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with Lisa Peterson
August 2006

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

Dear Unpleasant: The heat this summer across the country has been 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 can be weather related
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.

Dear Lisa: My seven-year-old yellow Labrador Retriever is beginning to limp on his right rear leg. He doesn't want to put any weight on it. About two years ago, he had surgery on his left knee to fix a ruptured cruciate ligament due to an injury. Is it possible the other knee will need surgery too?– Knee-Jerk Reaction in Reno

Dear Knee-Jerk: One of my dogs had three Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) surgeries. While working with a skilled surgeon, I learned that statistically, a dog is 80 percent likely to rupture the ligament in the other leg within one year. So far your dog has dodged the odds. Your dog suffered from the acute (or injury) onset and my dog suffered from the chronic (or age-related degeneration) onset of ACL rupture. It only took my dog 6 months to have her other ligament rupture, requiring a trip back to the surgeon.

My vet told me that the acute onset of rupture usually affects dogs under four-years-old and is triggered by a sudden, twisting motion of the ligament causing it to tear or completely snap in half. The chronic onset can be attributed to many things, including age, obesity, being a giant or large breed, a spayed female, having poor muscle condition around the ligament or a structural abnormality such as being bow-legged or straight-legged. Another contributing factor to having the opposite ACL rupture is that surgery does not fix the other knee joint but merely stabilizes it. The knee is not at good as new, although normal function may return, it therefore puts an added burden on the other healthy knee.

Vet’s Diagnosis Needed
How can you tell if your dog's ACL is failing? With my dog, she had a sudden rupture, yelped in pain, and then held her leg up. She was not able to put any weight on it. Once the ACL is torn or ruptured, arthritis can set in within a few days as the knee joint is no longer able to function and bones start rubbing together.

My dog’s surgeon reported that surgery is the best treatment to stabilize the joint, especially in larger, heavier dogs. He said he routinely finds arthritic changes in dogs which have waited several weeks between injury and surgery. My dog recovered normal function within eight weeks of surgery using a carefully controlled regime of exercise, physical therapy and supplements. Take your dog to the vet as soon as possible to get a correct diagnosis.

Lisa Peterson, a long-time owner/breeder/handler of Norwegian Elkhounds, is the AKC Director of Club Communications. If you have a question, send it to Lisa at and she may select it to be answered here in Ask AKC.

© 2006 The American Kennel Club, Inc.