How to Win the War Against Pet Shedding

Your pets' constant shedding might cause you to pull out your hair, but giving their diet and grooming routine a makeover can help.

As long as there have been house pets, there have been owners grappling with pet hair. While some dogs and cats shed profusely only in spring and fall, "those that are indoors more often, like city dogs, shed all year," says veterinarian Emmy Pointer of the ASPCA Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital, in New York City. All dogs and cats shed (save the hairless ones). Dogs with a double coat, which consists of a soft undercoat and a coarser topcoat, shed more often than single-coated breeds. Those with single coats include poodles and Maltese (the dogs whose owners always say -- and in my experience, smugly -- "Oh, my dog has hair, not fur ...").

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A pet may lose some of its coat in a stressful situation, but any noticeable, ongoing change in shedding patterns warrants a trip to the vet, since it could indicate an endocrine disease or a fungal condition, says Pointer.

Rethinking Diet
Although shedding is inevitable, pet owners don't have to succumb to hair-covered "cat lady" cliches. A high-quality pet food is the first step toward reducing fur loss. "The more digestible ingredients are in the food, the better the pet's coat will be," says Marc Morrone, host of "Ask Marc, The Petkeeper" on Martha Stewart Living Radio, Sirius XM Channel 110. Along with many vets, he recommends food that lists meat as its first ingredient and doesn't include mysterious-sounding additives. "Anything you wouldn't eat yourself shouldn't be in the dog food."

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Morrone also suggests adding raw flaxseed oil to a pet's food -- one teaspoon for every 10 pounds of body weight. You should talk to your vet before trying any nutritional supplement that promises to eliminate shedding, which -- aside from being scientifically unproven -- could be dangerous to pets that have preexisting medical conditions, says Pointer.

Finding the Magic Solution
While there may not be a miracle cure for shedding, there is a magic solution: the brush. It's easy to let a day -- or several days -- lapse between at-home grooming, but "brushing does two things," says Morrone. "It gets rid of any fur that's ready to come out, and it takes oil off the animal's skin and coats the fur that's there, making it more supple and less likely to fall out." A stainless steel comb works well for most pets.

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