You've probably seen pictures of dogs 🐶 on the internet that usually have thick, luxurious coats shaved down to reveal the scrawny bodies underneath.
Most of the time, this is done in the spring or early summer to give the dog a way to keep cool despite an otherwise-heavy coat. They look a little silly🤪, but is the only side effect just to their dignity, or is it worse? The truth might surprise you.
Is shaving your dog's coat bad for them? While many might disagree, my answer to this question is yes it is.
In almost all situations, shaving your dog’s coat is a bad idea. While it may not be physically painful, it can potentially lead to a variety of issues.
In this post I discuss five powerful reasons why shaving your dog's 🐶 coat (for summer or otherwise) should be avoided.
As usual my blog is packed with research-backed 📚 knowledge. For pet parents looking for more dog care guides, I have sprinkled some additional great ones throughout the post.
First of all, it's worth addressing that dogs are not people. Sounds obvious, right? Well, that goes beyond the general body shape and lack of human speech.
People regulate their temperature through a variety of means, including adjusting climate control, changing clothing, and – above all – sweating.
When we're overheated, we sweat, and the evaporation cools us off.
Many people tend to erroneously think that a dog’s coat would make the dog hot in the hotter months, so it makes complete sense to strip them of it.
The truth of the matter is a dog’s coat keeps a dog both cool in hot weather and warm in cool weather. In actuality, a dog’s coat is more like an insulator, so removing it may cause more harm than good.
Do Dogs Sweat?
Technically yes, dogs do sweat. However, the role of sweating in dogs is different from its role in humans.
While there are different schools of thought regarding sweat glands in dogs, just like us, dogs do have sweat glands. And, while they may work similarly to human sweat glands, their role in thermoregulation is minimal to none.
The key point here is to understand how thermoregulation works in dogs. Or, in simple terms, understanding how dogs stay cool. Spoiler alert, it’s not through sweating.
Yes, they do. Dogs sweat through a type of sweat gland known as Merocrine glands. These glands are located around those precious toe beans, no pun intended.
However, unlike what you may think about a dog’s sweating mechanism, sweating through paws does not keep them cool.
In fact, dogs may sweat through their paws in response to anxiety or stress. Clearly, this reaction has nothing to do with being hot.
Dogs also sweat throughout their bodies. This second type of sweating is done through glands called Apocrine glands. Some veterinarians consider Apocrine glands as sweat glands.
Apocrine glands, which are located all over a dog’s body, have a different sweating function: to release pheromones. Again, this function is not related to body temperature. These glands play no role in body thermoregulation or in keeping a dog cool.
How do Dogs Keep Cool?
Dogs have a two-part thermoregulation system of panting and vasodilation.
First, when they're hot, the blood vessels in their head and especially around their mouths and tongues open up. This vastly increases the amount of blood that circulates through those areas. This is important because your dog then pants quickly.
“Dogs often start to pant when they get even slightly warm. Short-faced dogs with small snouts have an even more difficult time cooling off when the weather is warm. When the outside temperature is the same or higher than a dog’s normal body temperature of 102º F, panting will not sufficiently cool your dog, so you will need to find a way for your dog to cool down.” - ACC | Animal Care Clinic
While your dog could be overheated, shaving their coat doesn't help them cool off because they don't have sweat to evaporate.
Also, very important to note here is that while panting can be a normal behavior for a dog trying to stay cool, it can also indicate an underlying medical issue.
Panting causes in dogs can range from very innocuous ones to more serious causes including fear or anxiety, pain, fever, medications, overheating or heat stroke, exhaustive exercise, and Cushing’s Disease (Hyperadrenocorticism) among others.
So, if you have a feeling that your dog is panting excessively or abnormally, you should get in touch with your vet.
Summer is a time of outdoor activities, enjoying the weather, catching some rays, and having fun, right?
Well, what happens if you spend too much time in the sun? You get a sunburn! Most people with lighter skin are prone to sunburn, and the lighter the skin, the more sunburn can happen.
Let’s be honest this isn’t only limited to the summer; the sun can damage your skin anytime of year and enjoying those beautiful spring or fall days is no different.
Just like you can get burned by the sun, the same can happen to your pup. Most dogs with thicker coats – the ones you would worry about the most and want to shave – have very pale skin under that coat.
If you shave their coat, they no longer have a protective barrier against the sun.
In the worst cases, this can even increase their risk of skin cancer. Skin cancers are caused by, among other things, sun exposure due to the ultraviolet radiation coming from the sun.
The short answer is, yes it might. Sunscreen does have the potential to hurt your dog.
So if you have to shave your pup due to your vet’s recommendation, it’s best to save those long play sessions for morning or evening.
“…instead of using sunscreen, you should be mindful and limit their time in the bright sunshine during peak hours. Limiting your pet’s time in the hot summer sun also prevents overheating and dehydration.” - ASPCA.org
If you do choose to go the route of applying sunblock to your pup keep in mind two things. For starters, you should never apply human sunblock on your pup. The ingredients found in human sunscreen make it dangerous to use on your pets.
And second, beware of the art of deception in dog sunscreen product labeling. Many unscrupulous manufacturers will label their dog sunscreens as “dog safe,, “environmentally friendly,” “pet friendly,” “vet approved,” etc.
None of these labeling tricks should ever be taken as a proxy for safe.
In general, the biggest problem with sunscreens is the presence of two dog toxic ingredients: salicylates and zinc oxide.
“With repeated exposure to zinc oxide on the skin, pets can develop zinc toxicity, which can damage the red blood cells. Salicylates are products in the same category as aspirin, and when applied to the skin, your pet may develop mild skin redness and irritation.” - ASPCA.org
If for medical reasons (more on this below) you had to fully shave your dog, the best advice I can give pet parents when it comes to keeping your fur-naked dog safe from the sun is to talk to your veterinarian to discuss what products, if any, your dog can safely use.
The second-best advice, as discussed above, is to make sure you limit your dog’s sun exposure to early mornings or late afternoons.
Your dog's coat is more than just a barrier against the sun. It's a barrier to the elements in general.
Every little stick that has a sharp bit on it, every bit of dirt or stone that can irritate them, every bug that wants to take a sip of doggy blood; the fur protects them against most of these, so if you shave them down, they may end up covered in scrapes, scratches, dirt, and bug bites.
They can also end up with razor burn, doggy acne, or skin infections because of exposure to environmental contaminants.
Moreover, when their fur starts growing back in, they can end up with ingrown hairs. If you've ever had one, they're terrible; a hair that grows all curled up under the skin, causing pain, irritation, and sometimes infection, is something no one, dog or human, should have to deal with if they can avoid it.
4: Shaving Can Potentially Ruin Their Coat
Some dogs can be shaved just fine, and their hair will grow back, pretty much just the same as when we people shave our body or head hair.
Other dogs have a lot more trouble with it. In particular, dogs with double coats (like Huskies, Aussies, Samoyeds, Collies, Newfies, and Bernese Mountain dogs) can have a long, difficult road ahead of them.
Double coats have two sets of hairs that grow to different lengths and at different rates.
The undercoat supports a bit of space under the fur for air circulation, which serves as insulation against both hot and cold (it's how cold-loving dogs can stay warm!).
The outer coat is longer and lays down to protect the undercoat and skin from the elements. Both coats need to be the appropriate length to work, which is why they stop growing when they reach that length.
If you shave off this complex coat, the hairs that grow back won't grow back at the same rate, your dog's hair can end up tangled, and you don't leave enough space for insulating air. It can take a long time for their coat to grow back properly if it ever does.
5: Shaving May Leave Them Vulnerable to Cold Later
Dog coats, in general, grow pretty slowly.
You might shave your dog to help keep them cool in the summer, but what happens if winter rolls around, and their coat isn't back yet?
That coat protects them from the cold, and they can get ice burns or frostbite without it.
There's nothing wrong with putting your dog in a cute little sweater (even if they might look at you with sad eyes when you do it), but you can do that without shaving them first.
In fact, dogs with thin coats or "hairless" dogs may even need the added sweater in cold weather.
I actually just picked up a sweater for my niece Luna. She gets cold, so she’s loving her new sweater. Isn’t she adorable?!
Is There Ever a Good Reason to Shave a Dog's Coat?
Well, yes. Sometimes, shaving a coat is unavoidable. However, this is best limited to times of extreme need.
The three biggest reasons I can think of are:
Surgery. If your fur baby needs surgery, the surgical site needs to be clear of obstructions, both for ease of access and for sanitary reasons. However, this usually only shaves the affected area and not the whole coat. Other medical problems, like hot spots, may also necessitate shaving the affected area.
Extreme matting. Dogs that have been neglected, or got lost and survived on their own without care, may end up with extremely matted, tangled, and dirty fur. In some cases, this is basically unrecoverable, and the best option is to shave it off.
Your dog is elderly and can't really keep him/herself clean anymore without assistance. Since grooming is a constant process, it may be easier to shave their coat rather than let it get matted and dirty and cause skin infections. This will typically be a sanitary cut, though if your pup has long hair and painful arthritis makes them not tolerate brushing, shaving might be your best bet.
Does This Apply to Every Dog?
Truthfully, the advice above is not universal.
Dogs of different breeds have different kinds of coats, and different coats can be treated differently because they grow in different ways.
In brief, here's a rundown.
Hairless. Hairless dogs still have very fine coats, but they don't need trimming because they don't really grow out. There's not really much to shave on these breeds, so you can ignore the question entirely.
Short-coat. Short-coat dogs have thin fur in a single layer, so they also don't need shaving in the summer.
Wire coat. Wire coat dogs have wiry hair that is thick and coarse, and they don't shed all that much. Shaving is a bad idea, but you may need to brush or use special grooming techniques on them.
Long-coat. Dogs with long single coats have hair that just keeps growing. Shaving them is generally a bad idea for the reasons listed above, but trimming is usually a regular part of grooming.
Double-coat. Double-coat dogs have a very complex system of hairs that work together, and if you disrupt it by shaving, you can do a lot of damage to their skin and their thermoregulation. Brush and groom normally, but don't shave.
Curly-coat. Curly-haired dogs like poodles are usually considered a type of short coat, and while they require regular grooming, they should never be shaved if you can avoid it.
In general, it's just never a good idea to shave your fur baby unless extenuating circumstances apply.
Your dog evolved to have fur that works in a particular way with their body, and if you mess with that balance, you can cause all kinds of problems.
What Should You Do Instead of Shaving Your Fur Baby?
So, if shaving your dog's coat is ruled out for the spring and summer, but you know it's gonna be another scorcher, what can you do to help keep your doggo cool?
First, remember to brush your pup regularly. Many dogs will shed seasonally adjusting their coat naturally for the change in temperature. Giving a good regular brush will help remove that excess fur.
Next, always keep plenty of water on hand. It doesn't need to be – and shouldn't be – cold water. Room-temp water is fine. Hydration is important for people and dogs in equal measure, so make sure you both have plenty of water all summer long.
For an infusion of cold, frozen treats like ice cubes, frozen fruit, or other cold treats can also help cool them down. Just make sure it's not too cold or too hard, such that it might risk hurting their mouth or teeth.
If you're out and about in the heat, make sure to take breaks frequently. Find a shady spot or a climate-controlled room you can drop into for a respite from the heat.
If you don't have climate control and your house is pretty hot, you might want to lift up your dog's bed, so it's not sitting directly on the floor.
Even just an inch or so gives enough circulation under it to help keep it cool; otherwise, their body heat builds up in the bed, and they may not want to sleep on it.
When taking your fur baby for walks, avoid the hottest times of the day. Take walks earlier in the day and later in the evening, so they aren't dealing with the hottest of the hot times. This is better for you, too, of course.
You'll also want to learn the signs of heat stroke in dogs and make sure to recognize it if it starts to happen. Overheating can be dangerous, and you'll want to rush your fur baby to the vet if they get too hot for too long.
Don’t hesitate to talk to your groomer about giving your pup a summer cut (i.e., trim), this can help remove some of the bulk from their coat, but still leaves them with a nice layer of protection that their fur naturally provides.
I've mentioned it obliquely, but it's important to say it right out: shaving your dog won't actually help keep them cool.
In the best case, it leaves them largely unaffected, and you just have to deal with the above five issues. In the worst case, the lack of a protective and insulating layer makes them even more overheated.
Since dogs don't sweat from their skin, exposing more skin to the elements doesn't help them keep cool. Likewise, since the fur coat often keeps air as an insulating buffer between the outside world and their skin, removing that barrier makes them even warmer.
It's sort of like how double-pane windows are better at keeping your house at the right temperature than single-pane windows. Double-pane windows have an air gap between the panes, which slows down temperature transfer, both in cold and hot weather.
Your pup’s coat performs the same function. Removing their coat takes away that pocket of air that helps insulate their body.
What have you done to keep your doggo cool in the hotter months? Do you have any pro tips or top strategies you use? Let me know all about it in the comments! I'd love to hear each and every one of your thoughts and stories!
K Marie Alto
K. Marie is an animal lover, wife, kitty mom, dog auntie, writer (https://www.amazon.com/author/kmariealto), and co-founder of Toe Beans, a proud American family-owned online boutique pet supplies store focused on the improvement of the life of furry family members via pet parent education, better products, and advocacy. She has over 20 years of experience as a pet momma. She loves sharing her personal journey and experience as a pet parent via her blog and Facebook page where she currently has more than 45K followers (@furrytoebeans) and counting :-).