Dear Lisa: This summer's heat has been hard on my three Alaskan Malamutes. I give them avid brushing, a puppy pool along with ample water and shade. But their skin suffers from "hot spots" and I've been told shaving the dogs down is not good for them. Can you suggest something to keep them cool or correct misinformation perhaps? --Unpleasant in Upstate New York
Summer heat can be stifling for both hounds and humans! You own one of the double-coated Nordic breeds that may appear to suffer more in hot weather because of the massive amounts of coat. However, this is not the case. Most people think that by shaving off the coat they are doing the dog a favor.
The coat on a dog acts as insulation from both hot and cold air temperatures. The coat traps the air close to the body which is the same temperature as their body. When a dog is hot, it not only pants to regulate its body temperature (since dogs don't sweat through their skin like humans) but their coat traps the air closest to the skin and keeps it the same temperature as their ideal body temperature. Keeping their coats well groomed helps the coat do its job better. Matted, wet or shaved hair can't trap the body temperature air close to the skin to keep the dog comfortable in all climates.
And, if you shave a dog down to the skin you not only increase the risk of heatstroke but sunburn. Breeds that are normally clipped year-round can continue the practice but don't turn your fluffy into a smoothie anytime soon. And for those hairless breeds, don't forget the sunscreen!
Some other ideas your dog might enjoy is to replace the water in the puppy pool with ice, place a fan outside the kennel for them to lie in front of or give them a dirt area to dig down into the earth and create a cool den.
Hot spots are sometimes known as "summer sores" but are officially called Pyotraumatic Dermatitis. The skin gets some kind of irritant, like lying down on a rough surface, licking, matted hair, or trauma like a scrape and then moisture gets involved which allows bacteria to grown, causing an infection which produces inflammation and voila -- you have a hot spot. The area is usually warm to the touch from the inflammation.
Moisture abounds for your dog during summer with more swimming and other water-related cooling efforts. Your vet can treat hot spots with antibiotics both orally and topically for the infection as well as anti-inflammatory medications for swelling and itching. But the key is to keep them dry and clean to promote healing.
If you have a question, send it to Lisa at AskLisa@AKC.org and she may select it for a future column. Due to the high volume of questions she cannot offer individual responses.