Can Dogs Feel Cold Weather?

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Introduction

Brrrrr! Winter is almost here, the days are getting shorter, and snow is on the way. The chilly months can be a wonderful time to share with your dog — after all, what could be better than snuggling up next to your furry friend on the couch? But, those months also bring with them a few dangerous health risks for our four-legged family members.

We all want to give our dogs the best possible care all year long, but one of the things many owners are unsure about is just how well their pet is able to cope with the freezing winter weather. The reality is that some dogs are much better equipped to handle the cold than other breeds, so common sense is crucial when it comes to winter dog care.

Signs Your Dog is Feeling the Cold

No one likes to see their dog in discomfort or pain, so keep an eye out for any telltale signs that your dog is struggling to cope with the cold weather. They're often fairly obvious to the eye and easy to pick up, but remember to exercise caution if you're even remotely concerned that the temperature is too low for your dog to handle.

The one sign everyone is familiar with is shivering — just like shivering in humans, this is the body's way of generating heat and is a definite sign that your dog needs to warm up as soon as possible. This may also be accompanied by whining, or your pet may try to burrow in somewhere warm in an effort to escape the cold.

In other dogs, the effects of cold may show themselves in your pet's reluctance to move or difficulty moving. They may also be slow and clumsy as the cold weather causes pain in muscles and joints, while some animals may even show an unwillingness to go outside into the frosty conditions.

General weakness is another common sign, so if your dog is showing any of the above symptoms, then you'll need to get him inside and ensure that he's warm and dry as soon as possible.

Body Language

There are several body language signs that can indicate your pooch is feeling the cold weather, including:
  • Shaking
  • Weakness
  • Lack of focus
  • Whimpering
  • Tail tucking

Other Signs

Other signs your dog is struggling with the chilly conditions include:
  • Shivering
  • Whining
  • Reluctance to Move
  • Slowness or Clumsiness
  • Reluctance to Go Outside

The History of Dogs in the Cold

As many already know, the dogs we know and love today, seem to have come from ancient wolves. Any who live in the north or who have watched movies about cold climates have probably noted that wolves seem to have no issues bounding around in the snow, taking down prey in the winter, and carrying on life through the harshest months.

So, what happened to our pooches? Mainly, us. Humans have created dog breeds throughout the ages using selective breeding. Some pups were bred to be big, puffy sleeping buddies - like Samoyeds! Others were developed to be excellent at pulling sleds through the snow - think Huskies and Malamutes. 

But others were bred to sit on couches, catch rats or live in hot climates. These breeds generally have a harder time when it's cold, as their bodies just aren't built for chilly conditions anymore. 

The Science of Dogs Feeling Cold Weather

There are many different variables that affect how dogs respond to the cold, including:
  • Coat. Just because dogs have fur doesn't mean they're automatically toasty-warm all winter long, but those dogs with thick, double-layered coats are generally most at home in the cold weather. Examples include Siberian Huskies and Samoyeds. Even the color of the coat can have an influence as, on sunny days, dogs with dark coats can absorb heat from sunlight.
  • Size. Proportionally speaking, when comparing the amount of surface area a dog has relative to its volume, small dogs have more skin through which to lose heat than larger dogs.
  • Weight. Body fat can provide good insulation against the cold, so skinnier dogs feel the cold weather more.
  • Age and health. Young dogs, old dogs, and those with compromised immune systems can't regulate their body temperature as well as they should. Older dogs can also experience the pain of arthritis more severely in stiff joints during the winter months.
  • What your dog is used to. Ever noticed how the first days of winter are often harder to cope with than those freezing days in the depths of the cold season, even though the latter actually see much colder temperatures? This is down to conditioning, and it basically means that dogs that are used to the cold are generally far better at coping when the mercury drops.
So while one dog might have absolutely no problems spending a few hours playing outside on a cold December day, another might be at serious risk of hypothermia.

Interestingly, researchers at Tokyo's Yamazaki Gakuen University wanted to find out how dogs can walk on snow and ice for so long without freezing their paws and without showing signs of discomfort. Using electron microscopes to study the internal structure of canine paws, they discovered that dogs have a specialized circulation system in their paws. 

This allows heat to be transferred from one blood vessel to another, effectively "warming up" the blood in the paws before it is returned to the body. As a result, the paws can stay at a constant temperature and the dog's body is prevented from cooling down.

Keeping Your Dog Warm in Winter

Protecting your dog from the winter chill isn't just a matter of comfort; it's also important to help prevent respiratory and sinus problems, stave off the pain of arthritis, and also safeguard your pooch against hypothermia.

The first thing to remember is to make sure that your pet always has access to shelter. This means that during the colder months, and preferably all year round, your dog should be kept inside. Regardless of breed, no pet should ever be left outside for long periods in below-freezing conditions.

A warm and dry place to sleep is also essential. Make sure Fido has a comfortable bed and plenty of bedding to help him stay cozy all night long. Raised bedding can be handy to help lift your sleeping pet off cold floors and away from any drafts, while heated mats can provide extra comfort on those long winter nights.

When you and your pooch head outside, it may be worth investing in a warm coat or jacket for your furry friend. Far from being just a fashion statement, these winter jackets can provide essential warmth and protection against wind chill on freezing winter days.

Finally, make sure that you can recognize the signs that indicate your dog is struggling with the cold, and seek veterinary attention as soon as possible.

Winter Safety Tips for Dogs

  • Know your pet's tolerance. By understanding your pet's cold-weather tolerance levels, you'll be able to plan your outings accordingly.
  • Bring him inside. The safest place for your pet to see out the cold months of winter is inside with you. No dog should be left outside for an extended period when the temperature is below freezing.
  • Make sure your pet has a warm, cozy, and sheltered bed where he can rest his head for the night. You might also want to consider raised bedding or a heated mat for extra warmth.
  • Clean up antifreeze spills. Even small amounts of antifreeze can be fatal for dogs, so exercise caution at all times.
  • Doggy jackets and coats are a very effective method to help your dog stay warm in winter. They often look super-cute, too.

We Want to Hear About Your Dog in the Cold Weather!