To shave or not to shave?

Do you have a double coated dog?  Are you thinking of ways to minimize his/her shedding? Are you contemplating on whether shaving his/her coat down is the right thing to do?  This article will provide you with all the key information you need to know about the grooming needs of double coated dogs and how to prevent a condition called Post-Clipping Alopecia.

Understanding Coat Types

First, we need to understand the two general coat types that are groomed - single coat and double coat.  

A single coat means that there is only a single layer of coat that grows all over the body.  Breeds such as Shih Tzus, Poodles, Bichons, Malteses, and Yorkshire Terriers for example, are ones with a single coat and are considered groomable breeds that can be shaved, clipped and scissored appropriately.  

A double coat means there is a top coat made of harsh guard hairs and an under coat that is composed of soft and diluted hair.  Breeds such as American Eskimos, Pomeranians, German Shepherds, Siberian Huskies, and Samoyeds for example, are ones with double coats and are considered natural breeds.  These breeds will go through regular shedding cycles, especially in the spring time, where their thick undercoat will completely detach from their bodies, resulting in excessive shedding coat.  For some dogs, this shedding coat may get trapped under the top coat, especially when it has come into contact with water, causing the undercoat to become impacted and matted, preventing air from being able to circulate between the topcoat and the skin. 

When this happens, some dog owners might contemplate, "why not just shave down the coat to keep the dogs cool?" 

It is a common mistake by humans to assume that dogs regulate their body temperatures the same way we do.  Dogs pant, humans sweat. When dogs pant on a hot day, it does not mean that they need to have their entire hair coat removed. For humans, when we remove layers of clothing, it increases our ability to lose heat via evaporation of moisture.  However, dogs do not have this ability as their coats are insulation, protecting them during hot weather. When natural breeds are shaved or clipped down, their topcoat will be cut shorter than their undercoat, eliminating the animal's natural ability to use their topcoat to protect their skin from weather conditions (snow, rain, excessive heat from the sun, etc.) and from environmental hazards (flies, mosquitoes, fleas, burrs, parasites, dirt, sand, etc.). 


Post Clipping Alopecia

When natural breeds are shaved, a condition called Post Clipping Alopecia may occur.  This is a condition where hair growth is lacking after the coat has been clipped. It is a medical term coined by veterinarians to identify cases where animals were shaved (either for surgery or grooming) and had a significant delay in growing hair on various sites of the body.  Sometimes hair on natural breeds may not grow back appropriately until 1 to 3 years later or sometimes, hair may never grow back causing permanent failure of coat regrowth.  Once natural breeds have been shaved, their coats are permanently altered where they become more wooly, thick, fuzzy, diluted in colour, softer in texture, and are lacking in guard hairs.

Pomeranian suffering from Post-Clipping Alopecia that had occurred over 1 year ago.

Facts about shaving natural breeds

  • Shaving natural breeds DOES NOT reduce shedding - it only changes the length of the shedding coat.
  • Top coat of natural breeds WILL NOT grow back to its original condition where the hair was lush, rich, and moisture repellent after shaving.
  • Sometimes, the top coat of natural breeds MAY NEVER grow back, causing post clipping alopecia after shaving. 
  • Shaving natural breeds removes the insulation that dogs need to protect their skin and to regulate their body temperatures, putting the dogs at higher risk for sun-burns and heat stroke.
  • Shaving causes stress in some natural breeds, and may even send some into shock when their hair is being removed.

The Verdict?

All of this being said, there may be times where it becomes necessary to spot shave natural breeds.  In surgical or medical situations, a section of the coat must be shaved for veterinarians to have access to the skin underneath or if the undercoat has become so severely pelted that it can not be combed out.  If this is the route your pet needs to take, make sure your veterinarian is the one doing this.

Keep your natural breed dogs' hair well maintained by brushing them weekly so it prevents the coat from matting.  Doing so will eliminate any need for shaving which will help save your pet's skin and coat.  Let nature do what it's intended to for our pets so they can use their natural coats to keep themselves cool and protected from the sun in the summer and warm and dry in the winter.

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