Do i need to shave my dog?


Garima Singhal with Bruno Boo
Living in the tropics and the global warming induced rising temperatures mean that we need to make our pets as comfortable as possible in this blazing heat. The first thing that immediately comes to mind is to shave them to decrease heating. But is that the absolute right thing to do for our pets?
Unfortunately, I see a lot of shaved pets in the summer. But shaving an animal to keep them cool is not a good idea.
Fur for insulation…
An animal’s fur serves as insulation, protecting them against both heat and cold. Shaving off their fur actually interferes with their ability to regulate their body temperatures. According to Dr Louise Murray, VP of the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animal (ASPCA), coat of a dog or a cat serves similarly like the insulation of our house, which prevents us from extreme heat or cold.
Health issues…
Shaving also makes your animal more susceptible to sunburn, skin cancer and parasites such as fleas and ticks. This is particularly serious in those with white or light-coloured coats, as they can get burned even with their fur unshaven. To protect your animals from sunburn, limit outdoor time to mornings and evenings, and apply a pet specific sunscreen to their noses, ears and bellies, the areas with the least fur on them.
What’s recommended?
Dr Ajitesh Kumar, consultant, Cessna Lifeline, Bengaluru, says, “Only a summer cut is recommended for dogs and cats. Cutting or shaving off any more hair and one risks losing the natural insulation provided by the fur.” Ashita Mathew, founder, Wags and Wiggles Pet Salon & Spa at Bengaluru concurs, “Shaving a dog to beat the heat is a definite ‘No’. One can trim the dog to an inch length, but that’s it. They need their fur to regulate their body temperatures. The fur acts like a coolant by trapping air and maintains even temperature all over.” Dogs do best with their natural coats, as long as the pet parents are responsible with upkeep and grooming and the coat is maintained in a good condition.” Ashita further says, “When shaven, the body of a pet heats up faster as it is directly exposed to the sun. The best way to keep the dog cooler in the hot weather is to make sure the dog’s coat is clean and free from dust, dirt, dander and mats. This will maintain an even air flow and keep the animal uniformly cool.” A well-maintained coat that is not matted is much more effective in protecting from heat. Your pet should be brushed regularly to make sure that the loose hair from the undercoat doesn’t get trapped under the outer coat. This is the cause for matting and can cause serious heating up of the animal.
Care for double-coated breeds…
Double-coated breeds of dogs have an undercoat and a topcoat. The undercoat is short and rough, and the topcoat varies from short to long to bushy, depending on the breed. The long coat is an excellent insulator as it traps air and helps a dog stay cooler. Ashita adds that shaving a double-coated dog like St Bernard or Golden Retriever also hampers with the hair regrowth. The top coat, which has the properties to repel water and to maintain temperature will never grow back after a shave. Only the fuzzy undercoat will grow back, which makes the coat even more difficult to manage, becomes extremely rough, and causes overheating of the animal as it does not trap air as efficiently.
Sometimes, under veterinary guidance, exceptions can be made to this rule. For example, dogs with acral lick dermatitis, or hot spots might be shaved locally by your veterinarian, to make cleaning and maintenance of the wound easier. Also, dogs who have long hair on the rear end might need a trim perianally to keep the private parts clean.
If cut is unavoidable…
Get a cut only and only if you are a responsible pet parent and your dog is an indoor only dog. This means that you control their exposure to the heat outside and are on hand to take them inside in the slightest case of over exposure. If however, your dog is an outdoor, or predominantly outdoor dog, where he or she is left alone in a front yard, terrace, porch, etc., not only is this practice inhumane and negligent from the emotional point of view of your dog, it will also cause your dog serious harm in the hot and cold months.
On a concluding note…
During summer, make sure the dog has shade, a fan, plenty of supply of fresh, cool drinking water and cooling pool in which to wade into. Keeping them untrimmed and unshaven, but regularly brushed and bathed and mat free is an absolute must for the health of such an animal.
(Garima Singhal is KCAI accredited canine behaviourist, neurobiologist, school teacher and a long-term pet parent).