There are many debates on social media about whether or not to clip your dog’s fur in order to help them stay cool in hot weather. There’s even a picture of a dog taken with a thermal imaging camera that is used by both sides of the argument to prove a point. So, who is right – does clipping a dog make them cooler?
Your Dog’s Coat
Your dog’s coat – whether curly, long, short, or double – has many functions. The first function of this thick layer of body hair is to block in heat. Mammals, dogs included, use energy to keep warm. No matter the outside temperature, your dog’s temperature will try to stay the same – around 38oC. Since this is almost always warmer than the air temperature, your dog will use energy from their food to heat themselves up. They have several methods of maintaining that high body temperature. The coat helps to do this because it traps air to insulate them – just like a quilted coat does for us. In fact, dogs that are cold can make their coat bigger – tiny muscles straighten each hair in a process called ‘piloerection’ – the equivalent of getting goose-bumps!
Clipping your dog’s coat
So, if we know a coat’s primary function is for insulation, what does that mean for clipping your dog to keep them cool? When you clip a coat for it to be shorter, it traps less air, and is less insulating. Your dog will radiate more heat with less coat – and radiating heat is a great way to cool off. A little like you taking off that thick quilted coat when the sun starts to shine.
Why do people think that clipping a dog’s coat will keep them cooler?
There seem to be three main arguments for keeping a thick coat on your dog. One is that it’s natural, and evolution has given them that coat to cope with the elements. This is partially true, but you have to remember that these dogs were bred for colder climates than most of the world lives in. That thick coat would be a huge benefit if the outside air temperature is -20oC – it will trap the layer of air near the body to insulate it against the cold. But move your husky to California or South Africa and it’s a different story. In fact, if you look at the breeds that have developed in hot countries, they’re primarily short coated – or even hairless!
The second argument I’ve heard is that the coat protects them from sunburn. Whilst it is certainly true, it’s important to remember that short-coated breeds (like the chihuahua and dachshund) don’t get sunburned. Leaving some fur on your dog should protect them.
The third common argument is that dogs don’t sweat, so the coat doesn’t change their heat regulation. This is a tough one to understand; it’s likely that people are trying to say that because they don’t sweat, dogs don’t lose heat through their skin. This is not true – dogs will lose heat by convection and radiation by virtue of being warmer than their surrounding ambient temperature. Some people also say dogs need their coat to insulate them from the warm air on hot days. This would only be true if the air temperature was hotter than the dog’s body temperature – which at 38oC is pretty unlikely on most days and in most places.
If I clip my dog will I ruin their coat?
Some people worry that their dog’s double coat will grow back patchy. It’s true that a double coat takes a lot of work to grow. In fact, it can take a couple of years to go back to how it was, which is a big worry to some people. Most dogs will grow back quicker than this. There is also a fairly rare condition called post-clipping alopecia that could mean your dog’s hair never grows back. But what’s more important – your dog’s health or how they look?
If the hair coat is that important to you, you could consider shaving your dog’s underside. This allows them to lose heat by conduction when they lie on a cool surface like the soil.
So, what does the dog thermal imaging picture show?
Thermal imaging looks at the temperature radiating from the object. It gives an indication of surface temperature by assigning a blue colour to surface temperatures that are cooler. An orange colour to temperatures that are warmer. In the picture, the dog has a blue head and an orange body- this means that the surface of the fur is cooler than the skin. But if you inserted a temperature probe under the fur, you’d find the temperature of the skin under the fur is actually hotter.
This is because the dog is losing more heat on the shaved portion of his body than he is on the haired portion. What you’re seeing in that image is the fur keeping the dog’s body heat in; just as a human wearing a coat will have a dark body and a shining face on thermal imaging, the same is true of the dog. And you wouldn’t wear a coat out in this heat, would you?
The Verdict: Will clipping my dog’s coat keep them cooler in hot weather?
Yes! Your dog is a mammal, just like you are. If he’s got a thick double coat, it’s because he’s been bred in a cold country. And the people in those cold countries wear thick coats, too. But if you take the dog and the person and put them in Australia, chances are that the human is going to shed his coat pretty quickly. The dog can’t. But clipping him will make him feel much more comfortable!