Every other week, Dr. Patrick Tate, chief of the veterinary staff and a general practitioner at Webster Groves Animal Hospital, answers reader questions about pets. This week's question comes from Jan Waters.
Question: Is it OK to shave your dog during the hot summer months so he/she can stay cool?
Answer: During this summer's record-breaking heat wave, pet owners have been asking a lot of questions about how to help their dogs stay cool and avoid heat exhaustion or stroke. Often, dog owners think that shaving their pet’s coat is a simple solution to the problem of overheating. But there are many factors to consider when deciding whether a “shave-down” is right for your dog. It is best to use caution and consult with your veterinarian or an experienced pet stylist (groomer) concerning your dog’s skin, coat, lifestyle and overall health. They will help to determine if your pet should be shaved.
When contemplating a shave-down it is important to understand that not all dog coats (or dog breeds!) are alike and the outcome can be unpredictable.
A dog’s coat is made up of two types of hairs (Or three types if you count “whiskers”). The primary hair (also called guard hair) is the outer coat of hair that is usually longer and stiffer. The secondary hair (called the “undercoat”) refers to the short, fluffy undercoat hair.
The coat differences seen between dog breeds result from the ratio of primary to secondary hairs, as well as the texture and length of the individual hairs. The majority of dogs have a significant undercoat. Quite a few dogs in the sporting, working and herding groups are called “double-coated” because of their thick undercoat that provides waterproofing and insulation for the jobs they were originally bred to perform. The list includes the Labrador, Golden Retriever, Newfoundland, Saint Bernard, Bernese Mountain Dog, Border Collie, German Shepherd and many others. Northern breeds like the Alaskan Malamute, Keeshond, Siberian Husky, Samoyed, Chow-Chow, Chinook and Akita are especially known for their extra dense, thick undercoats.
A few breeds like the Poodle, Portuguese WaterDog, Maltese, Soft-Coated Wheaton Terrier and Papillon are referred to as “single-coated” because they have a very minimal undercoat. Some professionals feel that single-coated dogs have less problems with shaving than those that are double-coated.
When a pet owner wants to shave their double-coated dog during the summer months I warn them about a few possible problems:
- A dog’s undercoat is designed to protect from excessive cold and heat, and they can sometimes have difficulty regulating body temperature when it is removed.
- A dog’s coat may not grow back the same way after it has been shaved. Veterinarians, breeders and groomers sometimes see cases of Post-Clipping Alopecia (baldness) and other complications.
- A shedding dog will still shed, even after it has been shaved. Sometimes shorter hairs are harder to remove from the home (and pet owner!) than longer ones.
- Some dogs have a personality change and seem to act depressed or ashamed when they lose their coat.
- If your dog spends a lot of time outside in direct sun, it is not a good idea to shave its coat. The dog’s unprotected skin can become sunburned and more susceptible to skin problems.
It is very important during the summer months to regularly groom your dog – especially those that have thick undercoats. If the dog’s primary hair and undercoat are properly maintained, they will (usually) let air in and allow your dog to stay cool. If the hair becomes dirty, matted and tangled it can promote overheating.
If you cannot handle the demands of grooming a double-coated dog, a professional pet stylist (groomer) can be invaluable and well worth the cost. With regular grooming by a qualified stylist like Amanda of Amanda’s Pet Grooming in Webster Groves there is often no need to shave a dog’s coat. Amanda educates her clients about the proper tools, products and techniques needed to keep a dog’s coat healthy (and keep them cool).
Despite the words of caution above, and the ongoing “shave-down” controversy in the medical and grooming community, I have seen many dogs (including my own!) benefit from a full or partial shave in the summer – when performed by a qualified pet stylist.
For more information (and BEFORE shaving a pet) please talk with your veterinarian and a professional pet stylist like Amanda. There are also many helpful grooming books and DVD’s available from Dogwise and other sources.