In the same way, you might change out your closet of clothes in preparation for the winter time, your dog is probably experiencing some coat changes in these colder months. We’ve explored the ins and outs of healthy summer coat care for your dog, but what about your dog’s winter coat?
Many pet owners have questions about their dog’s winter fur. Does it grow faster in the winter? Does it get thicker? What do the seasons have to do with my dog’s shedding? Here’s a guide to answer all your winter coat-related questions and help you take the best care of your canine companion’s special winter jacket.
Different Types of Dog Coats
First, it’s important to understand that certain dogs have different types of coats. Knowing what kind of coat your dog has will help you take better care of it. Let’s look at:
- The difference between dog hair and dog fur
- The different types of dog hair
- What it means for a dog to have a single or double coat
What Is Dog Hair vs Fur?
While you may have heard pet owners distinguish between dogs with hair and those with fur, they’re really the same thing. All dog fur or dog hair is made from keratin – which is also the building block for other parts of the animal body like feathers, hooves, and nails. While there’s no true distinction between hair and fur, dogs have different types of coats, and this is sometimes what people mean when they talk about the difference between hair and fur. The material that covers their body is all hair, but there are different subcategories of hair that your dog may or may not have.
Two Different Types of Dog Hair
A dog coat is always made of a combination of two different types of hair: the guard coat and the undercoat. Dogs also have a third type of hair, their whiskers, which are long, coarse hairs centralized around the muzzle and eyes. Whiskers aren’t part of a dog’s coat, so for now we’ll only explore the difference between the guard coat and the undercoat.
The guard coat, also known as the topcoat or primary hair, is a dog’s thickest, longest hair that grows on the top of its body. This is what you’re petting when you stroke your pooch. The guard coat protects your dog’s skin and often repels water and dirt. The undercoat is a softer, shorter, downier fur that grows closer to the dog’s body and is the animal’s primary method of insulation. Not all dogs have both types of hair – more on that below.
The Difference Between Double-Coated and Single-Coated Dogs
Winter-specific dog coat care is going to be most important for double-coated dogs, which have both an undercoat and a guard coat. Still, within the category of double-coated breeds, there is a lot of variances around shedding behavior and care needs.
Single-coated dogs are the ones that are often referred to as having hair instead of fur. But the material coating their body is the same as double-coated dogs, they just don’t have an undercoat. Single-coated dogs include the Afghan Hound, the Poodle, and the Maltese, all of which have a single guard coat and no undercoat for additional insulation. Many of these dogs are considered hypoallergenic because they shed less than double-coated breeds.
Answers to Your Questions: Busting Dog Winter Coat Myths
Dog owners have a lot of questions about their dog’s winter coat, and there are some common misconceptions about how a dog’s coat protects them against the cold. Let’s clear up any confusion by answering the following questions:
- What is the purpose of shedding?
- Is my dog losing fur in the winter time?
- Does my dog’s fur grow faster when it’s cold?
- Does my dog’s fur thicken in the winter months?
Why Does My Dog Shed Its Fur?
Shedding is a natural, healthy process for most dogs. In the same way, humans shed skin cells and hair daily, dogs shed the damaged and older parts of their coat to make room for healthy, new hair to grow. But unlike in humans, sometimes this shedding and growth process is related to the season.
While shedding is a natural occurrence that can’t be avoided for almost all breeds (except for hairless dogs, which don’t have any hair to shed), excess shedding can be an indicator that something is wrong with your dog, such as a skin condition or nutrition issue.
Why Is My Dog Losing Fur in the Winter?
If you notice your dog losing more fur in the winter time, something might be wrong (such as a poor diet or some grooming issues). Most dogs actually shed slightly less during the colder months, because they are holding on to their insulating undercoat. If your dog is shedding excessively, it can be a sign of an unhealthy coat, stress, and other health issues.
Generally, most dogs shed year-round at about equal rates. Some dogs, especially certain double-coated breeds like Malamutes and Huskies, have seasonal shedding in the spring when they’re eliminating the extra fur that kept them warm during the winter.
Does Dog Fur Grow Faster in the Winter?
The rate of growth for a dog’s winter coat will depend on the breed. The winter season will not stimulate faster growth for your dog’s hair. In fact, most dogs' hair will grow faster in the springtime, when the days get longer.
Dog hair has four stages of growth. During the first stage, the hair grows continuously. This can last as little as one month or as long as a full year. In the second stage, the growth stops, and this is followed by the third stage, which is a sort of resting period while the hair remains in their body but isn’t growing. The final stage is shedding.
Does Dog Fur Get Thicker in the Winter?
In a sense, yes, but the thickening of the coat really happens prior to winter. Dogs will generally shed less as the days get shorter and the weather gets colder because they are holding on to their hair that will keep them warm. This means that there is inherently more hair on their body, which contributes to a thicker coat.
How to Care for Your Dog’s Winter Coat
Dog winter coat care is an important part of your pet’s annual health needs. Here are some tips for keeping their winter coat healthy and supple:
- Keep up a bath routine
- Brush them often
- Visit the groomer when needed
- Check them for signs of poor coat health
- Maintain a well-balanced diet for your pet
Keep Your Dog’s Coat Clean in the Winter
Proper and consistent bathing is an important part of ensuring your dog stays healthy. Especially if your pet spends a lot of time outside rolling around in the mud and dirt, they will need your support in keeping clean.
A good bath starts with a good shampoo like our Itchy Pup CBD Dog Shampoo, which can increase your dog’s relaxation and comfort during bath time. Having all the proper supplies and creating a consistent, careful routine for washing your dog will help ensure their winter coat stays full and healthy.
Brush Them Regularly with a Proper Brush
Brushing is another grooming activity that will support winter coat health for your pet. Depending on your dog’s breed and coat type, they might need to be brushed as often as once a day. Brushing helps remove old, dead fur and makes room for new and healthy hair to grow. It also spreads out the natural coat oils and prevents matting, which can be painful and put your dog at risk of overheating.
Using the right type of brush for your dog’s coat is important, too. For most dogs, you can use a typical, wide-bristle brush for grooming the topcoat. Some single-coated dogs might need a wide-toothed comb or slicker brush because their hair is less thick and they have sensitive skin. Double-coated dogs also need you to provide additional care with a special undercoat tool called a rake.
Visit the Groomer When Necessary
A professional groomer can provide care beyond what you’re able to achieve at your home. Especially if your dog has a very specific type of coat or long hair that requires detailed grooming, taking them to a professional can ensure they’re getting exactly the care they need to support a healthy winter season.
Watch for Signs of Poor Coat Health
Your dog’s coat will often reflect if something is wrong, and can even be an indicator that there is another general health issue. Always pay attention to your dog’s shedding and hair growth patterns so you know when something is amiss. Some signs that your dog’s grooming or coat health may be off include dry or itchy skin, dull fur (their coat should be shiny), a thinning coat, bald patches, brittle hair, excessive dandruff, or excess oiliness in the coat. If you notice any of these changes in your dog’s coat, consult your veterinarian about the possible causes and how to handle it.
How Diet Impacts Your Dog’s Winter Coat
What your dog eats every day will impact their coat health and can either keep it shiny and supple or possibly cause some of the unfortunate developments listed above. A dog’s diet is a very specific thing and needs to be well-balanced with proper canine nutrition and consistent feeding times. Sometimes, poor coat health can be an indicator that your dog’s food is missing some vital nutrients. Talk to your veterinarian about your dog’s diet if you have concerns that it is affecting their coat health.
Keep Your Dog’s Winter Coat Healthy for a Safe Holiday Season
Your dog’s well-being is paramount, and one way to keep them safe is by ensuring their coat is healthy enough to keep them cozy in the colder months. While many people think about dog coat care the most during the summer months, a dog’s winter coat is their primary defense against low temperatures and skin issues. Follow our guide to ensure your dog stays healthy and warm all season long.