Heat, Humidity and Long-Haired Breeds

Posted: Sep 16 2012

The following is a guest blog article by Jackie Roberts.

The "dog days of summer" is a misleading phrase, as dogs often enjoy the heat as little as their human counterparts. Though their base temperature is higher at about 102°; dogs cannot sweat the same way their owners can. Each breed (and each individual dog) has unique issues in the heat, but none perhaps quite as much as long-haired breeds. Heat is not a condition that can be cured with pet meds from your local veterinarian. There are so many variables that determine how to make the summer weather more bearable for a long-haired pooch, from overall health, fur color, grooming habits and humidity levels that a veterinarian might be able to actually give the best answer taking into consideration the local region and particular breed. What follows are a number of tactics to cool long-haired breeds during the summer months.

Dark colors absorb heat; light reflects. The same applies for dogs and the color of their coat, but they can't change their coat like their owners can change clothes. A long-haired breed with a dark coat would be more likely to benefit from a shave in warmer months. This is because they are more likely to stay cool from heat loss when air passes over their skin, which doesn't happen when skin is insulated under layers of fur. To shave a dog of a lighter shade, on the other hand, risks a greater chance of sunburn. A sunburned puppy is not a happy puppy. If the decision is made to shave a lighter long-haired breed, don't forget about sunscreen. There are sunscreens made specifically for dogs, or if that isn't immediately available, scentless sunscreen made for children should work.

Veterinarians are conflicted about the benefit of long-haired breeds keeping their long hair in the summer. If a dog has longer fur in the summer, the consensus is that their fur needs to be well maintained and free of matting or tangles. That is really the only way that longer length would be of benefit to the animal. Long hair also hinders finding ticks, and does not keep a dog from getting bitten by mosquitos. If home is an especially wooded area, short hair might simply be a practical health choice. The perceived benefit of having longer hair in the summer months is that the layers of fur act as insulation against the heat, just like the insulation in a home. If a dog is panting consistently with long hair, though, the grooming situation should be reconsidered. 

If the local climate is consistently humid during summer months, the potential benefit of having a longer coat is diminished by the fact that dogs get rid of heat much less effectively in humidity. Dogs do have sweat glands in their feet, but that is only a secondary method of releasing heat. Panting is their main method of carrying heat away from the body, but when the air is already humid, the evaporation of heat is greatly decreased because the air already has such a great amount of moisture. In this case, a dog is already hotter than they should be, and measures should be taken to cool a dog in any way possible, whether that means shaving their fur or keeping them inside all summer. 

Other Cool Tactics
If a pooch needs to keep long hair (for example, if they're a show dog) or the potential benefit of short hair is outweighed by other factors, there are other ways to keep cool. Remember that a dog reacts to the heat the same way that their owner does. If a person needs water, shade or rest, Fido probably does as well. Dogs are often less aware of the threshold between "hot" and "heatstroke," and will often push beyond what they should if their owner does not stop physical activity. Be especially sensitive in summer to a dog's hydration levels, as panting can also dehydrate. Some other tips for keeping a dog cool in the summer (no matter the length of their hair) include:
  • Exercise at dusk or dawn in areas with access to shade and running water

  • Cool vests

  • Never leave the dog in a car

  • Always have cold water at the ready

  • Understand the signs of heat exhaustion, just in case
Whether or not an owner chooses to shave their long-haired dog or not is their choice, but the health and safety of the dog is the main concern. Enjoy summer with your four legged friends this year without exhausting them. Jackie is a writer for 1-800-PetMeds, and loves to help and support the pet community. You can find Pet Meds on Twitter or connect with Pet Meds on Facebook.


  • Posted by Roger J on September 17, 2012

    I live in San Diego and work at the V.A. Hospital in La Jolla and i get so upset when peole bring thier pets and leave them in the car with no water and they barely crack the window. We are constantly calling the police who inturn will attempt to get intouch with the owners and if not then they will contact Animal control. At times I wish I could put the owner in the same position that they leave the dogs.

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