Double-coated dogs come in all sizes, from the small West Highland White Terrier, Bichon Frise or American Eskimo Dog, to not-so-small Samoyeds, Great Pyrenees or the huge St. Bernard just to name a few.
The double coats of these dogs are made of long, guard hairs that define the dog’s appearance and which are supported by short, dense woolly hairs (the undercoat) below the surface of the guard hairs. The denser (thicker) the undercoat, the fluffier the dog appears.
As temperatures rise, dog owners prepare for hot summer months by shaving their dogs’ coats off. Is this really necessary? Can a dog survive summer with his coat left intact? Does this do more harm than good? Depending on the dog, or the situation, you may be able to forego this summer ritual altogether.
First, examine what want to accomplish by shaving your dog’s coat off. Many people feel that by shaving their dog, they help keep him cooler. In theory this makes sense, but it is not always true.
Double coats, also known as down hairs or undercoat, are very fine, fluffy hairs closest to the skin. The hairs are short and crimped, which makes them highly efficient at trapping air and insulating the animal. This keeps them warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
A professional groomer can rake coat with a special tool that helps remove the undercoat. This raking, followed by a bath and a blow dry, will help separate the hair so the groomer can get to the rest of the undercoat. Once the undercoat has been thinned out, the dog does feel cooler. Bottom line: with simple grooming and brushing, you can keep your dog’s coat manageable without shaving it all off.
Shaving a dog bald can create more problems than it solves because it exposes the animal’s sensitive skin to the hot sun, which can result in sunburn or worse, skin cancer. Keeping at least one inch of hair on your pet, brushing often and providing him with shade, will go a long way towards protecting him from bug infestations, mats and other skin problems.
Another popular reason for shaving an animal’s coat for the summer is to stop it from shedding. Shaving does not stop the shedding; it only causes the fur or hair that is shed to be shorter. After a cut, a dog may shed shorter hair, but it will still shed.
The most harmful myth pertaining to dog hair is, “Don’t worry, it’ll grow back.” Well, sometimes it will. However, the older the dog is, the less likely the guard hairs will re-grow. While the undercoat will re-grow, the upper hairs sometimes do not. This gives the dog a patchy, scruffy, frizzy appearance. The dog may have scaling and dandruff for quite some time, even after the hair has re-grown.
Dogs like poodles, Maltese, Shih Tzu’s, and others without an undercoat require regular grooming and haircuts. But dogs with undercoats rarely do. Although shaving your dog in the summer is not necessary, there are some people (groomers and maybe a vet or two) who swear it’s the best thing you can do for your pet. While it makes things easier on the dog owner, it may not be the best option for the animal.
I have long been a proponent of the summer buzz cut, but this year I noticed that when my St. Bernard, who unlike his predecessors enjoys sunbathing, comes in from being outside for just a short amount of time his skin is very hot and in some spots seems really irritated. So next year, we will definitely look into different options to keep him cool.
This also applies to cats. Many owners of long hair cats will often have their cats shaved for the summer. Cats, are very good at regulating body temperature and “really get no benefit from being shaved,” says Mark J. Stickney, DVM, clinical associate professor and director of general surgery services at Texas A&M University’s veterinary medical teaching hospital. Because cats are “so much smaller relative to their exposed surface area, they’re just better at getting rid of extra body heat,” Stickney told WebMD.