Most people think that dogs are immune to ice and cold because of their fur, but even dogs bred for colder climates may suffer needlessly in the winter if not properly cared for. If you have one of the so-called “cold weather dogs”, a Siberian Husky, for example, it’s true that they are much better suited for extreme weather conditions than a Shih Tzu, but there are other factors to consider.
How old is your dog?
Elderly dogs and puppies are much more vulnerable to the effects of cold weather. Even if your dog was bred for colder climates, very old dogs – regardless of breed – have trouble adapting to extreme changes in temperature. They should be taken outside only to do their business and immediately ushered back indoors.
A short romp outside will be enough for a young puppy too. Generally, a puppy has not developed a warm enough coat, nor enough body fat to sustain longer outings when it is chilly.
Never underestimate the benefits of a good doggie coat! Small dogs (i. e., miniature dachshunds, yorkies, etc.), delicate breeds (italian greyhounds, maltese, etc.), puppies, and short haired breeds (greyhounds, pointers, etc.) should have an appropriate winter wardrobe. No, it’s not silly. It’s a very smart and caring thing to do. Many breeds simply do not have the constitution for severe weather conditions.
Is your dog healthy?
Dogs with a chronic illness or disease may not be able to handle cold weather as efficiently as a healthy dog. Dogs with Arthritis, Diabetes, heart disease, Cushing’s Disease and kidney disease – even dogs with abnormally low body fat – are not able to regulate their body temperature effectively and are more vulnerable to the effects of cold weather. They too should be taken outside to attend to business and then quickly brought back inside.
Is your dog an “Outside” dog?
If your dog spends a good part of his day outside, make sure he has proper shelter. His house should be made of wood or heavy plastic and raised a few inches off the frozen ground or concrete. The inside should have wood shavings, straw, or a blanket, all of which need to be changed often to keep him warm and dry. The size of the dog house should be small enough that his body heat can be retained, but large enough that he can stand and turn around. Place the house out of the wind. A flap over the doorway will keep the wind, snow, and rain from blowing in.
As nightfall temperatures drop, dogs feel cold just like you and I. Spending nights in the cold is a miserable experience. No pet, regardless of breed, should be left outside when temperatures fall below 40 degrees. Bring him inside. If you don’t want your dog to have the run of the house, find somewhere that is safe for him to sleep…a utility room or bathroom, and supply him with a bed or blanket … and of course, water.
Be cognizant of your dog’s comfort
Check your dog for signs of frostbite and injury. Their tails, paws and ears are especially susceptible to frostbite. Contact your veterinarian right away if you suspect frostbite. Also, always check your dog’s feet if they have been playing in the snow or ice or even hard frozen dirt and wipe them to check for cuts, remove ice balls between their pads, and clean off any salt deposits. Be on the lookout for hypothermia. If your dog is shivering, acts lethargic, has a low heart rate and is unresponsive, place him in a warm place and call your veterinarian.
And if your dog is healthy but just too cold, he/she will let you know when they’ve had enough. They may whine, attempt to warm themselves next to you, or even head to the door to go inside. Kind of what we would do, except for the whining… maybe!
Lastly, never leave your dog in a parked car. Most everyone knows this is a danger in the summer heat, but it can also be dangerous during extreme cold temperatures. Your car can act as an icebox and trap cold air inside.
Winter weather and all the excitement it brings can be a great time for our fun-loving dogs! With proper care, your dog does not have to suffer the ill-effects of extreme weather conditions. If you are in doubt, discuss the specifics of your dog with your veterinarian.