Shear Madness — Summer Grooming and Sun Safety for Dogs
By David F. Kramer
Summer is finally here. Time for swimming, vacations, barbecues, day trips, and, perhaps best of all, lazy days spent in the sun doing practically nothing but turning over every hour or so to keep your tan even.
For pet parents, it’s even more fun with your pets in tow. While you’re picking out your summer wardrobe, it’s also the time to be thinking about how your dog will face the hot summer months in his or her outer-wear; fur-wise, that is.
Dog breeds all have varying amounts of fur, from the heavily coated Malamute to the lighter coated Chihuahua. But if your dog falls on the fuzzy side of the spectrum, you might be thinking that a good close shave from a groomer is the best way for your pooch to weather the upcoming months of heat and sun.
The Benefits of a Short Cut
So is it a good idea to keep your dog’s coat close and tight for the summer?
Mari Rozanski, of Plush Pups Boutique and Grooming in Huntingdon Valley, PA, has been a professional pet groomer for more than 25 years. According to her, when it comes to summer pet styles, the field is wide open.
“I have customers who spend a lot of time outdoors—gardening, the beach, etc.—and their dogs join in on the fun. In these cases, a shorter than usual cut would be good, mostly because the owner will be able to better maintain a shorter cut, and it will be easier to keep the dog clean and to check for fleas and ticks.”
A good rule of thumb is to consider how you and your pet will be spending your summer. For those pet owners who own or have access to a pool on a regular basis, a shorter “do” may be the way to go—but for more reasons than just staying cool and comfortable.
“For dogs who spend time poolside (lucky dogs), a shorter cut is good,” says Rozanski. “Pool water and chemicals can wreak havoc on a dog’s coat, making it easier to mat, and if the coat doesn’t dry completely, it can be smelly. Pool chemicals should be rinsed from the dog’s coat as they can be harmful to the skin.” So, it’s always a good idea to dry your dog off, whether he or she is actively swimming or just lying by the side of the pool where it might be damp from people splashing or getting in and out of the water.
The Risks of Sun on Your Dog’s Skin and Nose – Sunscreens for Dogs
It’s also important to consider the dangers of sun exposure, as this can be as much a risk to your dog as to you. Dogs are susceptible to sunburn, especially in the groin area where hair is sparsest. Dr. Jennifer Coates, veterinary advisor for petMD, warns that “dogs who have very thin coats or who have been recently shaved are also at higher than average risk of sunburn, and extended sun exposure can even cause skin tumors and other health issues.”
“Precautions need to be taken for dogs spending time in the sun. Shade should be provided, and if the coat is so short that the owner can see the skin, a sunscreen [made] especially for dogs should be used, or a doggy T-shirt to prevent burning,” says Rozanski.
If you do use pet clothing to protect your dog in the sun, be sure the clothing is light colored, ideally white, since dark colors absorb the heat rather than reflect it as light colors do.
While sunscreen is as important for dogs as it is for people, it’s crucial that you choose your dog’s sun protection very carefully. Many sunscreens contain zinc oxide, and while this substance can be useful in human sunscreen, it can be toxic to dogs when ingested and there is a risk that your dog could lick it off his coat and skin. Coates says, “the symptoms of zinc oxide poisoning include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, a yellowing of the eyes, mouth and throat irritation, and a potentially life-threatening anemia. Should your dog exhibit any of these symptoms, consult your veterinarian.”
However, effective sunscreens for dogs are widely available at pet supply stores or online. Rozanski recommends brands such as EpiPet Sun Protector and Doggles to keep your dog safe in the sun. For dogs that develop crusty noses in the summer, she also recommends “Snout Soother” from the Natural Dog Company. But Coates cautions that skin conditions like discoid lupus erythematosus can worsen with sun exposure, so if over the counter remedies don’t improve your dog’s skin you should always see your veterinarian.
Why You Should not Wait for Summer to Get Your Dog’s Hair Cut
Deciding to get your dog closely cropped for the summer can go a long way towards keeping him comfortable during the hot months and reducing the time and effort it takes to keep his skin and coat in good condition. However, proper grooming should be a year-round practice.
“There are owners who only bring their dog to the groomer when summer arrives, and in some cases, the coat has been neglected and must be shaved because it is filthy and matted. I call this cut a ‘smoothie,’” says Rozanski.
“Usually, this is what the owner wants anyway to get them through another year (sad but true). You don’t know what skin problems lie beneath this neglected coat, so great care must be taken by the groomer. A 7F blade (1/8” cut), or a 10 blade (1/16” cut) are usually necessary in these cases, followed by a soothing bath, such as an oatmeal or aloe based formula for dogs.”
Keeping your pet well-groomed year round prevents the need for these super short cuts once summer arrives and will promote good skin health regardless of the weather outside.
Which Summer Cut Should You Choose for Your Dog?
“There are many alternatives to shortening the coat that are not as extreme as a smoothie. A puppy cut, panda cut, or teddy bear cut are commonly requested by the owner,” says Rozanski. “These cuts vary in cutting lengths from ¼” to 2-1/4” (or longer if scissor cut). The owner would discuss the desired length with the groomer.”
“Some customers want the body really short, but if the head and tail are left fuller, that adorable face pops out and that wagging tail pleases the owner. It used to be that the poodle had the largest selection of cuts (Miami or summer cut, Dutch, Royal Dutch, etc.), but now all breeds can share in the fun,” says Rozanski.
“There is a relatively new style of grooming, which has no rules as far as breed standards. This is called Asian Freestyle, and this style makes the dogs look like stuffed toys. Groomers everywhere are attending seminars to learn this style, as it is perfect for many of the smaller breeds such as the toy poodle, maltese, Yorkshire terrier, miniature schnauzer, and others.”
Can You Cut Your Dog’s Hair at Home?
When it comes to keeping their dogs closely cropped for the summer, many pet owners might be tempted to save some money and attempt to groom their dogs at home. Rozanski doesn’t recommend doing so.
“Now that I am a groomer, I cringe at the thought of do-it-yourself home grooming. I realize some people enjoy this time with their pet, and if they have the patience and the right equipment it could go alright. Most electric pet trimmers come with a #10 blade (1/16”) and the blades are very sharp and do heat up,” says Rozanski. “So, cuts and clipper burns are possible. Dogs don’t always stand still for grooming, and a scissor in the eye, or cutting an ear tip off can all possibly happen. I recommend leaving the grooming to a professional, or you just may end up at the veterinarian with an injured pet.”
When it comes to grooming your dog for the summer, it’s best to consider comfort, style, and your level of activity with your pet, as well as taking precautions to prevent ill effects from sun exposure, heat exhaustion, or just the indignity of a bad do-it-yourself haircut.
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