A photo of shaved pets, such as a Husky, Labrador, or Pomeranian, maybe comical because their long coats can be styled into plush shapes, but few things provoke outrage among knowledgeable pet owners like the subject of shaving their pets.
The president of the California Professional Pet Groomers Association agrees that these stylish shaves can be cute and fun. However, she also cautions prospective pet owners that it’s best to avoid shaving dogs with “double coats.”
Labrador owners imagine their pets enjoying the freedom of the coat in the summer heat. Neither is true. The hairs that make up a Labrador’s coat are not the same as those of humans: their function is different, and the hair follicles do not develop properly.
This is a failure of pet owners to understand the science behind their pet’s coats. Shaving your Labrador’s coat can cause an irreversible change in the quality of its coat. It may also make them feel uncomfortable. Therefore, the only way to stop shedding is by frequent grooming. Now it’s time to bust some myths about shaving dogs.
The Science of Shaving: The Secret Life of Your Labrador’s Coat
The constant refrain from pet owners who choose to shave their dogs is that it’s okay: the hair grows back. Yes, the hair grows back, but the in-between time can irritate your pet. In addition, the quality of your dog’s coat changes irreversibly when a double skin is shaved.
Labradors are notorious for shaving, and many pet owners will passionately defend their right to shave their Labradors. However, the coat of any animal is an extension of its skin. It is an essential protective mechanism against external factors such as climate. Labradors do “shed” with the changing seasons, and even some off-season shedding is inevitable in healthy, moisturized coats.
Why Labradors shed
Your Labrador’s smooth, short coat may lead you to believe that Labradors are not a heavy-shedding breed. You’d be wrong.
Although Labradors shed year-round, their coats shed entirely twice a year. It’s hard to pinpoint a specific time, but it’s approximately around the summer and winter solstices: June 21 and December 21.
When Labradors molt, they change from a thick winter coat to a lighter undercoat designed to keep them cool in the heat. Conversely, their undercoat sheds again in the fall and before winter to make room for a warmer undercoat. During these times, a large amount of fine hair can appear along the clothing, coats, furniture, bedding, curtains, sofas, etc.
The design of the double coat
Like other double-coated dog breeds, Labradors have two layers of fur or hair. The primary top layer (called the top coat) is more fibrous and rough or abrasive to the touch. Underneath this second is the softer layer of fine hair that is very close to the skin. The undercoat is a fantastic cooling mechanism in the summer and insulation in the winter.
The undercoat is protection, and when Labradors are shaved, this vital protection is removed.
The skin or double coat also helps circulate vital oils through your Labrador’s skin. Each hair follicle is attached to a muscle called a hair erector, which raises and lowers the hair in an ingenious natural ventilation system.
When you shave a double coat, you run the risk of breaking the erector pili, which dulls your Labrador’s natural ability to cool and warm himself effectively. Worse, you risk retracting the follicle and exposing it while shaving. This is an excellent entry point for bacteria or fungus to get into the skin.
Five Fun Facts About Dog Coats
For breeds like the Labrador, a double coat is a good thing. Here are a few things that can help you appreciate how nature helped your pup evolve flawlessly:
Dogs’ coats are designed to catch air.
Dogs need undercoats to stay cool in the summer.
Shaving does not reduce shedding. The coat grows back, and the soft undercoat becomes rougher, curlier, and more uncomfortable for the dog.
Dogs are seven times more absorbent than humans, so if you shave their double coats, you risk exposing their skin to harmful toxins that affect them much more intensely and negatively.
Four reasons why shaving your Labrador is not a good idea.
1) The fur that grows back is never the same.
When the undercoat grows back, it is spiny, heavier, and coarser. Instead of the soft layer of fine hair that once covered your Labrador’s skin, this new, shorter coat can irritate him. Like many owners of similar double-coated breeds, your pet’s coat could be damaged.
2) Shaving disrupts his natural cooling system.
The primary or top layers protect the undercoat, while the undercoat insulates the skin. Through these hair follicles, air moves through the primary and secondary layers.
When both layers are shaved, the quality of the hair that grows back could be more effective at carrying air through this natural cooling system. You may notice that your pet’s breathing is heavier and more complex on walks because his natural cooling system is disrupted.
3) Your Labrador may be exposed to sunburn.
Coats insulate the Labrador from the cold. This is why many Labradors are avid swimmers – they don’t feel the water’s cold.
However, when a double coat is shaved, the dog’s skin is exposed to harmful UV rays because the hair shaft contains melanin. Melanin is essential to protect the skin from sunburn and the effects of UV rays. You effectively remove your dog’s natural protection when you shave your dog’s coat.
4) Shaving can increase allergies
The logic behind an owner’s decision to shave is linear: the coat is the source of shedding, and the skin contains dander. Increased hair loss in summer and winter can trigger allergies. An owner may conclude that shaving and “airing” the dog’s coat will eliminate dander-hiding places.
The opposite is true. While allergens inevitably become airborne during your Labrador’s natural shedding process, shaving his coat further exposes him to these irritants. This is because the undercoat traps pet dander, and shaving the coat allows these potential allergens to circulate freely.
You may consider shaving an “aid” to your home grooming routine. But your Labrador may not feel the same way. The only solution to hair loss is proper grooming.
Regular grooming and brushing your Labrador’s coat can be time-consuming, but it has several obvious benefits. It reduces the amount of hair your Labrador sheds at home. It also helps distribute the natural oils in his coat, making it shinier and healthier over time.