Most grooming experts advise against shaving dogs, but in some cases, shaving may be the best option for some older dogs’ health and happiness.
Shaving is Discouraged
Most veterinarians and organizations like the American Kennel Club warn that double-coated dogs (that is, dogs with an insulating undercoat) should never be shaved, stating that shaving can cause overheating, discomfort, sunburn, clipper injuries, skin problems, follicle damage, and a ragged, patchy, unkempt coat that cannot be appropriately groomed.
Instead of shaving, grooming experts recommend regular brushing to improve air circulation in hot weather plus frequent baths to help keep dogs cool.
An Exception to the Rule
However, when older dogs struggle with summer heat, shaving may be just what the doctor ordered.
“I would not recommend shaving Labs and other double-coated breeds when they are young and their skin and shedding systems are working well,” says Lorrie Boldrick, DVM, owner of The Barefoot Veterinarian veterinary practice, in Orange, California. “I reserve this procedure for the old guys and gals.”
According to Dr. Boldrick, the aging process and hormonal changes prevent some dogs from shedding their undercoats. “If the undercoat remains in place in hot weather, the dog cooks,” she says. “The undercoat continues to do its job of insulating the dog, and it retains heat under the coat next to the dog’s skin.”
Dr. Boldrick learned about shaving when a client’s dog was 13 years old, lethargic, depressed, and suffering from unceasing pain and discomfort. Dr. Boldrick did a full checkup with blood tests, but the results were normal, ruling out an obvious condition that could be corrected with medication. Resigned, the owners scheduled an appointment for euthanasia.
Thankfully, the owners called to cancel before the appointment arrived. “They had taken their dog to a groomer and had him shaved very short,” Dr. Boldrick says. Within days, “he was a happy dog willingly doing all his normal old-dog routines and acting like himself again. He was shaved for two more summers and neither he nor his family minded the rude comments they received about his shave job.”
Another one of Dr. Boldrick’s senior patients who benefited from a summer shave was Dusty, a yellow Labrador Retriever living in Silverado, California, where summer temperatures often exceed 100º F. Dusty struggled with hot weather as she aged, says her owner, Chris Kakuuchi. “She would pant day and night,” says Kakuuchi. “Getting her wet helped, but it was temporary.”
Dusty received her first body clip at age 14 from Dr. Boldrick, and it made an immediate difference. “She was so happy!” exclaims Kakuuchi. “She slept better and for longer periods. As soon as her coat started to come in, the panting started again – and it stopped as soon as she got another body clip.” Dusty lived to be 16 and each trim left her more active and comfortable.
“Shaving isn’t appropriate for all double-coated dogs,” says Dr. Boldrick, “but it has transformed the lives of many older dogs and deserves consideration when heat and undercoats interfere with relaxed breathing and everyday activities.”