When Benjamin Franklin said that there were only two things that are certain in life - death and taxes - he forgot about winter. Love it or hate it, it’s comin’ in hot...er, cold. And while you know what you need to keep yourself safe and warm, do you know how your dog feels out in the cold? The truth is, you don’t. And as veterinarians, it’s our job to remind you of that. Because you don’t know what your dog feels, it’s important to consider the winter implications for them. We explore the dangers of cold weather for your pup, how to ensure your dog’s safety, whether your doggo needs a sweater on walks, and more below.
To Sweater or Not to Sweater?
It is very unlikely that your dog will need a sweater if you live in a climate where the temperature doesn’t get below 50 degrees. Dogs have a much higher body temperature than humans and they tolerate the cold better. They also have a natural fur coat that helps to keep them insulated from the weather. Even more importantly, you should consider that, in warm or even fairly warm-weather climates, your pet may be too hot in a sweater. If your dog is panting, excessively drooling, or is overly thirsty, these are good indicators that your dog is too hot and you should remove the sweater.
If the temperature is around 30, dogs can typically be outside for about 30-40 minutes without a jacket or dog sweater. The more active your dog is, the warmer they will stay and can remain outside for longer amounts of time. If the temperature is less than 30 degrees, they should be checked upon. A good rule of thumb to follow is when it is cold (under 30 degrees), limit the time outside to the temperature—10 degrees, 10 minutes, and so on.
If you do live in an area where the temperatures dip to near-freezing or freezing, you need to realize that the weather will affect the exposed body parts of your dog, such as their feet, ears, and nose. Even if you do put on a sweater, you will want to monitor these areas of your dog. If they go to the bathroom, that moisture may freeze and cause problems to the exposed skin if you and your pooch are outside too long.
Other Elements Beyond Temperature
We need to consider other elements that may affect your dog while they are outside, like rain, snow, and wind. This can affect the comfort of your dog and having a sweater or rain jacket will come in handy. Even though the temperature may be 35 degrees, with rain and snow, the elements will affect your dog, just like it would do for you. If you are rolling around in the snow or getting wet from rain, it feels a lot colder than what it is.
If there is a reason that you must leave your dog outside alone, you will always want to provide shelter regardless of the temperature. The shelter should have a top and 3 sides, with one of those sides facing the way the wind is blowing protecting your dog. Inside, you should have some sort of bed that they will be able to curl up in to keep warm. Ideally, you’ll want to keep your dog with you inside in the case of cold or inclement weather, especially if they’re not huskies...more on that below.
Breeds Matter When it Comes to Weather
Various dog breeds handle the weather a lot differently. If you have a normal, short-coated Chihuahua, they will not tolerate the cold. They may enjoy a sweater and booties to keep them warm when it is 50 degrees out. Remember, though, that Chihuahuas will also shake out of fear sometimes, and that can be mistaken for them being cold.
When it comes to Poodles and other dogs that grow hair, it is best to let their hair grow out to protect them from the elements. Be cautioned, however, that their feet will get wet and that hair will like to collect snowballs. If your dog’s hair is still short, you may want to consider a sweater. Booties are great for keeping their feet clean and dry. Also, we generally recommend you bathe your dogs a lot less in the wintertime to avoid having them get sick.
Huskies were designed for the cold weather. Any dog with a double-coat has a high tolerance for the cold weather, even an itty bitty Pomeranian! How do you tell if your dog has a double-coat? There is a long coarse outer coat, and the undercoat is soft and fluffy, so they will have a nice layer of fur that is hard to see on their skin. Although cute, a sweater may not offer them any more comfort than their own natural fur coat and, in fact, a sweater could cause them to overheat in some circumstances. If they do go for long walks in the snow and ice, booties with a nice rubber bottom would benefit them. Brush their coat frequently to allow their natural oils to work and so their undercoat does not get matted to their skin. Use petroleum jelly on paw pads during the winter months to protect against salt and other harsh chemicals.
Another thing to take into consideration is the age and weight of your dog. If your dog is overweight, they will not get as cold as a dog that is either underweight or in good shape, but in the case of an older dog, an overweight dog is also a higher risk of the cold affecting their joints. Even though an overweight dog may not get as cold, the cold can affect them in other ways. You should talk to your veterinarian about your dog’s activity levels and age when it comes to the winter weather and what can be done to keep them comfortable and safe during this cold season.
Let’s talk about the difference between all the protective clothing that you can find for your dog and what it’s meant for:
- A basic sweater is meant to keep your dog warm, with little protection from wind or rain.
- A jacket for your dog will protect your pet from colder temperatures and has one to two layers for added comfort. This should be used if the temperature is low and your dog doesn’t have a lot of natural protection.
- A rain jacket will help to keep your dog mostly dry, but there are still areas that you will need to dry off when they come inside.
- There are many types of booties you can get, from the simple slip-on sock-like to ones that have full protection that is used by search and rescue. You will want to gradually get your dog used to them. Give treats when they are on, make it a positive experience.
If your dog is enjoying their walk and doesn’t seem to show signs of discomfort, keep going!
Can I Take My Dog With Me in the Car During Winter?
Everyone knows how much dogs love being in the car. Whether their heads are out the window or they’re just happy to be with you on your weekend jaunt, dogs are generally over the moon to be in cars. However, just as you hear all of the warnings about taking dogs with you in the car during the summer due to overheating, you need to be just as cautious during the winter months. In fact, the ASPCA warns that leaving a dog in a freezing car can be just as dangerous as leaving them in a hot car. This is especially true if the car isn’t running, as your vehicle essentially turns into a refrigerator, and your dog runs the risk of getting hypothermia.
As Hill’s Pet Nutrition notes, “It’s generally safe to leave your dog in the car for a maximum of five minutes, and when the outside temperature is above freezing and below 70 degrees." If you have someone with you, have that person stay in the heated car with the dog while you run your errand. If that’s not possible, just remember to get in and get out, as time is of the essence!
A good and simple rule of thumb is if it’s too cold for you, it’s too cold for your dog! However, if you have other questions or concerns about keeping your dog safe this winter, please don’t hesitate to give us a call.