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Chocolate Havanese

Coat Change in the Senior

Havanese can have many changes in coat throughout their life. The adolescent coat change and female hormone-related changes are the most well-known. The least known, and least talked about, are those which occur as a dog ages. Coat changes in the senior are not pinpointed with dramatic "wow" moments; they tend to come on gradually. In the Havanese, a breed with a life expectancy of 12 to 15 years, a dog is not really considered a senior until approximately 10 years of age. As always, genetics are a factor as some dogs will experience fewer and more subtle changes than others. Skin and coat go together; changes in one may affect the other. Some of the first changes noted may be in the skin.

Greying: Although some dogs may develop greying of the muzzle and paws, significant greying hair due to aging is much less common than in humans.

Thinning: More noticeably, the hair might be getting thinner and there may be loss of undercoat as the years go by. Age thins the hair. An aging body is less able to absorb and utilize protein, amino acids and other important nutrients from the daily diet, nutrients which are essential to hair vitality. thinning coat

Slow growth: Some hair follicles become less productive or may stop producing new hair completely. Individual hairs become smaller and finer. When a hair falls out, a new one may not grow in its place. This means that the coat becomes thinner and less full all over. In cases of extreme thinning, the skin may become visible through the coat. The rate of hair growth also slows.

Breakage: The lack of nutrient absorption also contributes to the quality of the hair. It is not uncommon, as a dog ages, for his coat to become more dry and brittle. With aging, hair loses some of its elasticity, causing it to become brittle and break more easily. At the same time, oil glands shrink and become less efficient at producing oil leaving hair duller, drier and more prone to breakage. When hair breaks faster than it grows, there will be less coat length overall which adds to the appearance of a thinning coat. Clipping the coat to a shorter length is an option and personal choice.

skin lesions SKIN: Dry skin can be a problem for older dogs. The skin of aging Havanese may become thinner and more fragile, with less strength and elasticity. The reduced production of oil affects skin as well as coat resulting in skin dryness and possible itchiness. Fragile skin is more prone to injury or infection and aging skin repairs itself more slowly. It is not uncommon for older dogs to develop fatty deposits under the skin, or to develop assorted skin warts, small lumps and other surface blemishes. Warts and surface lumps are not generally removed unless they are causing issues or the veterinarian suspects a more serious underlying condition which needs attention. Some few dogs may experience changes in pigment such as loss of nose or lip pigment.

Grooming: Adaptations or changes in technique, products and equipment may be needed, although the frequency of grooming may not change. As always, meticulous grooming is a good way to help monitor skin and coat and the general health of your senior. Thinner, more sensitive skin can be abraded with a rough brush or heavy hand, and a fragile coat breaks more easily. It may be time to put away firm/stiff brushes and use a soft pin brush or bristle brush with gentle and light strokes. If your dog has any skin warts or other lumps/bumps, you will need to pay particular attention to these areas so as not to catch the brush or comb in them. Avoid aggressive grooming techniques and high heat blow-drying which strip the hair of natural oils. Protein-rich hair products and oil treatments may help re-hydrate the hair and fatty acid supplements may also be beneficial.

Disease: Dull, dry hair is not always a sign of aging. It can also be a sign of underlying nutritional deficiency or of disease. Disease such as Cushings can cause symmetrical thinning of the hair or baldness, slow regrowth of hair, dull/dry coat, wrinkled, darkly pigment skin areas. Similarly, hypothyroidism can lead to thin and dull hair coat that easily sheds and grows back slowly. The skin might be dry, greasy or inflamed with itching and odor. Either disease may be mistaken by the owner for normal signs of aging which is why regular veterinary care is especially important. These diseases are both treatable resulting in a longer, healthier life for your Havanese. If the coat of an older dog changes significantly or suddenly, the dog should be checked by a veterinarian.

13 yr old senior In normal aging, changes such as coat thinning and skin/coat fragility come on gradually. Most older Havanese retain lovely coats although the coat may be thinner and less full than in his prime. Your senior may need some extra pampering to manage his coat and skin changes as he ages, but a bit of care and attention will help to ensure that your Havanese looks great his whole life long.

First published in the Havanese Magazine Fall 2015