It took long enough, but warm weather has finally settled in. Invariably, now that the mercury has risen, I will have an owner (or three or twenty) want to get their dog (or cat) shaved. This seems like common sense. Lots of fur- hot. Remove it- cool. Far be it from me to judge the “cool” fashion statement that shaving your pet might make, but when it comes to an actual temperature decrease, it does not actually work well.
Dogs and cats do not cool down the same way as humans. While we all cool down through evaporation, humans can sweat and evaporate over their entire body, whereas dogs and cats can only do so in their paw pads and through their lungs with panting. Also, dog and cat ears can have blood vessel expansion that allows heat to escape from the warm blood that passes near to the skin surface. Shaving fur has no effect on either of these heat exchanges.
Fur is designed to insulate by trapping air between it, keeping them warm in the winter. However, it also keeps heat from penetrating directly to their body in the summer. Without this fur, they are more susceptible to elevate temperatures- especially with direct sunlight exposure.
Besides heat reduction, fur also directly protects a pet’s skin from sunburn and decreases the risk of developing skin cancer. Other ways to help prevent skin cancer are to keep pets inside during the hottest and brightest times during the middle of the day. Also, using pet safe sunblock on sensitive, like the nose, tips of the ears, or any other hairless area.
Finally, shaving double-coated breeds (like most northern breeds of dogs like huskies, malamutes, etc.) can also result in improper fur regrowth. When this happens, the fur can become brittle, patchy, or rough feeling and these issues reduce the protective barrier the fur provides.
So instead of shaving, the best ways to keep your pet cool in the summer are to provide lots of fresh, cold water; make sure they always have shelter from the sun when outdoors, and avoid extended periods of time outside in hot weather. Remember, pets have a more difficult time managing their body temperature than humans. If it’s hot for you, it’s hotter for him.
Jason Rivas, DVM