Do Basenjis Shed?
One of the oft-touted characteristics of the
Basenji is that it sheds very minimally. Yet, coming into her second
spring, my Basenji's sleek, silky coat suddenly began to look downright
scruffy, as though she had spent the winter hobnobbing with a colony of
wool moths! Worse, wherever she walked, cotton candy clouds of
"strawberry frost" old lady hair swirled in her wake. It settled under
the kitchen table. It collected in clumps on the living room rug. It
rose toward the ceiling on vernal sunbeams when company came to call.
But Basenjis don't shed, right? Because the Basenji has a higher
incidence of hypothyroidism than many other breeds, and because coat and
skin problems are markers for hypothyroidism, my first somewhat panicked
thought was that her thyroid might be failing. Off we went to the vet to
have blood drawn and spun for a complete thyroid profile. It was about
time to have a baseline reading done anyway. (Visit
Sinbajé Basenjis for
in-depth information about hypothyroidism.)
As it turned out, Ruby's thyroid was fine. Whew! But, then
. . . what's
up with all this hair that Basenjis aren't supposed to shed?! The short
answer is that SOME Basenjis shed minimally, while others have a heavier
undercoat and shed a LOT! The variation is primarily genetic, but the
undercoat is also influenced by environmental factors, such as whether
the dog lives where winters are cold and whether it spends a lot of time
Although you may hear otherwise, ALL Basenjis have an undercoat,
however light; part your Basenji's hair and you will see some very fine,
wispy hairs beneath the stiffer, shiny outer ones. As seen in the
diagram, a canine hair follicle supports one central guard hair and as
many as five lateral ones. It also supports from seven to twenty
secondary hairs. The guard hairs are coarse, while the secondary hairs—the undercoat—are fine and soft.
Hair growth is cyclical: there is a growing period, a period of
transition, and a resting period. The length of each period of each hair
depends on the age of the dog, the location on its body, the dog's breed
and gender, and environmental and pathological factors. In other words,
the cycle is determined by light, temperature, genetics, nutrition,
hormones, and overall health. The growth rate of hair is at its peak in
summer and ebbs in the winter. As much as 90% of hair follicles may rest
in winter, compared to 50% in summer. The normal, routine replacement of
hair in a healthy dog is in a random pattern, with neighboring follicles
in different stages of the cycle. Obviously, a dog with a thicker
undercoat has more hair to shed and it will be more noticeable when it
Now we understand that if your Basenji is shedding heavily, and the
season is changing, as long as there are no other "symptoms", there is
no reason to be alarmed. It is perfectly normal and healthy for a
Basenji to go through a seasonal moulting. You may have to vacuum more
frequently, but the season doesn't last that long. Besides, your Basenji
is worth every hair you have to pick off your dress slacks, and after a
while you won't even notice them floating in your coffee.
Regular grooming while your Basenji is "blowing coat" will go a long
way toward managing the nuisance shedding. Some people use a grooming
"stripper" to remove the loose undercoat, or make their own by forming a
hacksaw blade into a loop and tying the ends together. Some recommend
using a pumice stone. Each of these tools will remove loose hair when
stroked in the direction of the fur, but they can also damage the coat
by breaking or tearing the cuticle of the attached hairs. Because the
torn cuticle is barbed, it "knits" with neighboring hairs to give the
coat a temporary "finished" look. In actuality, these rough methods
weaken the hairs, causing them to lose moisture. The coat becomes dull
because the damaged cuticle loses its gloss. I prefer to use a nubby
rubber curry brush or a wire "slicker" brush. I often have to brush
gently two or three times a day when the shedding is at its heaviest.
And, oh, gee, how Ruby hates all that extra attention!
No more kisses on this cheek until I can do it without getting a mouthful of undercoat!
* Thanks to Bill VanWyck, Owen Sound, Ontario, Canada for permission to
use this diagram, and for sharing his wealth of knowledge on the subject
of canine hair.