Your Labrador retriever’s coat comes with a set of fascinating features to withstand whatever nature throws at it. Some of those features may be frustrating (like all that shedding), but it all serves an important purpose.
If you’re a lab owner, or thinking of adopting, then this will get you up to speed on how to help keep their coat healthy, clean, and a few points on how to control shedding.
The Double Coat
Lab’s have a “Double-Coat”, meaning they have two layers of fur: a top layer called the Guard coat (sometimes called Top coat) that is slightly more “wiry” and abrasive. Underneath you'll find a softer and lighter under-layer called the Undercoat. Combined these layers are used to regulate body temperature, protect from harmful UV rays, repel water, and protect their skin.
The undercoat is a fantastic insulator, and you've probably guessed that it keeps them warm in the colder months. But those layers of fur also keep them cool in the summer, and insulate them from warm air.
This is why it’s very bad practice to shave your lab, you won’t be doing them any favors by getting rid of the very thing that keeps their body temperature normal.
Why Labs Are Born to Swim
Labradors are like sea lions of the land. And while these dogs were born with four legs for roaming the earth, the Labrador's true calling is the water. If you ever get your lab near a lake or pool then you’ll know what I mean.
Their coat serves an important function when they go diving head first into the river. You may remember from grade school science that oil and water just don’t mix, and they’ll naturally separate. Well, your Labrador’s undercoat has natural oil secretions among their thick undercoat that repels water and keeps their skin dry.
Next time you take your lab for a swim, keep an eye on how fast they dry. You would think that thick coat would act like a sponge, but due to their water repelling nature all excess water quickly runs off.
Those natural oils is what keeps their coat smooth and shiny, so the last thing you want to do is deprive them of that natural barrier. Which brings us to our next important point: bathing.
Bathing and Washing Labrador Coats
How often should you bathe your Lab? The short answer: as little as possible.
The long answer: bathing your lab too often can strip away those natural oils that help protect them, leaving them with dry, flaky skin that becomes itchy and uncomfortable.
So the ideal time to bathe your dog is when she starts to become a little too stinky, or rolls in something less than attractive. Even then, consider just rinsing them off with luke-warm water instead of a full on bath, especially if it’s just dirt or mud they rolled in.
When it is time for a full bath to remove some stink, use a mild oatmeal or coconut based dog shampoo that helps keep skin moisturized.
Do Labs Shed?
Oh yes. Don’t let that smooth, short hair fool you – they shed an impressive amount of coat during the entire year. But it varies from one Labrador to another, and you may get lucky and find your dog sheds considerably less than others.
Either way, twice a year (spring and fall) you’ll be treated to a full “blow out”, where you’ll be faced with a seemingly endless amount of shedding for several weeks.
This is a healthy and normal response, and shedding is a natural process in which many animals (including you) lose old and damaged hair.
So have your vacuum and lint rollers ready, these are definitely shedding dogs.
How To Control Labrador Shedding
Labs shed all year, and will typically “blow” their coat every spring and fall. The amount of hair that comes off a lab can range from moderate to absolutely ridiculous, so let’s arm ourselves with a few tools to save some sanity in our homes.
- Keep a routine of brushing your lab out at least once a week, and twice a week during the spring and fall when they're blowing out their coat.
- Ensure they're getting a high quality diet, including omega fatty acids - this promotes stronger hair follicles and less shedding.
- Be aware of any dry "flaky" skin, redness, or excessive scratching. If your dog is suffering from allergies, mites, or skin conditions they may be scratching their fur off. Contact your Vet to determine the best course of action.
- Keep your dog in a comfortable environment, a stressed out dog will naturally shed more.
A little bit of brushing can go a long way, and they certainly enjoy the attention you give them during this time.
During routine brushing, run your hands over their skin and search for any abnormal lumps or bumps. Labs are prone to developing tumors, especially as they age. These are not always cancerous, however discovering and examining these bumps early can help you and your vet determine the best course of action.
Can I Shave my Lab?
No, shaving your lab can be detrimental to their health and overall comfort.
Some owners mistakenly believe that shaving their dog during hot weather will help them be more comfortable. However, double-coated dogs require their coat to regulate body temperature, protect them from weather, and to act as a natural barrier against harmful UV rays.
Also, some allergy sufferers believe shaving your dog will reduce allergic reactions. Also not true. Allergies are triggered from pet dander, which are particles of skin that shed all year. In fact, shaving them will make it worse, as you expose their skin even further.
And as a final warning, once you shave a double-coated dog their top coat hairs generally will not grow back in the same way. This will leave you only with guard hairs, which is rough and patchy. That beautiful, silky lab coat will never look the same again.
Do Labs Have Hair or Fur?
Both. In fact, there’s no difference between hair and fur. You might see me use both terms, just know that they mean the same thing.
Are Labs Hypoallergenic?
Absolutely not. Allergies towards dogs are developed from pet dander (not hair), and labs certainly have a lot of it.
There are many hypoallergenic dog breeds to choose from, but if you really want the Labrador personality but without the allergic reaction, then consider getting yourself a Labradoodle (Labrador-Poodle mix). Just be warned, not all Labradoodles are hypoallergenic.
Labrador retrievers come in three primary colors, Black, Yellow, and Chocolate. However, there are some lesser known and “unrecognized” colors, described as Silver, Red, and White.
First of all, Major kennel clubs only recognize the three primary colors, however Red and White labs may just be a false interpretation. Yellow labs come in many different shades, from a deep orangey color to a faded (nearly white) yellow. These are sometimes mistaken as Red and White, but are essentially yellow Labs and are still recognized colors by Kennel clubs.
However, Silver Labs are not recognized from clubs, and may be a cross breed. There is little known about the silver labs, and and is speculated to be a crossbreed with Weineremers (which have similar physical characteristics).
In very rare cases there are Brindle Labradors, again this is considered a fault by Kennel standards. Brindle is unique orange or tan color markings that appear due to a recessive gene. Sometimes called “tiger strips”, it’s like a marble effect, and in some cases may faintly appear on the coat, muzzle, or front legs.
Is your lab suffering from:
- Dry, flaky skin or "dandruff"
- Red, inflamed, and itchy skin
- Missing hair or "patches"
These conditions can be the result of allergies, improper nutrition, thyroid issues, lack of fatty acids in their diet, mites or parasites, or just over-bathing. Skin problems will need to be properly addressed and treated.
Labradors are especially susceptible to allergies, and red and itchy skin are common symptoms.
Furthermore, Labs can be obsessive lickers and scratchers, which over time will cause them to literally scratch their own fur off, leaving bald spots or patches.
Always consult with a Vet first to ensure you’re meeting dietary needs and if there are any underlying health concerns.
What Has Your Experience Been?
Does your Lab shed like there's no tomorrow, or do you find it to be a fairly manageable task? What do you do to keep their skin and coat clean and healthy? As always I love to know your opinion, so leave a comment or shoot me an email.
If you're looking for a dog that doesn't leave a mess, check out our ranking of the top 35 dog's that don't shed.