Summer arrives in a blaze of heat and sun, and most of us shed clothes until we're down to shorts or swimsuits. If less is more for us when temperatures spike, shouldn't it be good for our pets, too?
Though it may seem like a no-brainer to shave your dog or cat when summer comes, does it really keep pets cooler?
Generally, most experts recommend against shaving most pets, though there are exceptions. Veterinarians often advise against shaving cats and dogs for a simple reason: Your pet's hair isn't like yours.
Shaving Cats for Summer: Should You?
A pet's coat is designed by nature to keep it cool during the summer and warm in the winter. By shaving your pet you usually interfere with this built-in temperature regulation.
Cats, in particular, are very good at regulating body temperature and "really get no benefit from being shaved," says Mark J. Stickney, DVM, clinical associate professor and director of general surgery services at Texas A&M University's veterinary medical teaching hospital.
Because cats are "so much smaller relative to their exposed surface area, they're just better at getting rid of extra body heat," Stickney tells WebMD.
Cats are also almost always more mobile than dogs, so they can simply move to a shadier spot when temperatures rise.
Over the centuries, humans have bred some pets -- specifically dogs -- to have thicker coats than others, and these breeds can sometimes use a little help cooling off during summer's heat, says Jean Sonnenfield, DVM, a veterinarian with Georgia Veterinary Specialists in Atlanta.
If you have a dog with a very thick coat who seems to suffer from the heat, some veterinarians suggest shaving them when the mercury rises. Resist shaving shorter-haired breeds because not only do they get no benefit from it, but they also run the risk of sunburn once shaved, says Stickney.
Actually, any dog can suffer sunburn, so if you do shave your thick-coated dog, be sure to leave at least an inch of hair to protect your pet from the sun's rays.
You may also want to shave a dog that stays outside all the time, has a matted coat, and is likely to be wet often. In these circumstances, a dog can develop an unpleasant condition called myiasis -- maggots in the fur. If your dog is prone to hot spots, a summer shave may be helpful, but discuss this with your vet first.
If You Shave Your Pet
If you do plan on shaving your pooch for summer, groomers and vets offer these simple tips:
- Think about hiring a pro. Most of us have little experience grooming our dogs, and many pets can be skittish, raising the potential for painful accidents. It's a lot cheaper to take your pet to a groomer, Sonnenfield tells WebMD, than "to have to pay for a laceration repair."
- Keep clippers cool.All it takes is a few minutes of use for clipper blades to get hot enough to burn your dog. "Take frequent breaks to let those clippers cool down," Stickney says, "and use the lubricant that often comes with them" to help clippers stay cool.
- Leave an inch of hair. Leave at least one inch of hair when shaving your pet. This gives your pet enough coat to protect from sunburn and chilly summer nights.
- No close shaves. Resist the temptation to shave your dog close to the skin. Not only do you raise the risk of painful sunburn, but a close shave can leave guard hair imbedded under the skin. "New hair won't grow until these ends fall out, causing irregular growth and often skin problems," says Linda Easton, an international certified master groomer.
4 Tips to Keep Pets Cool in the Summer
The best thing you can do for your pets when summer comes is help them keep themselves cool. To do that:
- Never leave your pet in a parked car -- for any length of time. It gets very hot, very fast inside a parked vehicle, and that can be deadly. Just don't do it, even for a short time.
- Offer clean, cool water. Be sure cats and dogs always have plenty of water, says Sonnenfield. On really hot days, try putting ice cubes in your pet's water bowl. Some petsenjoy it.
- Shelter them from the sun. The prime way dogs cool themselves is through panting. "That works best if the air around them is cooler than their body temperature," Stickney says. So be sure your pooch (and kitty) have a shady place to get out of the sun.
- Keep pets inside when it's really hot. Your pet's normal body temperature can range between 100-103 F. When it's that hot or hotter outside, it can be hard for pets to keep cool through panting. So on really hot days, bring cats and dogs indoors.
- Brush your pet. Brushing your pet removes dead undercoat, helping air to circulate near the skin, keeping pets cooler. An additional benefit: "In summer months, pets can get bitten by insects and end up with moist dermatitis, a skin infection," Stickney says, but removing dead, matted hair by brushing helps skin stay drier. If you have the time and energy, brush daily.
If your pet does overheat, act fast. Get your pet to a veterinarian right away -- it could save your pet's life.
Signs that your pet may be overheated include problems breathing, excessive panting, drooling, weakness, stupor, and an elevated heart rate. Symptoms can also include seizures, vomiting, a temperature over 104 F, and bloody diarrhea.