To shave or not to shave Print E-mail
News - Rubrieke
Tuesday, 22 October 2019 13:12
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Dr Liesel van der Merwe is a small animal medicine specialist. Send her your questions: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Dr Liesel van der Merwe

In our modern world very little is actually in the correct place. We get fruit and vegetables out of season; we fly flowers and vegetables and meat and dog food in from other hemispheres. So, it is not strange that we keep, as pets, breeds totally unsuited to the South African climate.

Arctic breed dogs are bred to survive in cold weather. These breeds include Siberian Huskies, Malamutes, Chow Chows and Samoyeds. Spitz-type dogs and other breeds with thick, fluffy coats have double coats, as do several small-breed terriers that have a wiry soft top coat.

Herding breeds such as Australian Shepherds, Border Collies and Shetland sheepdogs are also double coated. Other examples of double-coated breeds include the Akita, ShibaInu, Bernese Mountain Dog, Great Pyrenees, Newfoundland, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, Miniature Schnauzer, Havanese and Pomeranian.

These breeds’ puppies have shorter, soft coats of only one layer of fur. The baby fur starts falling out from four to six months of age and this continues until 12 to 15 months when the adult coat grows in.

The adult coat of double-coated breeds has two hair layers to protect them against icy weather; the long guard hairs form the outer layer and protect against snow or ice and even shed water. The softer undercoat lies close to the skin and keeps them warm and dry. This layer is excellent at trapping air and insulating the dog.

In summer, your dog will shed his soft undercoat, leaving just the guard hairs. The job of the guard hairs in warm weather is to protect your dog from sunburn and insulate him against the heat. Without the undercoat, air can circulate through the guard hairs, cooling the skin. Basically the coat and the seasonal shedding keep your dog warm in winter and cool in summer.

What can you do to help your dog in the hot summer months? The answer is to take him to the groomer. I used to take our husky twice, a few weeks apart, in spring, just to get the majority of the undercoat out. Thereafter I managed the grooming myself. Just be careful about your choice of groomer and make sure they know you don’t want your dog shaved.

Get your dogs used to frequent brushing. As the undercoat sheds, brush it out before it gets matted.

Brushing should be a routine with a double-coated dog. If you only brush when the hair is already matted, you will cause aversion to grooming as pulling at the mats with a brush is painful.

The continued shedding and regular grooming force often busy owners to shave these dogs. They also think that the dogs will be better off with shorter coats in summer. This is not true.

Single coated breeds have hair that just keeps growing, whereas that of double-coated breeds grows to a certain length and doesn’t get any longer. So you can shave a single-coated breed down and the coat will grow back without really changing it, but that’s not true for double coats.

Shaving a double-coated breed can ruin the coat. The older the dog is, the less likely it is that the topcoat of guard hairs will grow back. If they do, they are often coarser than they used to be. This leaves them with the undercoat, giving them a patchy, scruffy look.

It can alter the coat for the rest of the dog’s life. Not only does it look bad, but you can end up having to shave the hair continuously from then on. The only reason a person might need to shave their double-coated dog is if the hair is so matted that it’s the only option.

After shaving a double-coated dog, the new hair starts to grow in quickly, but it’s the undercoat which grows first; the guard hairs are slower. This combination of soft undercoat growing with the guard hairs will actually make your dog hotter in summer, because the undercoat stops the air from getting to the skin and prevents the natural cooling process. The texture is also thicker and absorbs the sun’s heat.

Unlike humans, dogs do not cool themselves by sweating through the skin. At most, only the pads of their paws sweat. Their main mode of cooling comes from evaporation during panting.

In summer the dogs that vets see with heatstroke aren’t double-coated breeds, but those that exercised too much in the heat or flat-nosed breeds who cannot pant enough to keep cool, even when in the shade.

When you shave double-coated dogs, you may irreparably impair their ability to properly heat and cool themselves and protect their skin. The best way to keep them cool and comfortable is to regularly bathe and often brush the shed undercoat out. You chose the dog, so now do the work required.

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