As the temperature outside heats up, many dog enthusiasts contemplate shaving off their canine companion's fluffy locks. Shaving can make it easier to identify fleas, ticks, and foxtails. It also reduces shedding and will make it easier to groom and keep your buddy clean. However, there are several other important factors to keep in mind before visiting the groomers.
Please remember that a well brushed coat acts as insulation in both warm and cold weather. Hair also protects animals from biting flies, mosquitoes, and other insects. Dogs don't sweat like people do. Canines are limited to sweating just at their foot pads and nose. Instead, they pant to keep cool; getting rid of warm air as they breath. As a result, dogs don't need exposed skin to stay cool.
Different breeds of dogs have different types of coats in terms of thickness as well as the hair life-cycle time. Most dogs have an outer protective layer, or top/guard coat; and a softer layer or undercoat. Dogs that can live in cold climates, such as the Siberian Husky, Malamute, Samoyed, Akita, Newfoundland, and Sheltie, have a very thick undercoat to keep them warm. These dogs can overheat if their coat is not properly maintained. It is critical for these dogs to be bathed and brushed out routinely so that their coat is free of matts, dirt, and debris. Breeds like Poodles and Yorkies have no undercoat, and they shed a lot less. Dogs that have a short hair life-cycle time, like Labradors, Jack Russel Terriers, and Golden Retrievers will shed more frequently as their hair turns over. A poodle's coat has a longer life-cycle, so this breed sheds less for this reason as well.
What are the risks associated with shaving? Shaving down to the skin can damage the coat, causing the hair to permanently not re-grow. Sometimes the hair will take a long time to re-grow, not fully re-grow, or come back in a different color. The coat texture can also be altered, becoming coarse and lackluster. There is no way to predict if these changes will happen; and they can occur with the first time shaving, or the fifteenth. These problems are usually associated more with dogs that have thick undercoats.
In addition, dogs are susceptible to both sunburns and skin cancer just like in people. When you remove all of a dog's coat, you remove the barrier that protects their skin from these maladies. If you do shave your pet, leaving at least 1/4 inch of coat will still help to reduce burns and tumors. For all dogs that play in the sun, non-toxic sunblock like children's waterproof Bullfrog can be applied to protect areas without hair such as ear tips, lips, and noses.
Routine bathing and brushing out your canine's coat is an important step in keeping Fido healthy and comfortable, and should reduce the need for shaving. Dogs that have thick undercoats can require this daily to weekly. If your buddy sheds a lot, I recommend the Furminator brush to help remove the loose hair. It is also helpful with brushing through matted areas. We carry this item at our clinic, and most clients are really pleased with it. During the bath, conditioner can be used to soften your pet's coat and it also makes it easier to brush or comb through tangles. Also, make sure you are using pet shampoos and conditioners, not human ones.
There are also many non-grooming related things that you can do to keep fido cool during the warm summer days. Provide fresh drinking water. You can add ice cubes to the bowl to keep the water chilled. Special bowls are available that chill the water. Keep your canine indoors as much as possible during the heat of the day from 10 am to 4 pm, and especially when the temperature climbs above 90-95 degrees.
For pets that live outside, make sure there is a covered area with plenty of shade. Never tie your dog to a tree, as the shaded area will shift during the day, and your companion may not be able to move out of the sunlight. Misters and fans can be set up to provide relief from the heat. Many dog beds, bandannas, and body wear are available that you can wet to keep your pet comfortable. And supervised swimming is a great way to cool off. Remember that asphalt and cement also get hot, and pets can burn their footpads. And most importantly, please don't leave your pets unattended in a parked car when it is hot. The temperature can rise rapidly causing brain damage and death in a matter of minutes.
If your dog has chronic skin problems or is severely matted, shaving may be the best solution. Consult with your veterinarian to discuss care options for your buddy.