When it gets hot outside, we tend to pity our dogs for their furry body and the heat they have to suffer from. And we remember, that getting naked helps with heat, so why not “undressing” our dogs by giving them a summer shave-down?
Peter is from Marbella in the south of Spain, and we thought he should be able to deal with summer heat, but we were 100% wrong! When the temperature outside is higher than 20°C, he doesn’t want to have walkies in the sun but stay in the shadow and lay around. So last year, we had the discussion if we want to give him a fancy summer haircut to help him cool down. As always, I did an intense research on that topic and it turned out that I had NO idea what could happen if I would just have shaved my dog…
This is one of the topics I talk about in my TEDx talk. On 23rd November 2019 I had the honor to give the talk in Munich about how we tend to misunderstand our dogs, the consequences from that and how to make it better – for example with Animal-Centric Design.
Watch the video for the full story!
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Potential Consequences of Cutting the Dog’s Fur
It is important to know that giving dogs a summer shave down to help them cool off is a misconception: “In the case of man, the removal of clothing during hot weather increases the ability to lose heat by evaporation of moisture. The dog does not have this ability and therefore his insulation is a protection to him during hot weather. If the animal loses his insulation during very hot weather, by having his coat clipped for instance, he runs the risk of not being able to maintain his body temperature. His skin temperature loss probably is not only inefficient but, since he does not perspire, he will probably increase the temperature of his skin and his body temperature as well.” (Greenlee, 1971)
Basically, dog fur can be of two types: single coated or double coated. Single coated dogs do not have an under coat, whereas double coated dogs have a top coat and an under coat (Oldfield, 2013). If any dog fur is shaved down, exposure to the sun can lead to sunburns (Oldfield, 2013), as the dog’s skin is not protected from the sun anymore. This can even lead to atrophied capillaries and therefore necrotized hair roots (Csery, 2019).
The colloquial term “Coat Funk” summarizes various skin diseases including the post-clipping alopecia which result in hairless spots all over the canine body (epi-pet, no date). The post-clipping alopecia describes the lack of regrowth of the coat after a shave down or grooming resulting in hairless spots in the dog’s coat (Cerundolo, R., 2009; Rosenbaum, 2001). It is most common for Nordic plush-coated breeds but also happens to other double-coated dogs (Cerundolo, R., 2009; Rosenbaum, 2001). Additionally, the areas of alopecia can become permanently hyperpigmented (Gloud, 2014). Yet it is unknown how it is caused by a clipping in detail (Bird, 2015; Cerundolo, R., 2009).
Furthermore, shaving of a double-coated dog can lead to the loss of the fur’s water-repellent features (Oldfield, 2013). A soaked or wet coat can start smelling and can foster the growth of bacteria and fungi (Cain and Mauldin, 2015).
I asked the experts
During my researches, I found some excellent experts with a lot of experiences with Coat Funk. Here are two war stories:
Melissa Ripple is the owner of PAWS & EFFECT, LLC, a dog grooming saloon in Eustis, Florida. She graduated from the Florida Institute of Animal Arts School of Dog Grooming.
Vanessa Padron is a dog groomer and pet stylist in Oakland, California, and owner of the dog grooming saloon Atomic Canine. She graduated from the Nash Academy of Animal Arts in Kentucky.
What does that mean for us and our dogs?
I still haven’t got a clear “yes” or “no” as answer to the question “To clip or not to clip?”, it’s more a “it depends…”. As in most cases, it’s important to educate ourselves about the the specifics of our dog’s fur. I recommend this post about dog fur I recently found: The Educated Groomer
For many dogs, carding with a special brush might be the better measure to reduce both heat for them and dog hair in the house. Having your dog’s fur shaved doesn’t necessarily cause clipper alopecia, but please have in mind that there is a chance that it happens! We decided to not get Peter a summer haircut, but keep him in cool environments during the heat months, as we didn’t want to take the risk to harm him.
References & Further Readings
Bird, B. (2015) To Clip or Not to Clip.
Cain, C.L., Mauldin, E.A. (2015) Clinical and histopathologic features of dorsally located furunculosis in dogs following water immersion or exposure to grooming products: 22 cases (2005–2013), Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 246-5, pp. 522-529, DOI: 10.2460/javma.246.5.522.
Cerundolo, R. (2009) Canine Postclipping Alopecia in Mecklenburg, L., Linek, M. and Tobin, D.J. (eds.) Hair Loss Disorders in Domestic Animals, Imes. Iowa, Wiley-Blackwell.
Csery, B. (2019) Krankheitsbilder – Erkrankungen der Haut
epi-pet (no date) Shave Downs of Fur-Bearing Dogs Triggering Skin Disease and Law Suits
Gloud, S. (2014) Dog Groomer’s Manual: A Definitive Guide to the Science, Practice and Art of Dog Grooming, Wiltshire, United Kingdom, Crowood Press.
Greenlee, T. (1971) Temperature Adaptation in Northern Dogs
Oldfield, J. (2013) Shaving your dog’s coat – should you or shouldn’t you?
Rosenbaum, M. (2001) Focal, non-inflammatory alopecia: A diagnostic, treatment challenge
Harbourview Animal Hospital (no date) Post Clipping Alopecia
Means, C. (no date) Post-Grooming Furunculosis
Olliges, J.T. (no date) Was ist Carding?
Padron, V. (2011) Clipper Alopecia
Sanchez, N. (2017) Double Coated Dogs – To Shave or Not to Shave That is the Question
The Groomers Spotlight (2017) Post Clipping Alopecia (Coat Funk)