By Jonathan David
As pet professionals, at some point we’ve all heard or read that you should never shave double–coated breeds. We’ve heard about the nightmare scenario of ruined coats or creating a situation where the pet is actually worse off and hotter after shaving down their coat. But why is it so bad?
To answer this question, we first need to look at reasons why we would consider shaving the coat in the first place. The main reasons most pet groomers are asked to shave double–coated breeds is for relief from the heat, to release matted hair or simply for less shedding. Other common reasons to shave a double coat are for surgical procedures or to treat skin issues.
Let’s start with the issue of relief from the heat. Pet owners tend to liken their dogs to themselves so, naturally, as we would dress in light clothes or take off layers to cool down, they think our dogs need the same type of relief. Their heart is in the right place but they don’t quite get it. Because dogs do not sweat, they have a different system for regulating body temperature.
Double–coated breeds have two layers of hair; a dense and soft or wooly–textured, insulating undercoat and a longer, soft or harsh–textured outer guard hair. Each perform a different function in protecting the skin and regulating temperature. The undercoat provides insulation from the cold and heat and its density helps to protect the skin from minor injuries from bug bites, thorns and other natural outdoor hazards. The guard hairs provide a second layer that can reflect sunlight, repel water and protect the undercoat.
A dog’s undercoat grows in continuous cycles and will replenish rapidly while guard hairs are slower to grow back and are on a less frequent shed cycle, which is affected by the season and hours of sunlight. In the cooler months with shorter days of sunlight, the body’s response is to grow a more dense undercoat and as the days grow longer and warmer, the undercoat is triggered to release to provide more space between the guard hairs allowing for the skin to cool down. Once the undercoat is shed, the guard hairs continue to reflect the sunlight but the air is able to flow over the skin and the dog can more easily regulate their body temperature.
When we shave this coat, the undercoat grows back rapidly but the guard hairs do not, leaving the undercoat to take over as the main coat. This wooly and dense coat will trap heat and will not reflect the sunlight, thus making your pet warmer and raising their body temperature in the heat.
The proper option would be to use de–shedding products and undercoat rakes to remove all the dead undercoat that the dog is naturally trying to release to allow for the dog’s own body to regulate its temperature. By removing the dead undercoat and revealing the healthy, new coat growth, you would also solve the issue of the excessive shedding, leaving the pet with a thinner, cooler and shinier coat.
This leads us to situation number two: matted coats. When double–coated breeds go through a natural shed cycle and they release their undercoat, it can sometimes become trapped within the longer guard hairs. Without regular brushing, the undercoat can become packed and pelted and, in severe cases, can go beyond what would be considered safe and comfortable for brushing and de–matting.
I always advise using every method and product you can to safely remove the matting and leave the coat in its natural state; however, in these extreme cases, shaving may become necessary to relieve the situation. After shaving this type of coat, frequent bathing and brushing will assist the proper re–growth of the coat and you can safely return the coat to its original condition.
Surgical procedures and treating skin conditions can also be a reason a vet may choose to shave a double–coated breed. When a veterinarian performs a surgical procedure on your pet, they shave the area of the incision and the area where the IV is inserted. This is done to ensure a clean, hair–free area to be disinfected to avoid infection during and after the surgery.
I always advise to follow the vet’s advice when it comes to surgery and aftercare. Hair left around an incision site can harbor bacteria and dirt, and the hair itself can become incased in the scabbing at the incision site, causing complications during the healing and slowing the progress.
The same goes for treating certain skin infections. Sometimes a vet may decide to shave the area being treated to allow for application of topical medicines and proper cleaning. If a dog has to be shaved for surgery or for treating skin issues, once the area is healed and the vet approves bathing, frequent bathing and de–shedding of the area as the coat grows back will assist in returning it to its natural state.
A little understanding about the cycle of a hair follicle also helps to “shed” some light on the subject. Humans have one hair per hair follicle while dogs can have several hairs growing from the same follicle and they can be in different phases.
“Anagen” is the first phase of growth. This is the phase where the hair is produced and begins to grow out next to an existing hair. The second phase is called the “Catagen” phase. This is the intermittent period where the hair is healthy and exists in the hair follicle. “Telogen” is the final phase where the hair follicle is in a dormant phase, the existing hair is beginning to die and the new hair has not yet begun to grow.
De–shedding will remove hair that is in the Telogen phase, revealing the catagen and anagen phase hair, leaving the dog with the proper coat for protection and temperature regulation. Because the dog will have many hairs—some even in the same follicle, in different phases of growth—if you shave the coat, sometimes it will grow back quickly if you’re lucky enough to have a coat predominantly in the telogen phase. But if the majority of the coat is in the anagen phase, it may take much longer to see the coat cycle through to the final phase, leaving the pet’s coat looking dull and unhealthy for a long period.
Educating clients about proper coat care and warning them about possible issues with shaving these coats will save you and your clients a lot of distress down the road! ✂️