Thursday, May 28, 2009

Shave Time!

This is the time of year when the hair starts flying! I've been shearing shedding dogs and matted dogs alike like sheep since the weather warmed up. Cats, too! Here are some insights about spring and summer shave-downs.

1. Non-shedding dogs with extensive matting, matted cats, and shedding dogs with packed undercoat are not the only pets who can benefit from a good, short clip. In fact, I highly recommend that shaves happen before pets get to that condition. If you have a high-maintenance pet and no time to maintain, or if you have a big shedder and you can't take it any more, a short haircut will help keep you and your pet much cleaner and more comfortable.

2. Many people clip dogs because it makes them "cooler." But a short shave does not necessarily help keep dogs cooler. Dogs with undercoat in particular often are more comfortable with their coat than without it. A properly kept coat will act as a good insulator against the heat. When the sun starts shining, the downy undercoat falls out, leaving a space between the guard hairs. The air in that space helps to buffer the animal against the heat and keep him comfortable. It's important that the undercoat is brushed regularly as it falls out so that it doesn't get tangled and caught and interfere with cooling.

3. Similarly, other types of coats can trap a layer of air if they are not taken too short. Non-shedding breeds like shih-tzus and bichons can benefit greatly from a "fluffier" clip. By leaving 1/4" - 1/2" of coat, we can mimic the summer coat of an undercoated breed and give them a little extra cooling power. However, if the dog is badly matted or lives a lifestyle that tends towards matting, shorter is always better! A matted coat is always hot and heavy and painful and should be removed ASAP.

4. Another complication sometimes seen in dogs shaved very short is sunburn! White dogs seem to be at greatest risk, but any dog is susceptible. They do not tan and are vulnerable for as long as their skin shows through their coat. Their backs are the most commonly affected. If your pet needs a very short shave, be sure to limit his sun exposure as much as possible. There are sunscreens made especially for dogs that can help. Also, a light t-shirt can help protect the dog from the sun. Sunburn in dog can result not only in painful burns, but scarring and permanent or semi-permanent hair loss in the affected area.

Because t-shirts and sunscreen are normally not good options for cats, and because cats are most safely clipped with a very short blade, it's always a good idea to keep shaved cats indoors until their coat has filled in enough to protect their skin from the sun.

5. While shaving is a great way to keep dogs clean and comfortable, keep in mind that some coats recover better than others. When a shedding coat is clipped short, it sometimes interferes with normal shedding. If the hairs don't fall out properly, sometimes new hair doesn't grow in to replace them. That can mean thin or short patches that don't grow as well as the rest of the coat, bald spots (particularly on the rump), or a coat that comes in with a much higher proportion of fuzzy undercoat (versus the more attractive topcoat). One way to counteract this is to spend time weekly either carding (pulling out undercoat by hand or with a special tool) or brushing with a rubber brush to encourage the short hairs to fall out as they normally would.

Shaving is a good option for a lot of pet owners for a number of reasons. Just remember, it's not appropriate for every pet and sometimes there are better ways to achieve your goals. Your groomer is a great source for advice regarding your best options for keeping your pet happy and healthy as the weather warms up.

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