
allergies, parasites, infections, hormonal abnormalities as well as
systemic disease all contribute to the plethora of hair, by far the
main contributor is shedding. Hair is a tissue that is continually
replacing itself. When a person becomes bald, it is not because his
hair fell out, it is due to the fact that he is not regrowing it!
As a general a rule, I will advise
my clients not to be concerned with how much hair is coming off -
only be concerned about the amount of hair staying on! I am
frequently asked, "How much shedding is too much?" Be concerned if
the hair loss is leaving your pet with bald patches, but if the
underlying coat is full - don't be worried at all. An aberration in
the shedding cycle happens when your pet visits the veterinarian.
There are four stages in the growth and maturation of hair. During
the fourth stage, telogen, when the hair shafts are relatively
geriatric they are susceptible to the effects of adrenaline, which
cause the premature release of the older hair. Normally this hair
would be released gradually but during the excitement and anxiety
that can accompany a visit to the doctor, adrenaline levels spike
and literally handfuls of hair can be exfoliated. Combining the
elements of stress with a prolonged waiting time can be a
prescription for surprise for many clients. Very often clients
decide that while they are waiting in the examination room it would
be an excellent time to give their pet the brushing that they had
been putting off for weeks. You can only imagine the panicked looks
that I receive upon entering the room as they clutch the spent
hairs, which to them, seems like the calling card for the onset of
some horrible disease.
dogs and cats tend to shed small amounts year round. Long haired
dogs and cats tend to be more seasonal in their shedding. Some
curly coated breeds may seem not to shed because the hairs get
caught and trapped by the remaining hairs. Regular bathing and
brushing is recommended for all pets as a means to remove the old
hair and dead surface cells of the skin. This in turn will promote
a healthier environment for the new cells and hair to grow into as
well reducing the amount of hair that will be deposited into your
Spaying your cat -- a special moment with Dr. B.