Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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A Summer Shave Is Not For Everyone

Pet Column for the week of April 26, 2010

Related information:

Services - Dermatology

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Ashley Mitek
Information Specialist

Source - Catherine Metry, DVM
It makes sense: we shave sheep in the summer so they do not become too hot, so why not long haired dogs. On those steamy days of August when your Husky doesn't dare step outside in the 90 degree weather, maybe you've thought of borrowing your husband's clippers and giving the dog a haircut.

"In most cases, I do not recommend shaving a dog for the summer," explains Dr. Catherine Metry, a veterinary dermatology resident at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana. The hair coat may actually help keep the dog cooler on hot days, instead of acting like a wool blanket as we may think.

In the arctic breeds, or those dogs that are made for the snowy weather, shaving can actually induce the hair to stop growing. The hair may not grow back, or may grow back in another color shade.

The other factor we may easily forget when it comes to our pets is that, "if you do shave the animal and you shave too close to the skin, then dog may more easily be sunburned," notes Dr. Metry. Most of our animals do not spend enough time out in the sun to become burned, but some animals do after being shaved.

If you do plan to be outdoors with your pet, you can use a zinc-free sunscreen. The bridge of the nose and the ears are more common places that pets get sunburn. But before you head out in the summer weather, don't forget to consider your pet's well-being.

Dogs can sweat from small glands in their paws which do little to help cool them, unlike humans who sweat all over for heat relief. The main way our pets blow off excess heat is open-mouth breathing (panting). In short, if you're thinking of taking Fido for that long run or walk in sunny, hot weather, don't try it!

Although Dr. Metry does not recommend shaving for most of her patients, there are a few exceptions. "If they are a dog that stays outside, is not well groomed, and may stay very wet, you run the risk of developing maggots in a matted haircoat." Veterinarians usually have a very high tolerance for un-pleasantries in pets, but for many, maggot infestations cross the line. And a shave to prevent such a case may be worth considering. In addition, a dog that easily develops "hot spots" may also be a candidate for a summer shave.

In short, most dogs are better off not being shaved for the summer weather. If they live outdoors, be sure to provide adequate shade and water at all times to prevent overheating.

If an unfortunate circumstance develops in which your dog does overheat, quick action can be lifesaving. Serious burns have occurred when owners rush to hose off their pet--if the hose has been sitting in the sun all day the temperature of the water inside is near boiling. It is critical that you test the temperature of the hose water before dousing your pet. The water should be cool, but not frigid. Because ice baths constrict the vessels, they are not nearly as helpful in cooling pets as cold water. After hosing off a pet you suspect may have overheated, contact your veterinarian immediately.

For more information about shaving your pet, contact your local veterinarian.