Here in our little red dot where summer is perpetually in full swing and the tropical climate hardly lets down for more than a couple of showers in a week, ridding your dog of its fur in an attempt to keep them cool and hygienic may seem a natural decision.
This might have been the thought process of the owners of a Husky whose photo went viral on social news site Reddit in 2017. The handsome canine was photographed shaven clean to his skin, sparking off a robust debate on whether shaving a dog is cruel or just goofy, like “a badly photoshopped Husky head on an ugly cat”.
Many pet owners and veterinary professionals are of the opinion that there are better alternatives to shaving your pet to fend against the heatwave and prevent shedding. Yet we do still sometimes see dogs with a buzz cut, which begs the age-old question: When is it alright to shave your dog, and more importantly – when is it not?
Sun Protection Factor
We might associate big furry coats with wintery climate, but for dogs, fur is not just a shield against the cold. Like a protective layer between the elements and its tissue-thin skin, a dog’s coat also protects him against sunburn and skin cancer, insect bites, and even cuts and abrasions while roaming through fields and bushes.
In fact, pets with thin coats, or white or light-colored coats are particularly susceptible to sun damage. These shorter hair breeds will definitely not benefit from a shave, and will even run a much higher risk of sunburn after the procedure. In fact, any dog can suffer sunburn, so even if you are shaving your thick-coated dog after consultation with your vet or groomer, be sure to leave at least an inch of hair as a natural sun protection factor.
Keepin’ It Cool
While humans perspire through our skin to bring our body temperature down, dogs only sweat through the pads of their paws and primarily keep cool by panting. Air, trapped between the hair follicles and skin, functions as a natural insulator for dogs, keeping them cool in the heat and warm in the cold.
This also means that if a dog spends most of his time indoors or within a controlled environment like an airconditioned room, it matters less whether or not he is shaved, for he would be less susceptible to overheating, physical exertion and direct sunlight exposure.
On the contrary, if your dog spends a lot of unsupervised time outdoors, his coat should be left au naturel and untrimmed. It may seem counter-intuitive, but a shaved dog does not necessarily mean a cooler dog – just one without its natural ability to thermoregulate.
Different Strokes For Different Coats
The insulating function of a dog’s fur is particularly important for double-coated breeds such as Golden Retrievers, Shiba Inus, Labrador Retrievers, Australian Shepherds, and German Shepherds. These dogs have a dense undercoat of short hairs which are woolly in texture, under a top coat of longer hairs called guard hairs.
The fluffier your dog is, the denser is his undercoat. This undercoat serves the insulating function while the guard hairs help to repel moisture and dirt. It is strongly inadvisable to shave double-coated breeds to the skin, not just because clipping short any double coat will cause serious, irreversible damage to the beautiful natural coat, but also because of the sensitive nature of their skin.
Double-coated dogs are known to be particularly susceptible to razor burn, hot spots, sunburns, and a damaging medical condition known as post-clipping alopecia when a dog’s undercoat never grows back. This is not to say other breeds of dogs should be carelessly groomed or trimmed.
As a rule of thumb, it is best to allow a professional groomer to give your long-haired dog a “summer cut” – a modest trim to make it more manageable – but again, avoid shaving down to the skin and definitely do not undertake the procedure yourself with a pair of clippers at home.
Grooming can be an enjoyable part of every pet parent’s journey, either as an exercise to bond with the dog or just to keep his fur and skin healthy and glowing. Unfortunately, some dogs may develop a matting as a result of not receiving regular grooming.
Mats often occur in areas of friction such as behind the ears, under the collar, or in the armpits. Neglect and lack of grooming often lead to tangles and knots forming in both the outer coat and the dense undercoat. If not attended to in time, severe matting can cut off blood supply to the extremities and deny regular air circulation, leading to open sores and infections.
If mats cannot be combed out, the only recourse could be to shave the entire coat. An exception to dog shaving would be if the animal is a victim of recurrent hotspots or other dermatologic conditions. Based on the medical assessment of their vet professionals, some dogs may do better with shorter hair so that their owners can manage their skin conditions more easily.
KEEP THE CLIPPERS! 3 WAYS TO KEEP YOUR FUR KIDS COOL… WITHOUT SHAVING
Cooling mats/vest - These handy mats work by being soaked in cold water, or with built-in gels which immediately bring down the temperature of your dog’s body. Keep them handy during those scorching afternoons!
Stay hydrated - This is a no-brainer. Just like humans, dogs need to plenty of water on those long afternoon walks. You can even try popping some ice cubes in the doggie bowl – some dogs find that a real treat.
Groom, groom, groom - Brushing is not just for the vain. It helps remove the dead undercoat and allow air to circulate nearer to your dog’s skin, thereby keeping him cooler and drier. If you can afford the time and energy, brush daily.