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Shedding

Shih Tzu Shedding

Overview

This breed is typically referred to as a light shedder, and the biggest myth is that the Shih Tzu does not shed at all. 

Shih Tzu dogs do shed; however, it is different than what is seen with many other breeds. 

As you probably know, the Shih Tzu has hair as opposed to fur. Fur and hair are rather close in comparison. The only two elements that set them apart are:
  • Length - Hair can grow much longer than fur, reaching to the floor for many breeds as opposed to the 2 to 3 inch maximum that other breeds with fur have. 
  • Texture - Hair strands are generally thinner than fur. 
Those are the only differences, and these do decrease shedding but do not completely eliminate it, as there is no such thing as a completely non-shedding dog. 

Here we will cover normal shedding for the Shih Tzu, the change from puppy coat to adult coat, hormonal sheds for females, and lead into issues with moderate to severe hair loss. 

Coat Growth and Fall Cycle

With Shih Tzu and other breeds with hair, the coat is in a constant state of renewal and parts of the coat are always in 1 of 3 stages:

Anagen phase - This is the growth stage. About 85% of the coat is growing at any one given time. If healthy, strands will not break off and can grow to floor length or even beyond. 

Telogen phase - This is the resting stage. Hairs are remaining the same length and are held securely in place by the hair follicles. 
Catagen phase - This is the fall stage and does indeed occur with this breed. 
The hair follicle shrinks which cuts off blood supply to the hair shaft, the hair shaft detaches and then falls out. 

These 3 cycles are what keeps the coat renewed and healthy. Can you imagine how a Shih Tzu would look if he had the exact same hairs as a 7 year old that he did as a 2 year old? 

Normal Shedding for Shih Tzu Dogs

What categorizes the Shih Tzu as a 'low shedder' is that the shedding described above is a rather slow processes. If the coat is in good health and there are no issues, only about 10 to 15% of the coat is in the catagen phase (falling out stage) at any one time. 
So, shedding is occurring minimally and not to such a degree that you'll find it overwhelming. This said, there are still steps that you should do to remove loose hairs (more ahead). 

If a Shih Tzu has a moderate to long coat, a good amount of the hairs will fall back into the coat. For this reason, why it may not be obvious that any hairs have broken free and detached, they did but are hiding out. 

With Shih Tzu that have shorter coats, this minimal shedding is occurring just the same; however, more hairs will fall out of the coat without being trapped within it. Being relatively short, they are often not that noticeable but will accumulate around the house if they are not cleaned up. 

It is important to remove loose and dead hairs that are within the coat. 

If not, tangles can occur much more easily with moderate to long coats as loose hairs become entwined with live ones. 
shih tzu coat of double hair
Ari, photo courtesy of Gabriela 
shih tzu with head on blanket
Weston, photo courtesy of Angela
For Shih Tzu with all coat lengths (even short), shedded hairs can block proper air circulation which can lead to skin irritation. 

In addition, dead hairs that end up near the skin can mix with natural body oils which can produce an odd smell. 

For these reasons, you'll want to brush and bathe your Shih Tzu on a regular basis. These grooming tasks accomplish two things:

1) Brushing will remove loose hairs from the coat. 

This keeps it free flowing (if long) and for all Shih Tzu, it keeps the skin unencumbered by dead hairs. 

For this, and a host of other reasons, brushing should be done on a regular basis. Every 3 days for short coats, every 2 day for moderate length, and just about every day for long coats. 
When you brush your Shih Tzu, if the coat is long enough that any mats are a possibility, you will want to first go over the coat to check for tangles with the wide side of a two-level steel comb.
For puppies, a small one like the Li'l Pals Double Side Comb works very well. 
For adult Shih Tzu, particularly those on the higher end of the weight scale, the Safari Two Level Comb - Medium / Fine is a good choice. 
Once you've combed, or if the coat does not need it and you can go right to brushing, you'll want to go over the entire body using a quality brush that works well but does not damage the coat in any ways. 
If your Shih Tzu has a shaved or short coat, a bristle brush like the Safari Bristle Brush in Size Small will perform well. 
If your Shih Tzu has a moderate to long coat length, the Chris Christensen Little Wonder Pin Brush, 20mm is a great tool. 
2) Baths will help with shedding as well. The catagen (shedding) phase does not happen instantaneously.  It happens over the course of 1 to 2 weeks. The follicle slowly shrinks, eventually blocking off enough nourishment that the hair shaft is freed, causing it to drop. 

A certain number of hairs will be loose, about to fall, but not quite there yet. 

When you give your Shih Tzu a bath, this can release those hairs, freeing them from the coat at one time instead of having them fall later. 

Shih Tzu Shedding in Regard to Puppies

An interesting element to know is that a puppy is born with all of the hair follicles that the dog will ever have. These are the small openings in which each hair shaft grows.
The Shih Tzu breed has a double coat of hair, a shorter inner layer and a long outer layer, though it should be noted that due to poor breeding practices, a Shih Tzu may have a very thin inner layer or hardly one at all. 

Newborn puppies are born with just the inner layer. As they mature, the primary longer hairs will grow in, in the already-present hair follicles.

It is for this reason that Shih Tzu puppies have finer, thinner, and shorter coats than their adult counterparts. 

When one refers to Shih Tzu puppy shedding, this actually is the transitional phase of puppy to adult coat. While some hairs will indeed shed off, this is a time of increased hair volume. 

This change-over is most prominent starting at 4 months old and by the time a Shih Tzu is 9 to 12 months old, he will have his adult coat. Do keep in mind that the coat will then continue to grow and renew as described earlier via year-round, gradual shedding. 
Shih Tzu puppy 7 months old
Max, at 7 and 1/2 months old,
photo couresty of Jim Fleming
During this time it is very common for the coat to change colors as well. Newer hairs may be darker or lighter. And markings may decrease or increase. In fact, if a Shih Tzu dog remains the same color that he was as a puppy, this is the exception and not the rule. 

Seasonal Shedding

Typically, when one thinks of canine seasonal shedding, one envisions clumps of fur falling out, resulting in a big mess both on the dog and in the house. 

Fortunately, this is not the case with the Shih Tzu.
adult-shih-tzu-outside
Shin Jan, at 2 and 1/2 years old,
photo courtesy of Wade
Having hair instead of fur allows a year-round gradual shed that is quite minimal and very easy to stay on top of with regular brushing and bathing.

This said, there can be a slight increase in otherwise very light shedding at certain times of the year. And a lot of this has to do with skin health. 

Skin and coat are interconnected, and any issues with the skin are going to affect the coat.

In the wintertime, cold dry air can lead to overly dry skin. If so, the skin can reach a weakened state that decreases the integrity of the hair, causing the coat to shed more than normal. 
And in the summer, a combination of sun exposure and in some cases more friction to the coat than normal, can also cause hairs to weaken. 
The best way to combat any seasonal shedding due to environmental changes is to protect a Shih Tzu's skin and coat.

For all seasons, be sure to use quality shampoos and conditioners that nourish and main proper moisture levels. 
In the winter, use humidifiers or alternative methods such as houseplants or leaving out bowls of water to keep good humidity levels in a heated home. 

Year-round, use a beneficial leave-in coat conditioner like The Stuff Conditioner Coat Spray to protect skin and hairs. 
And if your Shih Tzu's time outside increases in the summer, which is expected, consider a coat spray that contains a sunscreen like Chris Christensen Ice on Ice Conditioner with Sunscreen

Pregnancy Shed

It is not uncommon for there to be a heavy shed right after giving birth to a litter. This is often referred to as 'blowing the coat'. 

This is due to hormonal changes that take place toward the end of pregnancy and during whelping. The extent of this varies from dog to dog. 

Unless there are any underlying issues, the coat will regrow. 

Very Heavy Sheds with Abnormal Coat Fall

As we've covered, the Shih Tzu breed is a light shedder, with minor renewal year-round and with possible increases due to seasonal environmental elements.

Unfortunately, there can be much heavier sheds in which hair is falling out at an alarming rate. The coat may be very thin in some areas, and in severe cases there can even be bald spots.

This type of coat loss is not attributed to shedding at all; rather, it points to one of a number of health conditions. 

If this is occurring with your dog, continue on to Shih Tzu hair loss to find more details about this. 
External: Akita Inu Shedding |
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