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Three Reasons You Shouldn’t Shave Your Pet

Thursday, July 11, 2013 - 12:00pm
Golden retriever wearing red collar

It’s hot out there! And if your Golden Retriever or long-haired kitty seems to suffer when the mercury rises, you might feel some temptation to break out your grooming tools and give your pets a full shave-down. We get where you’re coming from.

But wait! Put down those clippers! According to experts, you’ll be doing your pet a disservice. Here’s why:

  1. While you or I would hate to sport a fur coat in 100-degree weather, your pets’ fur coats are actually providing them with heat relief.

“A dog’s coat is kind of like insulation for your house,” explains Dr. Louise Murray, Senior Vice President of the ASPCA Animal Hospital. “Insulation stops your home from getting too cold in winter, but it also keeps it from overheating in summer—and your dog’s coat does the same thing.”

Dogs’ coats have several layers, and these layers are essential to your dog’s comfort in the heat. Robbing your dog of this natural cooling system can lead to discomfort and overheating. And keeping your dog cool isn’t the only reason to leave his coat intact, Dr. Murray warns.

  1. Your dog’s coat prevents your pup from getting sunburn and helps protect her from skin cancer.

To protect your pet from sunburn and skin cancer, save longer walks for evenings, and consider applying pet-specific sun block to thinly covered areas like the bridge of your dog’s nose, the tips of his ears and his belly, Dr. Murray suggests, noting that pets with thin coats, as well as those with white or light-colored coats, are especially at risk for sun damage.

  1. There are better ways to manage your pets’ coats to keep them cool: trimming and brushing.

“It’s OK to trim your long-haired dog’s long hair, such as any hair that hangs down on his legs,” Dr. Murray says. Just never attempt to clip mats off your pet’s coat with scissors, Dr. Murray adds. And if you’ve got a long-haired kitty, leave her coat intact. Instead, brush her a little more frequently during the hot summer months.

Of course, pet parents should remember to keep pets inside with plenty of water during hot days—hydration is key! For more important information on summer pet care, visit our Hot-Weather Tips. Stay cool out there!

Comments

Comments

Ann

This sounds like the same debate that goes on with the horse people. To clip or not to clip when the first sign of fall swirls through the air. In this case, it's the first heat wave. Personally, I am not a fan of clipping. Dogs. Cats. or Horses. Better to put out frozen ice bottles, or the new cooling pads then to strip an animal of it's insulating factor.

Kaye Harris

I agree and disagree - from many years of practical experience! I have Aussies, have had labs, shepards many others. With the Aussies, their coat many times will not grow back the same. I tried it on a younger Aussie many years ago and it was horrible. When younger, trims and grooming. Older is different. My 16 year old was never shaved until she reached 14. Then she was struggling under this huge coat. We shaved and she breathed easier and moved easier. I don't shave labs and we have a part Chow I also will not shave, at least not being young. And grooming her is tough! I think the idea is - what is best for that pet and that situation. If it is just for your convenience and not what's best for the situation then not so cool. I also had an Aussie who didn't get shaved until he was 16 and he made it until 18. So I think it extended his life! But they were kept inside, mostly! Poodles get shaved regularly! And on the contrary, a groomer makes more if they have to GROOM not clip! I think there are some breeds and situations (indoor/outdoor/what job or play the dog does) you should never clip and some you should! Same with equines! One shetland gets a horrible allergy every summer. When we don't clip him its worse. If we clip and apply HC cream BETTER!

Lance Steel

As a veterinarian I cannot agree to this as a universal statement. Although the opinion piece is focused on thermal regulation and sunburn, there are also issues with some animals with moist dermatitis. Here in Florida I shave 1 of our 4 dogs (an Akita mix) that has allergic tendencies (non-responsive to dietary restriction) where her thick haircoat promotes moist dermatitis. By shaving, her skin stays drier, which in addition to other steps (antihistamines, periodic bathing, steroid conditioner,and of course flea control) helps to break the pruiritic cycle of itch, scratch, skin breakage, bacterial infection, and further itching. It is the same principle why one removes excess hair from an animal's ear canal that is prone to ear infections; drier skin is less prone to moist dermatitis. Naturally one can overdo anything, and excessive washing and shaver burns aren't good either, but that is completely in an owner's control to avoid. Thanks and keep up the good work.

Amy Lally

Thank you for bringing up the moisture factor, and the ear hair analogy makes it easy to understand.

Adena

When a human being's body temperature builds up, either because he is in a hot environment or because he has been exercising or working a great deal, he begins to perspire. When people sweat, it is fairly obvious. Everybody perspires, although some do more so than others. For some human beings their sweat is only visible under their arms and on their brows, while other people seem to sweat almost everywhere.
Sweating is one of the ways that our body regulates its temperature. In humans, our sweat glands are distributed over most of our body's surface. When our internal temperature rises to an unhealthy level, the sweat provides a slick of moisture over the skin, which then begins to evaporate. As a fluid evaporates it cools, and in that way the sweat helps to lower our body temperature by effectively wrapping us in a thin cool layer.
A dog's skin is quite different, which is why you have never seen a dog with sweaty underarms. Most of the dog's sweat glands are located around its foot pads. That is why, when a dog is overheated, you will sometimes see a trail of wet footprints that he has left behind as he walked across the floor.
Rather than relying upon sweat, the principal mechanism that a dog uses to cool himself involves panting with his mouth open. This allows the moisture on his tongue to evaporate, and the heavy breathing also allows the moist lining of their lungs to serve as a surface from which moisture can evaporate. In this way the dog can manage a significant cooling of his body temperature.
Another mechanism that dogs use to try to cool off in involves dilating or expanding blood vessels in their face and ears. If it is not too hot outside, this helps to cool the dog's blood by causing it to flow closer to the surface of the skin. This mechanism works best if the overheating is due to exercise, rather than a high outside temperature.
You might guess that another reason why dogs might not deal well with heat is because they are covered in fur, which could make their bodies quite hot in the summer. This is only partially the case since fur is actually an insulator that serves as a barrier between the outside environment and the dog's interior. It acts much like the vacuum barrier in a thermos. Thus in the winter the fur preserves the body heat and serves as a barrier to keep the cold out. In the summer it is a barrier to the outside heat. Unfortunately, in a continuously hot environment, once there is a temperature build up in the body, the fur then serves as an impediment to cooling since the heat then has a hard time dissipating through it.
On a hot day, especially if the dog is very active, he can overheat, a condition known as hyperthermia. This can eventually lead to heat stroke. A dog that is overheated will seem sluggish and perhaps confused. If you look at his gums and tongue they may appear bright red, and he will probably be panting very hard. If left unattended to, the dog may collapse, have a seizure, or even go into a coma.
A simple trick that many dog owners use to help keep their pets cool on a hot day, involves using a spray bottle or mister, such as those used on plants. Simply fill it with water and periodically spray your dog's body with it. In effect, you have created a condition where there is a slick of moisture covering your dog, and it will evaporate and have the same cooling effect as if your dog had sweat glands all over his body.

Lisa

My cat Tiger is part yak it seems. All 3 cats go in and out as the choose. He cannot clean his 6" long-haired fur with a 2" tongue. I call it a shave-down, but they use a #3 clipper so maybe its not what you mean by shaving. He is far happier when he can clean himself fully. I have to say I disagree for cats with long hair.

Katie

This year was my first to shave my labbies. They stay inside every day and spend about 30 minutes total outside. I've been being particularly careful about thier exposure to sunlight, oneof them is white so I know she will burn easily now. They both seem more comfortable without all that fur, (and I don't have to sweep their room as often!) but I definitely wouldn't recommend that anyone that leaves their kiddos outside all day without a large shade structure shave them down. The best thing you can do for your pet is keep them out of the heat, so if all that fur is a major concern because of the heat- maybe you need a new daytime plan for them instead of being outside.

Pam

I'm so glad to be seeing so many people who disagree with this article. Everyone else covered most of the points I was going to cover, but one thought bears repeating: Pay close attention to your pets and what makes them happier and more comfortable. If they are more comfortable when they are shaved/trimmed, then by all means, go for it. Perhaps the article was talking about shaving them down to skin... well no, of course don't do that... but very, very few people do that anyway. When most people shave their dog, they just mean that they use clippers to trim the fur down short. In fact, clippering the fur down short is part of regular grooming for many breeds. Certain breeds, of course, should never been shaved down short - such as huskies and similar. As someone else mentioned, their coat will never be the same after that. I would ask a VERY experienced groomer which breeds have coats that withstand shaving and which do not.
I have always personally had short-haired/smooth-haired dogs, so shaving has never been an issue. However, I have had friends over the years that shaved their dogs every summer to no ill effect. The dogs were cooler and happier, and their coat grew back in completely normal by fall.

rescues cats an...

I'm relieved that many people listen to their pets, when trying to help them become comfortable. Experts should 'advise' rather than require. A responsible pet owner can safely trim out a mat with scissors and take the pet to a groomer (or do it themselves) when the poor animal is suffering from excessive heat retention. This article would have done better to list breeds that should never have a trim for cooling purposes, best tools to use to remove mats (I find thinning shears break up the mat while retaining about half the hair), and best length to have for fur on pets that would benefit from a cut. This ASPCA article is clearly too paranoid about lawsuits to really address the issue.

LauraMaura

I agree with many of the comments to this article. For one, it doesn't address the needs of different breeds and the variety of coats they come with. As a former groomer I found that most dogs appeared overjoyed to lose their coats (though many times they were matted beyond brushing and required a closer than normal clip). I also agree with others that propose a cut that leaves about an inch so the skin isn't exposed works well for many dogs. Another good way to keep them cool outdoors in 95 + heat is too get them wet - but don't use cold water, lukewarm is good. Also don't over-exert or run them on hot pavement unless their pads are protected. Keep them inside the rest of the time and doggie should be content.

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