By Dr. Becker
Whether it's a good idea to shave your pet's coat (usually it's a dog we're talking about, but some people also consider shaving their cats) seems to generate quite a bit of controversy among pet owners, groomers, and even veterinarians.
Many breed-specific organizations and the ASPCA recommend against shaving. The ASPCA gives three reasons for its position:
- Number one, your pet's coat is like the insulation in your home. Building insulation keeps the house from getting too cold in the winter, and too hot in the summer. A pet's coat does the same thing – it works not only to keep the animal warm in cold weather, but also to protect him from the effects of too much sun.
- Number two, an animal's coat protects against sunburn and skin cancer. Pets with thin coats, or white or light-colored coats are especially vulnerable to sun damage.
- Number three, according to the ASPCA, there are better alternatives to shaving, such as trimming and brushing your pet's coat, especially during warm weather.
Now, if you go to the ASPCA website and read their shaving article, you'll also find about two dozen pages of readers' comments for and against shaving! As I mentioned, it's a very controversial topic.
My View on the Question of 'To Shave or Not to Shave'
Cats. I'm never in favor of shaving a cat's fur unless there's a medical reason to do so. Whether a kitty lives indoors all the time or is an indoor-outdoor cat, she needs her coat.
It's also extremely stressful for most cats to be shaved, so unless there's a medical reason for it – for example the cat can no longer groom himself because he's matted (which can be painful), or he can't keep his privates clean -- I don't recommend routinely shaving him.
Dogs. In general, I think dogs also do best with their natural coat, as long as it's maintained in good condition. One exception would be dogs with recurrent hotspots or other dermatologic conditions. Some of these pets do better with shorter hair because their owners can manage their skin conditions more effectively.
Additionally, some dogs can't clean their private areas very well, so keeping the perianal hair trimmed away is more hygienic for these dogs. (For the record, I don't view regular trimming around a pet's private areas as being in the same category as a full body shave.)
In my opinion, double-coated breeds should never be shaved unless there's a medical reason to do so, as their undercoats act as an excellent insulator against the summer heat. It seems counterintuitive that an extra layer of fur would help a dog stay cooler, but it does. Air is a natural insulator, and air trapped between the hair follicles and hairs on your pet's body does a really efficient job of keeping body temperature in balance.
Consider Your Dog's Personality When Deciding Whether to Shave
Groomers, animal welfare workers, veterinarians like me, and many pet guardians have seen two very different scenarios play out after a dog has been shaved.
The first scenario involves a dog who has been shaved for a good reason -- for example, a raging skin infection -- who reacts badly to having all her hair removed. Collies, in particular, often behave as though someone has stripped away their superpowers. They become depressed, upset, and even sad.
The flip side of the coin is a dog that enjoys having his coat removed. After being shaved, these dogs behave as though they've been set free from some kind of hair bondage! They act happier and friskier. As the groomer wields her razor, the dog comes alive, which is a really interesting phenomenon! However, it's important to note that these dogs aren't happy because they're cooler. They simply prefer short hair just as many humans do.
I'm a fan of "puppy cuts" for these dogs, which involves removing the long, annoying hair, but stops well short of a full buzz cut.
How Much Time Your Dog Spends Outdoors Should Also Factor Into Any Shaving Decision
If your dog lives indoors in air conditioning, it doesn't really matter if she's shaved. If she likes being shaved, that's great. Dogs with responsible owners are never outside long enough to truly overheat, because their owners are right there, managing the time of day the dog goes out, her level of physical exertion, and how much direct sunlight she's exposed to.
If your dog lives inside and loves a short haircut or shave, I say honor her wishes! As long as you're a smart pet guardian, she won't get sunburned.
On the other hand, if your dog spends a lot of time outdoors – especially unsupervised – you should leave his coat at its normal length. Providing a cooling pool, plenty of shade, a fan if you can arrange it, and a constant supply of clean fresh water, and keeping him brushed and bathed regularly, is a very important part of helping your canine companion stay cool and comfortable in warm weather.