Although our canine companions are equipped with warm fur coats and padded paws, they are still susceptible to the cold. Many people believe that their coats are enough, but the truth is that, much like humans, dogs have varying degrees of tolerance when it comes to colder temperatures.
Even the hardest and toughest breeds of dog can succumb to the effects of hypothermia and frostbite. You need to know the signs of when your dog is cold, what you can do to make them more comfortable and how it can affect them.
What Are the Signs of a Cold Dog?
It is surprisingly easy to tell when dogs are cold. They show many of the same signs that humans do, including shivering to raise their body temperature and trying to find a nice warm spot. Dogs can also act differently when they are cold and they may even be lethargic. If your dog is cold to the touch, this can also be a sign they are cold.
Additionally, if you are feeling cold outside yourself, then you can probably bet your dog is feeling the same way.
Not All Dogs Are the Same
The way your dog reacts to the cold may be completely different to how another one handles it. One dog might feel particularly warm, while another will be looking at ways to warm themselves up. There are a multitude of things that can affect the way your dog reacts to the cold. Let’s look at them below:
Breed and Coat Type
This is an obvious one. Some dogs, like Huskies, are just better suited to cold weather. In most cases these dogs have been bred and developed in colder climates, and they have physical and mental differences that make them better suited for the cold.
For example, Siberian Huskies have a coat that is thicker than that of most other dogs. It is also dual layered, with one layer being a dense undercoat, while the other is longer top coat that protects against harsh Arctic winds. Their coat is so effective that it is able to withstand temperatures as low as -50 to -60 degrees Celsius.
Other dogs, like Greyhounds have an incredibly short coat and they will feel the cold much more.
The Colour of Your Dog’s Coat
Remember in school when you learnt that black absorbs heat and white repels it. Well, this is the same with a dog’s coat. If your dog has a black or darker coat, they will absorb more heat in direct sunlight, which will keep them warmer when compared to their lighter coloured friends.
Size and Weight
Smaller dogs have a larger surface area of skin compared to their insides, which means they will lose more heat relative to bigger dogs (with all other things being equal of course). If your dog is a smaller breed or they are a puppy, they will definitely feel the cold more.
In addition to their size, how much heat a dog loses will also be effected by their weight. Dogs with higher body fat percentages have more insulation when compared to thinner, leaner dogs.
While a higher amount of body fat will keep your dog warmer in the colder months, do not fatten them up. Excess weight gain can lead to some serious health complications that definitely outweigh the benefits of keeping your dog a little bit warmer.
Age and Health Condition
Very old, sick or young dogs will certainly be more susceptible to the cold. They are not as efficient at regulating their body temperature when compared to fit, healthy dogs in the best years of their life. If you have a young, old or sick dog you need to protect them from the cold more.
Older dogs with conditions such as arthritis and diabetes can suffer more in the winter. Their joints can become achier and it will take them longer to warm up.
Whether Your Dog Has Built Up a Tolerance
If your dog is used to cold temperatures, they are probably going to feel a lot more comfortable when it is freezing outside, than a dog that is used to warmer climates. A sudden burst of cold weather can really effect a dog that doesn’t have a tolerance to the cold.
Not All Cold Weather Is the Same
The temperature that your read off the thermometer isn’t the only factor that affects how your dog feels the cold. We’ve listed some things below that you should watch out for:
- Dampness and water – Whether it is rain, snow or taking a plunge in the winter sea, any water or dampness can affect how cold your dog feels. Water will soak through your dog’s coat quickly and can make a warm dog cold, even when the temperature outside is not all that cold.
- Wind – I’m sure we have all been out on a walk on a windy day and there is no doubt that it can make you much colder. This is the same for your dog, except they don’t have a nice windproof jacket like yourself. Wind can easily cut through a dog’s coat and reduces its ability to insulate and protect against cold weather.
- Exercise and activity – Dogs that move about and our active will generate more body heat than those that don’t. This extra body heat can keep them reasonably comfortable, even when it is cold outside. Try run and be active next time you are cold to see the effects for yourself.
- Cloud – Cloudy days are typically colder than those that are full of sunshine. Dogs will find it colder on days where there is no cloud because they can’t soak themselves in the sun.
What to Watch Out for in Cold Weather
Cold Weather and Hypothermia in Dogs
Sometimes it’s simply too cold for dogs to be outside, even the hardiest breeds. Leaving your dog outside for extended periods of time when it is seriously cold, can lead to frostbite and hypothermia. These conditions occur when the body is no longer capable of sustaining normal temperature and can lead to death.
If your dog is suffering from hypothermia they may be showing signs of the following:
- Weakness or collapse
- Inaudible heartbeat
- Trouble breathing
If you come across a dog that is suffering from hypothermia or is showing signs of frostbite, you must call a vet immediately and move them to a warm area.
You can read a bit more about hypothermia here.
Watch for Fleas and Ticks
In cold temperatures, fleas and ticks may seek out warmer areas in your home, including your dog’s cosy coat. Dogs owners can often become complacent about fleas and ticks in winter, but they can transfer to your dog or other pets easy. On warmer winter days they may become more active.
Be On the Lookout for Antifreeze and Rock Salt
While antifreeze and rock salt may make it easier for us to get around when there is ice and snow outside, they can be dangerous to dogs. These products contain chemicals that can be poisonous to dogs. It is important to recognize any of these items and limit your dog’s exposure to them.
Antifreeze smells good to dogs and it tastes sweet, however, it is incredibly poisonous. Even small doses can be lethal to dogs in a short space of time. Make sure you clean up any antifreeze around your property and if you suspect your dog has ingested some, take them to the vets immediately.
Rock salt can easily become stick between your dog’s toes and can damage their paws. After you have taken your dog for a walk, you should give them a good wipe down, paying particular attention to their belly and paws.
The temperature is obviously an important thing to pay attention to. Generally, cold temperatures should not be a problem for dogs unless they fall to below 7 degrees Celsius (45 degrees Fahrenheit). If the temperature falls below 0 degrees Celsius, owners of small dogs, those with thinner coats, those that are sick, or dogs that are young or old should monitor them for signs that they are suffering from the cold.
Once the temperature falls below around -5 to -6 degrees Celsius, all owners should be aware that their dogs could easily develop hypothermia or frostbite.
Tips for Dogs in Cold Weather
Take Your Dog On Shorter Walks
At temperature extremes, short walks are better than longer ones. Rather than taking your dog for extended walks in cold weather, take them for more frequent shorter ones. Your dogs should still be getting about the same amount of exercise they would be in the warmer months of the year.
If you are having trouble exercising your dog in the winter, try and do more indoor activates with them. This may mean playing more games like tug, so that they burn off more energy.
Keep Them On a Lead
Many dogs become lost in winter because ice and snow can hide recognisable scents that may help them get home. Make sure your dog has a well-fitting collar that doesn’t slip off their head and check that their tag or identification is up to date as well. You can also talk to your vet about micro-chipping your dog, however, you must keep their registration up to date.
Don’t Leave Your Dog in The Car
We all know that leaving dogs in a hot car in summer is a big no, no, but the same is also true in the winter. A parked car can quickly amplify the effects of cold weather and make the inside of it freezing.
Keep Them Fed and Hydrated
Make sure you keep your dog on a healthy diet during winter. As we said, fattening your dog up to give them a little bit more protection from the cold is a bad idea. Excess weight gain can lead to other health conditions or complications that should be avoided.
If your dog is outside for a significant portion of the day, you may want to feed them a little bit more. Dogs that live outside burn more calories in winter to generate enough energy and body heat to keep them warm.
You should also make sure to keep your dog hydrated. Always have enough water available to last them the day and avoid metal bowls outside, as your puppy’s tongue can become stuck to them.
Don’t Go Crazy with Grooming
During the colder months of the year, it is important to not go overboard with your dog’s grooming. Removing too much of their coat will mean that there is less of it to keep them warm. However, leaving too much hair on will make brushing more difficult and could lead to matting of their coat. Ask your vet about grooming your particular breed of dog.
Consider Clothing Layers
While you may laugh at dressed up dogs, the reality is that extra layers in the winter can keep your dog a lot warmer. There are plenty of different coats out there that will keep your dog warm, however, we recommend this one from Zack & Zoey.
Remember that wet coats or sweaters can actually make your dog a lot colder. Have a couple of different ones that you can switch between, so that your dog can stay warm. Some dog owners also like to use little shoes or booties, however, remember to get the right size.
Provide Shelter For Your Dog
We don’t recommend keeping your dog outside for extended periods of time, but if you have to, make sure you provide them with adequate shelter. The shelter should protect them from the wind and wet, and they should have unlimited access to fresh, non-frozen water.
A shelters floor should be off the ground to minimize heat loss and you should provide them with thick, dry bedding. The opening to the shelter should face away from prevailing winds and you should avoid using heaters or heated pet mats as they pose a fire or burn hazard.
The best thing to do however, is to keep your dog inside during the winter. This will keep them the warmest and safest.
Stay Away from Ice
When taking your dog out for a walk, try to avoid frozen ponds, lakes and other water. You do not know if the ice will support your dog’s weight and if they fall through it could put their life in danger. Additionally, it could also put your life in danger if you try and save them.
Wipe Them Down and Check Their Paws
Like we wrote earlier, chemicals that are used in winter can be poisonous to dogs. During walks, your dog’s paws, legs and belly may pick up chemicals such as antifreeze. Once you finish your walk, make sure you wipe down or wash your dog’s belly, feet and legs to remove any of these toxic chemicals.
It is also a good practice to frequently check your dog’s paws for signs of injury or damage. During winter their paws can easily become cracked or may even start to bleed. A sudden lameness during a walk may be due to an injury or ice accumulation between their toes.
Summing Up Cold Weather and Dogs
It is important to keep your dog healthy and warm during the winter months. While we often think that dogs are better protected due to their coats, they can quickly and easily succumb to cold weather.
How you prepare for the winter will depend on what breed of dog you have, where you live and what sort of weather you will be dealing with. If you do have any major concerns about your dog, make sure you contact your vet immediately.