Why Shaving Your Pet Could Be a Big Mistake

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

does shaving a cat help with heat

Story at-a-glance -

  • Most cats and many dogs shouldn’t have their coats shaved, even during the heat of summer
  • It may seem counterintuitive, but your pet’s coat actually provides heat relief in warm weather
  • Many long-haired cats can require regular brushing to prevent mats that ultimately lead to a “buzzcut”
  • As a general rule dogs shouldn’t be shaved, either; however, there are exceptions, such as dogs with chronic hot spots
  • Some dogs actually really like a very short coat; in this case, consider a “puppy cut”

Now that summer has arrived, many pet parents are looking at their fur-covered charges and wondering if they should shave their dog's (or less often, their cat's) coat to help them stay cool. Interestingly, this is a topic that tends to generate strong opinions on both sides of the argument.

Many breed-specific organizations and the ASPCA recommend against shaving. Here's the ASPCA's position:

"While you or I would hate to sport multiple layers in 100-degree weather, your pets' fur coats are actually providing them with heat relief. Acting like insulation, a dog's coat keeps him from getting too cold in the winter, but also keeps him from overheating in the summer.

Our pets' coats have several layers that are essential to their comfort in the heat. Robbing your dog or cat of this natural cooling system can lead to discomfort, overheating and other serious dangers like sunburn or skin cancer."1

Why Cats Really Shouldn't Be Shaved

I'm never in favor of shaving a cat's fur unless there's a medical reason to do so, or in the very rare circumstance in which the coat has become hopelessly matted. Regardless of whether a kitty lives entirely indoors, is an indoor-outdoor cat, or lives outdoors full time, she needs her coat. It's also important to realize that it's extremely stressful for most cats to be shaved, so unless there's a medical reason for it I don't recommend it.

Caring for Your Cat's Coat

If you have a long-haired cat, it's important to spend some time helping him with grooming chores. His coat may only need some TLC once a month — or you may need to tend to it daily to keep him looking and feeling good. Fortunately, many kitties really enjoy being brushed or combed, and many who are initially hesitant can learn to enjoy the process as well. As long as you don't make grooming a painful or stressful event, your kitty can grow to love the process.

Some cats, and long-haired cats in particular, occasionally need baths. A greasy or sticky coat is one reason a bath may be required. When an overweight kitty can't properly groom the back half of his body, baths are often necessary for sanitary purposes and to keep the skin healthy and free of infection.

I always recommend that new kitten owners introduce their pet to bathing while they're very young. Once a cat reaches adulthood without ever putting a paw in a sink or tub of water, bath time becomes a much trickier proposition. If you'd like some tips, check out By Popular Demand: How to Bathe a Cat and Live to Tell About It.

I don't recommend professional grooming for cats unless it's absolutely necessary. When you consider how stressed most kitties are just riding in the car, during veterinary visits, and getting a bath at home, it's easy to imagine how traumatic it could be if your cat suddenly found herself in a cage in a noisy, strange location that didn't smell friendly, where she is subjected to immersion in water, followed by a blow dry and brush-out by a complete stranger.

I don't think there's a feline alive who would not hate the experience! However, if you find yourself in a situation where your long-haired kitty is in dire need of a makeover and you just can't manage it on your own, try to find a mobile or in-home groomer who is very experienced with cats.

The biggest advantage to having a groomer come to you is that kitty won't be exposed to the sights, sounds and smells of other animals during what will be a stressful event. It also saves you from having to drive her anywhere.

The next best thing would be a grooming shop close to home with experienced cat groomers and cat-only hours or days of the week. Just as some veterinary clinics have evolved to be feline-friendly, some grooming shops have as well.

You might also want to visit the website of the National Cat Groomers Institute (NCGI), which offers training and certification to groomers interested in improving their cat grooming skills. You can check the map to find NCGI-trained cat groomers in your area or you may even be able to find a holistic pet groomer nearby.

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Why Most Dogs Shouldn't Be Shaved

Generally speaking, 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 hot spots 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, and the same is true for hair that grows between a dog's footpads, if it grows to be excessively long.)

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.

Dogs Who Prefer Short Coats and Other Considerations

Groomers, animal welfare advocates, veterinarians, and many pet guardians have seen two very different scenarios play out after a dog has been shaved. The first involves dogs who have been shaved for a good reason, for example, a raging skin infection, who react badly to having all their 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 who enjoys having his coat removed. After being shaved, these dogs behave as though they've been released from 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 like "puppy cuts" for these dogs, which involves removing the long, annoying hair, but stops well short of a full buzz cut.

If your dog lives indoors in air conditioning, it doesn't really matter if she's shaved, so if she likes being shaved, that's great. Dogs should never be outside long enough to overheat or become sunburned, so it's crucially important to manage the time of day your pet goes out, her level of physical exertion, and how much direct sunlight she's exposed to.

If your dog spends a lot of time outdoors, especially unsupervised, you should leave her coat at its normal length. If you provide a cooling pool, plenty of shade, a fan if you can arrange it, a constant supply of clean fresh water, and you keep her brushed and bathed, it will go a long way to help your canine companion stay cool and comfortable in warm weather.

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