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Should a husky ever be shaved? Viral photo sparks outrage

A viral photo of a shaved husky has raised an important question: Is it cruel, or just kind of goofy looking?
/ Source: TODAY

A dramatic viral photo of a husky wearing an extreme haircut has raised an important question: Is it cruel, or just kind of goofy looking, to shave a dog like this?

Given a robust debate on this topic since the photo first came to public attention on social media about a week ago, TODAY posed that query to to Teri DiMarino, president of the California Professional Pet Groomers Association and a groomer with more than four decades of experience.

While DiMarino began by characterizing the shaved husky as "really quite comical," she explained that, by and large, it's better not to shave dogs of that breed — and others on this long list — that have what's known as "double coats."

Double-coated dogs, as the name suggests, have two layers of fur. The bottom layer, closer to their skin, is dense and fluffy. The top layer is stiffer. You can think of the two layers as working together like the insulation inside your home's walls, and the walls themselves — with the inner layer helping to regulate the dog's temperature, and the outer layer protecting the animal against the elements, like rain or dirt.

"You don't take the insulation out of your house in the summer," said DiMarino.

But she said there are circumstances when shaving may be appropriate, like when a husky's coat becomes extremely matted, perhaps due to neglect, and there are no alternative options.

This can generally be avoided with regular brushing and grooming — which is how you'd also manage a husky's normal shedding. That's important, since the reason most pet owners ask for their huskies to be shaved isn't because they (erroneously) think it'll make the dog more comfortable in the summer, but to manage their prodigious shedding.

Since huskies are really big shedders, "it will look like a dog blew up in your house" if you don't take care to brush and groom them a lot, said DiMarino.

Still, shaving your husky shouldn't be necessary if you "just take care of your dogs," she said. It's even more important if the shaved dog will be kept outside most of the time. Then, the husky will be prone not only to overheating but also sunburn. (If you need an added reason not to keep your dog outside all the time, know that doing so — especially when it's very hot or cold out — is illegal in many jurisdictions.)

Dr. Tom Meyer, a veterinarian in Vancouver, Washington, and president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, offered another reason not to shave your husky. The hair will take a very long time to regrow — and may lead to post-clipping alopecia, or hair loss.

"The hair loss and regrowth can vary based on the area of the body as well as other factors," Meyer told TODAY, adding that if you have questions about how best to care for your dog's coat during the summer, you should "speak with your veterinarian. They will be able to assess your dog's skin and coat as well as other health factors that may influence your decision."

So, should this husky have been shaved? Given that we don't know why this particular dog was subjected to such a controversial hairdo — whether for cosmetic reasons, or because, say, a previous owner had neglected the dog and this was the only way to remove matted hair, or the dog was being prepped for surgery — it's impossible to say.

But the general consensus is that huskies and other double-coated dogs shouldn't be shaved unless absolutely necessary. Doing so won't keep them cooler, and in fact makes it harder for their bodies to regulate temperature. It exposes the dogs to sunburn and potential long-term hair loss. (It's also kind of silly looking, as you can see, though DiMarino suggests the groomer could have "blended the head a little better.")

And shaving is, finally, unnecessary to minimize the amount of loose dog hair all over your house. "Brush your dog more," said DiMarino. "If your dog is shedding and you want to keep it off your furniture, brush them."