As winter arrives and temperatures fall, we all worry about dogs out in the cold and ask ourselves, “How cold is too cold for a dog?” We gained new insights on this topic in a recent article by veterinarian Jennifer Coates, DVM for the website PetMD.com.
It Depends on the Dog
Just as some of us feel the cold more than others, some dogs are cold averse too and will try to cut short every trip outside in winter. Others (like all three of our West Highland White Terriers) love the cold and will stay out until they become pupsicles, if you let them.
Dogs like Huskies, Newfoundlands, and Samoyeds have a heavy double coat and a solid body type to protect them from the cold. On the other hand, lean-bodied, short-coated breeds, such as Greyhounds, need protection from the cold.
Small dogs tend to get colder quicker than larger ones. As our first two Westies aged, we became far more careful about the length of time they spent outside. A dog’s general health is also a factor in deciding how long your walks should be.
How much a dog is acclimatized to the cold should be taken into account. A recent transplant from a southern state may feel the cold far more than a New England dog that has been spending time outside all winter.
What’s more, every cold day is not the same. In winter, we become sunseekers choosing a route that will keep us, and our my dog Poppy, in bright sunshine whenever possible. Rain, wind, and icy surfaces can all reduce the time you will want to allow a dog to be outside.
Dr. Coates offered the following, “In general, cold temperatures should not become a problem for most dogs until they fall below 45°F, at which point some cold-averse dogs might begin to feel uncomfortable.
"When temperatures fall below 32°F, owners of small breed dogs, dogs with thin coats, and/or very young, old, or sick dogs should pay close attention to their pet’s well-being.
"Once temperatures drop under 20°F, all owners need to be aware that their dogs could potentially develop cold-associated health problems like hypothermia and frostbite.”
Signs of Trouble
Dr. Kim Smyth, Staff Veterinarian and Pet Health Writer at Petplan explains, “Symptoms of hypothermia in pets range from weakness and shivering to inaudible heartbeat and trouble breathing, depending on severity.” If symptoms are present, she recommends the animal be moved to a warm area, wrapped in blankets, and transported to a veterinary care facility.
To Coat or Not to Coat
If you have a dog that needs some protection from the cold, there are certainly a wide variety of coats, sweaters, and jackets on the market. A friend recently purchased a combo coat set for her Greyhound Marley. It consists of a light fleece jacket for moderate days, an insulated coat for cold days, and a waterproof raincoat for wet days.
Coats not only keep a dog warm, but they also keep them clean. We put a toddler t-shirt under Poppy’s winter jacket to cover more of her fur. T-shirts are much easier to clean than a dog’s belly.
The next time you check the wind chill and add a few layers as you dress for a dog walk, ask yourself what you can do to see that your dog will be just as comfortable as you both stroll the streets of the city.
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Words: Penny & Ed Cherubino (Adapted for BostonZest from one of our City Paws newspaper columns.)
Photos: ©2012-2016 Penny & Ed Cherubino