“My dog is SO hot! He’s panting all the time. Will shaving his fur real short help him to deal with the heat better?”
As a professional pet groomer, this is a legitimate question that I am presented with every summer. We all love our pets and want nothing but the very best for them. We relate to them and want to provide everything for them that we may (or may not) have for ourselves. Comfort is high on that list for all of us. But the reasoning behind shaving, or not shaving, a dog for summer is confusing to the average pet owner.
Differences In How Dogs And People Handle Hot Temperatures
First, let’s start with some physical differences between our dogs and us. When it is hot we, as humans, sweat. There are prettier words, like “perspire” or “glow” but let’s call it what it is… sweat. This release of water from our skin is meant to evaporate into the air, cooling our bodies as it does. In drier climates it evaporates fast, leaving us with the feeling that a “dry heat” is OK. More humid environments hinder this evaporation process, making us feel sticky, wet and hot, as the evaporation process is slower. The temperature might be the same in both locations but it can feel totally different. I, for one, can attest to this phenomenon, having lived nearly 30 years in South Florida (home of high humidity) and now being a resident of Southern California’s dry-roasted temperature blasts.
Hot is hot, no matter what the numbers say. But we, as humans, deal with it very differently than dogs. When humans dress for cold weather we put on a sweater or parka and layer our garments to retain body heat. Other than taking off our clothing completely, it’s difficult to “dress” for the hot weather. But we try. And while we are sitting there with sweat-drenched clothing we see our dogs panting. We want them to be comfortable. We want them to be cool. We want to take their clothing off so they can dress for summer, like us. Well, it doesn’t work that way.
A dog’s “cooling system” is quite different from ours. While we have sweat glands in our skin, a dog has them in their tongue and the pads of their feet. If they are panting, they are sweating, just like you and me. Let me interject that we should NEVER try to stop this natural sweating process. Giving an overly hot pet a drink of cool water or some ice cubes as well as a little shade or a cooler place to stay is very important at this point, but the sweating reflex is the body’s way of trying to cool down. If it is so hot that your pet is becoming stressed, he may be on the verge of heatstroke and you should take measures to deal with that immediately!
Understanding What A Dog’s Coat Does
Many pet owners believe that “undressing” the dog by shaving his fur will make the warm summer months more tolerable. Actually, I believe nothing could be further from the truth. And the term “shaving” can be confusing. Groomers do not “shave” a pet like men shave their beards. They use electric clippers with a variety of different blades to safely take off the hair. Shaving, or clippering, a pet’s fur short in the summer may actually cause more problems than it solves. Because a dog’s coat is insulation, it protects him from the heat as well as the cold. Removing that element would be like taking that protective lining of insulation out of the roof of your home in the summer.
Different breeds of dogs deal with their heavy coats in different ways. The “Arctic” breeds, like Samoyeds, Malamutes and Huskies, have double coats consisting of harsh guard hairs that protect against the inclement weather as well as a layer of soft, downy undercoat to keep the body temperature consistent. Many breeds fall into this “double-coated” category. They build a thick, sturdy coat for the winter, and when the spring comes they shed their unnecessary, unwanted insulation all over your house. Their “summer coats” come in a little less dense, but they still retain the double-coated insulating qualities so important to these breeds.
Ironically, some breeds do not handle the heat as well as others: These are the brachycephalic, or short-nosed, breeds like Bulldogs and Pugs, and also many short-haired breeds. One example is the shift in police departments and the dogs they use for their K9 units. While many years ago Dobermans were the dog of choice, most police forces have stayed with insulating-coat breeds like German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois. The shorter-coated breeds don’t have the coat protection factors of the double-coated breeds, making them more susceptible to heatstroke.
Unexpected Results Of Shaving Dogs
A pet owner also needs to be aware that clipping a coat very short may result in the hair not growing back the way it originally did. Some people call this “clipper alopecia” or “groomer alopecia,” but it is far from the groomer’s fault, as they are just doing what the owners are instructing them to do. Shaving a double-coated breed may result in the coat coming in slowly, patchy or not at all in some areas. It can happen with dogs or cats. Many times it is a sign of an underlying health issue with the pet, especially an older pet. A visit to the veterinarian for some testing would be reasonable.
Owners also must be aware of the great possibility of sunburn of a freshly clippered pet. When a dog that has had a protective layer of hair suddenly loses it, it can be likened to you sitting on the beach all day with no shade or sunscreen. Please, if you do opt to go this route, don’t let the dog out into the sunlight unprotected until some of the hair grows back.
Ways To Keep Dogs Cool
While clipping may just be an easier option for some busy households, the best grooming practice for a pet owner wishing to keep their pet cool in the summer is to keep the pet’s coat clean and brushed. Regular grooming helps keep the coat separated and fluffed, enabling the coat to provide the insulating factors the pet needs to regulate his body temperature. It makes the dog look and feel nice while keeping the coat from getting matted.
With all that said, pet owners just need to remind themselves that dogs (and cats) feel the heat differently than we do, but heatstroke from overexposure to the hot summer days can have just as devastating an effect on them as it does on us. Keeping them cool and calm on hot days, coupled with a steady supply of fresh water and shade, will keep your pets comfortable.
Recently, a Facebook page was composed by a group of professional pet groomers. The “Canine Heatstroke Awareness” Facebook page offers scores of articles and illustrations that will help the pet owner identify the problem and treat the pet, should the need arise. Just knowing a few simple first-aid steps might be all it takes to save your dog’s life one day.