Is it ok to shave your dog's fur?
During hot, summer days when the ambient temperature is barely tolerable for us humans, we often imagine that our dogs, with all their thick hair, are probably feeling even worse. The tendency is for pet parents to bring their dogs to a groomer and have their fur shaved, thinking that this will help make them feel cooler during hot weather. But does shaving your dog actually help them cool off? Are there health repercussions in shaving off a dog’s fur? There has been a long-standing debate among dog owners regarding the benefits and health risks of shaving dogs. Let’s discuss in detail the function of a dog’s coat and what happens when you shave it off.
Different Types of Dog Coats
Unlike in humans where we have one hair per follicle, dogs usually have around 5 to 20 hairs per follicle, depending on the breed. The hair is constantly being replaced by newer ones, with the older one falling off on its own through different growth stages.
Different coat types in dogs depend on the breed, but they can generally be classified into 2 types: single-coated breeds and double-coated breeds. Single-coated breeds have a single layer of hair on their skin, which can appear smooth, flat, wired, hard, or a combination of these properties. Double-coated breeds, on the other hand, have a soft undercoat and a sturdier and longer outer coat.
Additionally, dog coats are divided into two major categories - those with undetermined lengths and those with predetermined lengths. Breeds with coats that have undetermined lengths, often called hair, will grow continuously unless cut. Breeds with coats that have determined lengths, commonly termed as fur, will grow to a specific length, then stop growing altogether.
Understanding the Function of a Dog’s Coat
A dog’s skin is significantly thinner compared to us humans, and thus will need more protection from environmental irritants and harmful substances. Their coat serves as an initial layer of protection from external hazards. It helps trap dirt and other hazardous materials that could otherwise harm and irritate the dog’s skin on contact. It also helps protect the skin from direct exposure to different environmental risks such as the sun’s ultraviolet rays.
In certain breeds like Golden Retrievers, hair and fur have water-repellant properties that help keep the skin dry and free from moisture, a common cause of fungal and bacterial infection on the skin. Their coat plays an important role in protecting the skin from risks of infection.
Double-coated dogs have a soft undercoat closer to the skin that functions as an insulating layer and helps in regulating the dog’s body temperature. In cold temperatures, the undercoat hairs will contract and help increase the body temperature. In warm conditions, double-coated dogs will shed off some of their undercoat and the remaining hairs trap air within the undercoat to help cool the body off.
A dog’s coat, especially in double-coated breeds, helps regulate their body temperature in response to changes in the temperature of the environment.
Why Shaving Your Dog’s Coat is Typically Not Recommended
As mentioned, your dog’s coat plays an important role in protecting their skin and regulating their body temperature. It’s important to keep your dog’s coat healthy and functioning properly to ensure optimal protection against external hazards. Any changes in their coat’s appearance may compromise its function and make the skin, and the dog, vulnerable to several health problems.
Shaving down your dog’s coat will expose their skin to too much solar radiation, increasing the risk of developing sunburn. If your dog’s skin is exposed to the sun for a prolonged period, it can damage and burn the outer layer of the skin which can result in severe pain, discomfort, and susceptibility to secondary infections.
Shaving can also make the dog’s skin susceptible to injuries and infections. The added layer of protection from the dog’s coat protects the skin from easily getting injured by external trauma. Shaving off your dog’s coat will make your dog susceptible to injuries that can cause wounds, abrasions, and bruising. Bacterial and fungal organisms can penetrate the skin through open wounds and cause infection.
Lastly, removing a significant length of the dog’s coat compromises its ability to properly regulate body temperature, especially in extreme weather conditions. This is more evident in double-coated breeds, where they rely heavily on their undercoat to help them keep warm during cold weather and cool off during hot, summer days. Without proper temperature regulation, dogs are more prone to developing serious health conditions due to extreme changes in temperature such as hypothermia and heatstroke.
Situations Where Shaving Your Dog’s Coat Can Be Beneficial
Though keeping your dog’s fur unshaved helps them be protected, there are cases where shaving your dog’s coat may be more beneficial to their health. However, most of these situations are temporary and shaving may only be indicated as part of a treatment for certain health conditions.
Dog’s that have a severe fungal or bacterial infection may benefit from having their coat shaved or trimmed short. Having a short or shaved coat in cases of severe infection can make the application of topical medications such as spray and shampoos easier and more effective. This also helps keep air circulate better, controlling the build-up of moisture from the infection.
Breeds with an undetermined length of hair will have continuous hair growth that needs to be cut or trimmed every so often. If not cut regularly, matted hair may eventually develop and can cause a multitude of skin problems. Dogs with matted fur will need to be shaved down to remove severely tangled hair and address any secondary skin problems caused by it.
However, despite these situations, shaving your dog down to the skin is not recommended as it leaves the skin too exposed to injuries and other problems. If your dog gets into a situation or condition where shaving may be needed, it’s best to leave at least one inch of hair or fur to retain some degree of protection. Shaving down to the skin may be needed in cases of severe localized infection, but should never be done for the dog’s whole body.
Need to speak with a veterinarian regarding your dog’s fur or another condition?
Click here to schedule a video consult to speak to one of our vets. You can also download the FirstVet app from the Apple App Store and Google Play Stores.