Dear Dr. Karel,
In the heat of summer is it better to shear off a dog’s heavy coat or leave it? While overheating is a concern, some say it protects dogs from sunburn and they will do just fine. I like to have mine (a Shih Tzu/Bichon mix) sheared down to make it easier to check for ticks. —Larry F.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say your pup gives a huge sigh of relief when you clip that coat! And, a Shih Tzu/Bichon’s coat is not nearly as thick as some dogs.
That being said, a colleague (Thank you, Emily) pointed out something that I never knew about: There are some important physiological traits that Arctic breeds have that may make you pause before shaving. Huskies, Malamutes, Samoyeds and other northern breeds have incredibly dense, thick undercoats. This coat actually insulates them from heat. Remember, dogs sweat through their feet and cool off by panting. In addition, there are instances of owners shaving a Husky and the fur never grows back. No one exactly knows why. So with the Arctic breeds, I do not recommend shaving. Groomers use Furminators and de-shedding tools to thin out the fur rather than shave. Here is another tool that seems effective.
However, with many dog breeds, shearing and shaving can go a long way to keep them more comfortable.
Will shearing protect from sunburn?
Does keeping the coat on protect your dog from sunburn? It does to some degree, but remember the face and ears are the most likely areas for a pet (especially a white-faced pet) to get skin cancer. Shaving the body does not address this. I liken it to us humans wearing a full-length fur coat in summer as a sunblock. Uh … no.
I recommend a summer shear for many dog and cat breeds. A body shave of my Persian cat, UFO (pictured above), makes him visibly more comfortable and addresses all the mats he so carefully develops over the winter. If you are worried about sun exposure, leave a half-inch of coat.
It is important to remember that shearing will not replace protecting your dog or cat from the heat. Please do not allow your dog to remain in high heat for long periods of time without relief. Keep them hydrated and shaded, and monitor them for signs of heat exhaustion. NEVER LEAVE YOUR DOG ALONE IN A CAR (OR RV) without air conditioning, even with the windows open.
Larry, I think your point about a shear making ticks more visible is an excellent one. Ticks carry dangerous diseases for your pet and for you. A good flea/tick preventive and a thorough tick check after a walk will help keep your pet healthy.
Stay cool and safe!
Karel Carnohan, DVM
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