Dog Days of Summer Pet Safety Tip: Should You Shave Your Dog?

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By Shawna Bostick - Friends of the Mustang Animal Shelter

Many pet owners believe that shaving their dog for summer will help them stay cool, but double-coated breeds like Huskies, Pomeranians and Australian Shepherds (three of the commonly requested breeds for “shave-downs”) have fur that is practical and useful, even in warm weather.

A double-coat means that the dog has a soft undercoat and a coarse topcoat. When well-maintained, the coat works to keep the dog cool by reflecting sunlight and allowing air to circulate through the undercoat, across the dog’s skin. If the coat is allowed to get dirty and matted, the impacted and tangled fur will prevent air from circulating and trap in the heat. Although shaving a dog whose fur has been allowed to get into this condition may offer some temporary relief from the heat, it presents other potentially long-term problems and risks of which the owner should be aware.

Shaving a dog seems like a logical way to help it keep cool, and can provide temporary relief for a hot and panting pet, but many factors should be considered before deciding to shave any dog. Shaving removes the dog’s built-in shade umbrella, and sunlight is allowed to penetrate the dog’s skin, exposing it to greater risk of heatstroke, sunburn and skin cancer. If the dog is frequently outdoors or has pink skin, these risks are much higher than for a dog that spends most of its time indoors in air-conditioning. Also, shaving disrupts the shedding process, and although this may reduce the amount of shedding in the home, the hairs that cannot shed normally are trapped and compacted, worsening the situation for the dog.  Instead of a functional cooling system, the dog’s coat becomes a fur blanket contributing to trapping in heat.

An additional risk of shaving these dogs is the possibility of permanently damaging the dog’s coat. The texture of the coat and even the color can change after being shaved, but most disturbingly, a dog with a underlying thyroid problem can have difficulty regrowing their coat evenly, and can appear to be missing chunks of fur that may never grow back correctly.

Besides helping keep a dog cool, and giving us a reason to vacuum, a dog’s coat does offer other advantages. The fur provides protection against insect bites, especially mosquitoes, which carry heartworms, and offers some protection against pollen for allergy-prone dogs. Minor scratches, cuts and abrasions are also minimalized for dogs that are traversing brush and woods.

Taking a few minutes to brush these dogs every two to three days does wonders to help reduce shedding and keep their natural air-conditioning working properly. If keeping the dog’s coat well-maintained with frequent brushing or a regular trip to the groomer isn’t an option, then shaving may be considered as a less attractive alternative. A closely trimmed coat of one-half inch to 1 inch in length will offer more protection than shaving to the skin, and still be easier to maintain for the owner. Regardless of the condition of the coat, any dog left outdoors requires constant access to fresh water and shade.