Canine Hair Damage: Causes and Effects

The Science Behind Canine Hair Structure

The physical structure of canine hair is varied, as you might expect. For example, German Shepherd hair is on average three times thicker than Shih Tzu hair. Different breeds and hair types need different care and treatment. Ultimately however, all canine hair has a similar base structure, and is subject to the same type of damage.

The canine hair shaft is made up of dead, hardened protein called keratin, as well as water and a small amount of oils called lipids. These combine to form three key sections in canine dog hair:

  1. The medulla is the inner most layer of hair that runs through the hair shaft. It is thought to regulate body temperature, and varies in size from breed to breed.
  2. The cortex is the middle layer of hair and is responsible for the pigment cells that carry hair colour.
  3. The cuticle is the outside surface of the hair, and protects the inside from damage.

The Damage Grooming can do to Canine Hair

Hair damage is usually gradual. The hair cuticle is usually affected first, becoming raised and chipped. With repeated mistreatment the cuticle can completely wear away, making the hair weak, dry, and subject to breakage. Once the cuticle has completely worn away there is no way to repair the damage. The interior cortex will start to shed, leading to broken hair and spilt ends.

There are a number of ways that professional dog grooming can actually damage the structure of canine hair. Over-enthusiastic brushing, high velocity dryers, harsh detergents and heat from water/dryers can raise the cuticle, making hair more susceptible to damage.

Sun, wind, indoor heating and static electricity can also cause hair damage, as well as health and hereditary factors.


How Damaged Hair Appears

Damaged hair appears to us as:

  • Tangles and matts.
  • A hard to manage coat.
  • Frizzy or wispy hair.
  • Dull, unclean looking hair.
  • Hair loss.
  • Hair Breakage.

What You can do to Prevent Canine Hair Damage

Hair damage is inevitable, but you can reduce the amount of damage by considering and employing the following:

  • Condition the coat. Conditioning is essential for minimising hair damage. Conditioners protect the hair by temporarily filling in the hair cuticle. There are various types of conditioner suitable for different coat types, from conditioning shampoos to leave-in sprays.
  • Choose your brushes wisely. Try to choose tools with rounded pins and widely space teeth when possible. Pin brushes are a better option for everyday grooming than slicker brushes as they are less damaging to the hair. The slicker is obviously a key tool when dog grooming, but try to reduce your dependency on it and consider other options.
  • Discard worn brushes and combs. Any brushes or combs which are cracked or spilt will cause damage to the hair. Discard and replace them.
  • Only use sharp scissors.
  • Finish with a cold water rinse. This will close the hair cuticle, making the hair more shiny and better protected.
  • Use heat sparingly. Use more air and less heat by employing forced air drying. You should also pat down the coat with a towel to absorb as much excess moisture as possible before you use the dryer.
  • Use conditioning sprays if brushing between or before bathing to protect the hair.

Information in this blog was sourced from Barbara Bird’s talk “Canine Hair & Coat Damage: A Close-Up View“ at the Festival of Grooming 2012.

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