To Shave or Not to Shave!?!
The Double Coated Dog
We always get asked frequently at this time of year, “Can you shave my dog? He/she is so hot.” We thought we’d explain why shaving your double coated dog won’t keep him cooler with a couple of pictures to help out.
First let’s explain the difference between single and double coated dogs. Single coated dog breeds like the Shih-tzu, Maltese or Poodles, have one hair in each follicle which continues to grow slowly all the time and can be trimmed to any length according to preference, keeping in mind that too short in the summer can cause sun burns on skin unaccustomed to sunlight. Double coated dog breeds like the Golden Retriever, Husky, Newfoundlander, or little Pomeranian have an outer coat, or guard hair, and an undercoat, or secondary hairs. In each follicle there is one guard hair and anywhere from 6-20 undercoat hairs. These undercoat hairs are softer, fall out and are replaced every 6-8 weeks through out the year. This is why dogs shed all the time. The guard hair is more coarse and only replaced once per year so if it is removed for any reason, it can take up to a year to grow back. This is one of the reasons shaving a double coated dog is a problem.
Once the coat is shaved, the faster growing undercoat can smother out the topcoat and, in some cases, prevent it from growing back. It can take up to a year for the topcoat to grow back, if it grows back at all. If the coat is repeatedly shaved year after year, the damage to the topcoat can eventually cause a skin issue called Alopecia where there are patches on the body where no hair grows at all anymore. The undercoat gets thick, mats more quickly and is difficult to brush out. Shaving can also cause the undercoat to become impacted preventing the skin from getting air. This means the skin and coat can’t get air to dry so sores and bacteria can grow. This leads to costly veterinary bills.
Another reason some want to shave, other than medical, is heat. Some believe that if you shave your dog’s coat, they will be cooler. “I don’t wear a coat in the summer, so neither should my dog.” While it’s true that we don’t wear a coat in the summer, we also cool our bodies differently than dogs. We sweat through pores and wear sun block to prevent sun burn. We can also hide under beach umbrellas or awnings to get out of the direct sun. And if you’ve ever spent time in the Middle East or Caribbean, you’ll notice locals wear long sleeved, light coloured clothing to keep direct sunlight off of their skin. Dogs do that, too. It’s called their double coat. When properly groomed, with the undercoat removed, the topcoat lays over the skin allowing air to flow between the coat and skin keeping the dog cool. (see fig. 1) If we shave that hair off, the skin is directly exposed to the sun and heats up, causing your pet to overheat. Dogs cool themselves by panting and sweat only through their pads in their paws (except in Spitz breeds like the Husky, etc). If your dog is panting, its body is doing it’s job. It’s only a concern if they are panting excessively and unsettled along with weakness, lethargy, or vomiting. Then it’s time to see your veterinarian.
It’s been shown using thermal imaging cameras that dogs who have been shaved are physically hotter than dogs who keep their topcoat. (see fig. 2). A veterinarian says this, “One cooling mechanism that many people aren’t aware of is that dogs dilate the blood vessels in the skin to exchange the warmth of the blood with the cooler surface skin. That’s why short coated dogs ...suffer more in the heat.”*** You can’t deny science!!
And last but not least, shaving a double coated dog will not reduce shedding. It just makes the shedding hairs shorter.
So, please, do right by your dog. Get him or her groomed regularly by a groomer who is responsible and cares about the health of your pet. A schedule of every 6-8 weeks is best for most double coated dogs and even a 4-week schedule during heavy shedding season will help him feel better and keep your house free of tumble weeds. Call us if you need a great groomer!!
*Figure 1. www.albertanorthvetclinic.ca
**Figure 2. ASPCA website www.vsas.org
***CPPS website - Dogs in Canada March 2004 article by Chris Zank, DVM