While much of the country is experiencing a heat wave, dog owners are understandably searching for ways to cool down their dogs and prevent them from overheating this summer. If your dog has a heavy or long coat, you may be tempted or even encouraged by your groomer to shave your pup in order to keep her cool this summer. But is a shaved dog really the answer to your dog’s risk of overheating? Let’s take a look.
First, does dog fur make dogs hot in the summer?
Dogs might be mankind’s best friends, but they don’t actually stay cool in the same ways that we do. While humans sweat to keep cool on very hot days, dogs aren’t able to do so. Dogs don’t sweat through their skin, only the pads of their paws, and dogs primarily keep their bodies cool by panting.
“A dog’s fur/coat is like a thermos or temperature neutralizer — it keeps him cool in the summer and warm in the winter,” Emmy award-winning veterinarian Dr. Jeff Werber explains. So, a shaved dog doesn’t mean a cooler dog … and a shaved dog may actually experience the opposite effect.
So, is a shaved dog the way to go?
“If you think you should shave your dog because she may be hot in the summer, it’s not the case,” Dr. Werber says. “You should only shave your dog if you have a medical concern — and it depends on the medical concern.”
Dogs with double coats, including all Spitz dogs like Shiba Inus, Siberian Huskies and Chow Chows, as well as a wide range of other dogs like Newfoundlands, Border Collies, Corgis, Labrador Retrievers, many Terrier breeds, Pomeranians and Shih Tzus should never be shaved. The double coat has a soft undercoat, and upper guard hairs. Not only will shaving a double-coated dog likely make him much hotter because you have removed his natural ability to insulate the skin, you risk doing permanent damage to his coat, which could impact if and how it will grow back in. If you aren’t sure if your dog has a double coat, talk with your veterinarian.
Is a shaved dog ever okay — in any circumstances?
Grooming is an important way to bond with your dog, and to keep his skin and coat in healthy condition. Unfortunately, for dogs who have not received regular grooming, matting may develop. “If the hair is matted or there is a concern about skin disease, then you should shave it,” Dr. Werber recommends, but then cautions that “once you shave a light-skinned dog, you have to watch out for sunburn.” It’s far better to prioritize regular grooming a few times a week to make sure your dog’s coat is kept free of matts.
How to keep a dog cool … without shaving him
If a shaved dog isn’t a good idea, how do you keep your dog cool in the summer? Here are a few strategies for keeping your dog from overheating:
- Try cooling mats/cooling vests. There are a variety of cooling mats and cooling vests for dogs on the market. Put these vests on your dog, or on your dog’s bed. Generally, these mats work by being soaked in cold water, or by using gels that whisk heat away from your dog’s body.
- Make sure he’s hydrated. Making sure your dog drinks enough water is important any time of year, but especially in the summer. Stave off dehydration in dogs by keeping plenty of fresh, cool water available at all times.
- Keep your dog inside with air conditioning or fans. Summer is a great time to play outside with your dog, but sometimes it’s just too hot. If you’re concerned about the heat and your dog staying cool, the best idea might be to keep him inside, particularly if you have air conditioning and fans.
- Adjust your walking schedule. Schedule your walks or outings for the early-morning hours or late evenings when it’s usually a bit cooler.
- Aim for mental exercise instead. Is it too hot to play outside but your dog is still hyper and eager to go? Focus his attention on mental exercises, like trick training. Exercising your dog’s mind can actually leave him as tired or more tired than physical exercise and it will keep him cooler than a long game of fetch out in the sun.
Sassafras Lowrey is an award-winning author whose novels have been honored by the Lambda Literary Foundation and the American Library Association. Sassafras is a Certified Trick Dog Instructor and assists with dog agility classes. She lives and writes in Brooklyn with her partner, a senior Chihuahua mix, a rescued Shepherd mix, a Newfoundland puppy, two bossy cats and a semi-feral kitten. Learn more at sassafraslowrey.com.