Whether your Chihuahua is a deer head or apple head, long coat or smooth coat, he's going to shed. With the exception of certain hairless breeds like the Xoloitzcuintli or Chinese Crested, all dogs shed. It's a natural and ongoing process that's actual beneficial for our canine companions.
As an owner, though, you may have some questions about your Chihuahua's shedding.
- Why do Chihuahuas shed?
- How often will my Chihuahua shed?
- Are Chihuahuas heavy shedders compared to other breeds?
- Do long coat Chihuahua shed more than smooth coat Chihuahuas?
- How can I manage excess fur in my home?
- Is excessive shedding a sign of an underlying health problem?
Why Chihuahuas Shed Their Fur
Chihuahuas shed their fur so that a new, more protective coat can grow in its place.
Consisting of keratin (a protein also found in nails) and dead skin cells, fur helps to regulate the internal body temperature of dogs. Dogs are homeotherms, meaning they maintain a constant body temperature, typically around 101-102.5 degrees °F. Unlike us humans, dogs cannot sweat to cool off, so they rely on other means to regulate their temperature.
To cool off, dogs will pant, lie on cool surfaces like kitchen tile, and limit their physical activity. To stay warm, they'll lower their metabolic rate, sit in front of a sunny window, or burrow under a blanket (something that Chihuahuas are particularly fond of doing).
A Chihuahua's coat can also help him stay warm or cool, depending on its thickness. Chihuahuas typically have a thicker coat in the fall and winter months and a thinner coat in the spring and summer. A thick coat helps them stay warm by preventing heat from escaping their bodies, much in the same was as clothes insulate our bodies. A thin coat, on the other hand, keeps Chihuahuas cool by slowing down the process of heat absorption.
Single-Coat vs Double-Coat Chihuahuas
Chihuahuas can have either a single coat or a double coat.
- Single-coat Chihuahuas have a single outer coat (top coat) consisting of thick guard hairs.
- Double-coat Chihuahuas have a top coat of guard hairs and an under coat of softer, thinner hair.
The AKC's breed standards accept Chihuahuas with or without an undercoat. In regards to the coat, only a "sparse" coat is grounds for disqualification.
Long-Coat vs Smooth-Coat Chihuahuas: Which Sheds More?
Conventional wisdom should tell you that long-coat Chihuahuas shed more than smooth-smooth Chihuahuas, but this isn't necessarily true. If a smooth-coat Chihuahua has an undercoat, he will shed less than a long-coat Chihuahua without an undercoat. Most long-coat Chihuahuas have two coats, though some only have a top coat.
Furthermore, long-coat Chihuahuas often shed their hair in clumps, making it easier to clean up.
When Will My Chihuahua Shed?
Most double-coated Chihuahuas shed their undercoat twice per year, once in spring and again in late fall, and their top coat gradually throughout the entire year. Single-coat Chihuahuas typically shed either once in spring or gradually throughout the entire year.
Shedding in spring allows for the development of a lighter and thinner coat, whereas shedding in fall allows for the development of a heavier and thicker coat. When a dog sheds all or most of his coat in a short period of time, it's referred to as "blowing a coat."
In addition to seasonal shedding, both single and double-coat Chihuahuas will also shed small amounts of hair year-round. This is why we don't see packs of hairless Chihuahuas roaming the street.
But not all Chihuahuas follow this cookie-cutter shedding schedule. Whether single-coated or double-coated, a Chihuahua may shed once per year, twice per year, or gradually throughout the entire year.
How Daylight Affects Shedding
It's a common assumption that seasonal temperature changes are responsible for shedding, but it's actually daylight variations that trigger this biological process.
The frequency and time of year when a Chihuahua sheds varies depending on his biological clock, known as the circadian rhythm. All animals have a circadian rhythm; it's the collection of physical, mental and behavioral changes that respond to light and darkness in the animal's environment. In addition to telling a Chihuahua when to sleep, it also tells him when to shed.
A Chihuahua's circadian rhythm, and subsequently when he sheds, is affected primarily by the amount of light in the day (photoperiod). Following the Spring Equinox, Earth's Northern Hemisphere begins to tilt closer to the sun, which results in longer days with more sunlight. In comparison, the Northern Hemisphere tilts farther from the sun in fall and winter, making the days shorter with less light.
The photoperiod variations between spring and fall regulate the amount of melatonin produced by the Chihuahua's pineal gland. Dubbed the "hormone of darkness," melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that triggers mood, reproductive cycles, body rhythms and shedding/fur growth. The nuances in seasonal daylight affect production of melatonin, telling the Chihuahua when to shed his coat and when to grow new fur.
The Shedding Cycle
Dogs, humans and many other mammals have a 3-stage cycle for growing and shedding hair.
- Anagen (growth phase): nutrient-rich blood from the papilla stimulates hair growth.
- Catagen (transition phase): growth stops as hair follicle separates from papilla.
- Telogen (resting phase): hair follicle is temporarily anchored in place before falling out.
After telogen, the hair follicle falls out and a new hair follicle begins growing in its place; thus, repeating the 3-stage cycle.
Here's an illustration of a Chihuahua's hair growth cycle (click to enlarge):
Common Causes of Excessive Shedding and Hair Loss
You can expect your Chihuahua to lose some of his hair through shedding. However, excessive hair loss and/or bald spots, patches of uneven fur, or brittle fur could be signs of an underlying problem.
- Hypothyroidism: Typically occurring in middle-aged dogs, hypothyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid gland produces an insufficient amount of thyroid hormone. Symptoms include high blood cholesterol, lethargy, excessive shedding, weight gain and anemia. If you believe your Chihuahua is suffering from hypothyroidism, ask your veterinarian to perform blood test to check his thyroid hormone levels.
- Cushing's Disease: Characterized by a chronic overproduction of adrenal gland hormones, Cushing's Disease causes hair loss, increased appetite, increased thirst, and increased urination.
- Heat Cycle: Due to elevated levels of the hormone estrogen, female Chihuahuas will shed more during heat. Her estrogen levels will normalize about 24-48 hours before the end of the second stage (estrus).
- Stress: Just like stress causes our hair to fall, it can also cause a Chihuahua's hair to fall out. Common stressors include separation anxiety, punishment-based behavioral training (not recommended), moving into a new home, a death in the family, and the addition of a new family pet.
- Food Allergies: If your Chihuahua is allergic to one or more ingredients in his food, he may shed an excessive amount of hair. This is a direct response by what your Chihuahua's immune system to what it believes to be a foreign invader. Experiment with different varieties of food until you find one that doesn't cause excess shedding or other allergic reactions.
- Contact Allergies: Even if your Chihuahua doesn't have a food allergy, he could be allergic to other chemicals or compounds in his environment. Possible allergens include shampoo, flea medicine, antibiotics, metals such as nickel, rubber, wool, plastic, and household cleaning products. Use process of elimination to identify and remove the allergen from your home.
- Infections: Certain fungal and bacterial infections can cause excessive shedding, including ringworm and pyoderma.
- Fleas: Not all Chihuahuas will experience hair loss from fleas. If your Chihuahua is allergic to flea saliva (known as flea allergy dermatitis), though, he may scratch profusely until bald spots are created.
- Mange: Caused by the parasitic mite Demodex, mange is a skin disease that causes intense itching and subsequent hair loss in dogs.
How to Control Your Chihuahua's Shedding
Chihuahuas are considered light shedders when compared to other breeds. A poll of 2,160 readers and 249 veterinary professionals conducted by VetStreet ranked the Chihuahua as the seventh lightest shedder, only behind the Poodle, Bichon Frise, Toy Poodle, Chinese Crested, Yorkshire Terrier and Maltese.
Nonetheless, Chihuahuas will shed, leaving behind piles of loose hair scattered throughout the home. It's frustrating when you discover pet hair covering your floor, furniture and clothes, but thankfully there are ways to control shedding.
Here are some tips to control your Chihuahua shedding:
- Brush your Chihuahua. The single most effective way to control a Chihuahua's shedding is daily brushing. It removes loose hair, straightens tangled knots, and evenly distributes your Chihuahua's natural skin oils throughout his coat.
- Choose the right type of brush. We recommend using a slicker brush on Chihuahuas with an undercoat and a bristle brush on Chihuahuas without an undercoat. There are also special de-shedding tools, such as the Furminator, that work well for all coat types.
- Bathe your Chihuahua. While not the most enjoyable activity for Chihuahuas, bathing promotes a clean coat by removing dirt, dander, debris and loose hair. We recommend bathing Chihuahuas once every 2-3 weeks. If your Chihuahua sheds during winter and/or spring, however, you can bathe him weekly during these seasonal sheds.
- Treat allergy-related shedding with hydrocortisone shampoo. If contact allergies are to blame for your Chihuahua's excessive shedding, use a hydrocortisone shampoo when bathing him. Hydrocortisone suppresses inflammation and itching associated with allergic reactions.
- Use a blow dryer. After bathing your Chihuahua, use a blow dryer on the cool-air setting to remove loose hair from his coat.
- Use a deshedding spray. Try using a waterless deshedding spray to control your Chihuahua's shedding. These sprays typically contain natural ingredients that moisturizes and strengthens a dog's hair.
- Vacuum and sweep floors. By vacuuming carpet and sweeping floors, you'll remove excess hair in your home. Alternatively, you can use a damp mop to remove loose hair from hardwood and vinyl floors.
- Use a lint roller. Sofas and recliners are magnets for loose pet hair. To keep your Chihuahua's hair off your furniture, run a lint roller across the upholstery. You can also use a lint roller directly on your Chihuahua to remove loose hair from his coat.
- Provide your Chihuahua high-quality food. Avoid feeding your Chihuahua food consisting mostly of corn, filler ingredients, preservatives and artificial ingredients. Instead choose a variety of food with high-quality protein (not meal) as the leading ingredient. You can click on the aforementioned link for more information on choosing the right food for your Chihuahua.
- Add olive oil to your Chihuahua's diet. Drizzle a teaspoon of extra-virgin olive oil over your Chihuahua's food once daily. The high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids keeps excessive shedding in check by promoting a healthy, shiny coat.
- Give your Chihuahua nutritional supplements. There are dozens of nutritional supplements designed specifically to reduce shedding in dogs. These supplements often contain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, flaxseed oil, and various vitamins. While it's no substitution for a well-balanced diet, supplements can certainly help.
- Take your Chihuahua for regular checkups. Assuming he's full grown, you should take your Chihuahua to the vet every 6 months for a routine wellness checkup. This can reveal infections, diseases, skin disorders and other problems that may cause excessive shedding.
- Dress your Chihuahua in clothes. A dog shirt or sweater isn't just a fashion statement; it controls shedding by keeping loose hair in place. After undressing your Chihuahua, immediately brush his coat to remove stray hair.
What You Shouldn't Do
While excessive shedding can be a nuisance, you shouldn't shave your Chihuahua. A dog's coat plays an important role in regulating his body temperature. If you shave his coat, he'll lack the insulation needed to stay warm during winter, and he'll lack the protective top hairs needed to slow down heat absorption and stay cool in summer.
Shaving your Chihuahua also exposes his skin to sun damage. Without a protective layer of fur, dogs can develop painful sunburns, regardless of the season. You can trim your Chihuahua's coat, but you should never shave it.
How do you manage your Chihuahua's shedding? Let us know in the comments section below!