Can Dogs Live in the Cold?

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Introduction

Baby, it's cold outside! The temperature is dropping, the winter winds are blowing, and the best place to be is snuggled up on the couch. That's exactly where you plan on spending the chilly months, curled up under a duvet with the thermostat cranked right up, but what about your dog?

Many dogs love playing outside in the snow or the rain, but do you know whether your dog is capable of withstanding the winter chill? There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to dogs and cold weather, although some dogs are simply better equipped to handle the chilly conditions then others.

Let's take a look at what you can do to help your pet stay warm, cozy and comfortable all winter long.

Signs Your Dog isn't Coping With the Cold

It's a brisk winter morning and you and your dog have been enjoying a leisurely stroll around your neighborhood. They've been enjoying exploring all the sights and smells, but you can't help but wonder just how comfortable they really are in the frosty conditions — after all, you're tightly wrapped up in seven different layers of clothing but all your pet has is their own fur coat.

Even though dogs are often quite capable of concealing the fact that they're in pain, it's usually fairly easy to tell when your pet simply isn't coping with the cold conditions. The most obvious sign is, of course, a dog that is shivering. In both dogs and humans, shivering is the body's way of generating heat, so it's a surefire sign that your dog needs to warm up ASAP.

As well as shivering, some pets will whine or whimper as a way of vocalizing their discomfort. Others may make an effort to escape the cold by finding a sheltered spot out of the wind or maybe by burrowing in under your coat for extra warmth.

If your dog suffers from arthritis, the pain of aching joints will be even more severe than usual when the mercury drops. You may notice that your furry friend is slow to get moving, reluctant to exercise, or even has a limp. Other animals will simply be weak and lethargic, so remember to watch for the warning signs and take action to help your pooch stay warm.

Body Language

Watch your dog's body language closely for any telltale signs that they may be struggling to endure the cold weather, such as:
  • Whining
  • Shaking
  • Dropped Ears
  • Whimpering

Other Signs

Other signs you'll need to look for include:
  • Shivering
  • Trying to escape the cold
  • Slow to get moving
  • Limping

The History of Dogs Living in Cold Weather

The dogs that form an important part of so many modern families have descended from wolves. And as anyone who lives in the north of the nation knows, wolves have no trouble surviving and even thriving in harsh winters -being right at home even in the most brutal conditions.

However, the same can't be said for many modern pets, and the reason for this is largely down to us. Through our selective breeding practices, we've bred dogs to perform a huge range of tasks —catching rats, guarding property and even just making perfect snuggle buddies and lap dogs.

There were some breeds that were developed to work in freezing conditions. Alaskan Malamutes and Siberian Huskies, for example, were bred to pull heavy sleds through the snow, while the mighty St Bernard was famously developed as an alpine rescue dog.

But the vast majority of dogs simply weren't built for life in freezing weather, so they tend to have a much harder time when temperatures plummet.

The Science of Dogs Living in Cold Conditions

Don't assume that just because your dog is a breed that's normally suited to winter weather, they'll automatically be capable of seeing out a Minnesota winter without batting an eyelid. There are actually several factors that can play a part in determining just how good your dog is at surviving the winter chill, including:

  • Their coat. Does your dog have a thick, double-layered coat, like the fluffy and cuddly Samoyed? If so, there's understandably a good chance that they'll enjoy the cold much more than a dog with just one layer of short hair. Coat color also plays a part, as dark-haired dogs can absorb more heat on sunny days.
  • Their size and weight. While carrying excess weight isn't good for your dog's health, body fat does provide insulation against the winter chill. Breeds that are typically skinny will tend to feel the cold more than those pets that are naturally a little more robust.
  • Their health. Puppies, senior dogs and those pets whose immune systems have been compromised by illness can't regulate their body temperature as efficiently as healthy, adult dogs. As mentioned above, pets suffering from arthritis will also feel the pain of aching and stiff joints more during winter.
  • Their cold-climate experience. If your dog has spent their life in the tropics, or if they spend most of their time living indoors in climate-controlled comfort, they may struggle when asked to endure colder temperatures. This is down to conditioning, as a dog that's accustomed to cold conditions will generally cope much better than a dog that isn't.

Helping Your Dog Stay Warm in Winter

Dogs that get too cold are at risk of hypothermia, which causes the animal's breathing and heart rate to slow and can potentially be fatal. Frostbite is not as common, but can still happen, affecting the ears, tail, and paws.

With this in mind, knowing how to protect your dog from the frosty weather is vital.

At the top of the list of winter necessities for any dog is shelter. All year round but especially in winter, the safest place for your dog to spend the night is inside. And no matter what breed you own, never leave your pet outside for an extended period of time in below-freezing conditions.

While we're on the topic of shelter, make sure your pet always has somewhere warm and dry to sleep. Their bed needs to be out of the rain, protected from the wind and drafts, and may need to be raised off a cold, tiled floor. There are also heated pet mats to help ensure comfort right throughout those chilly winter nights and to reduce pain for arthritic pooches.

Many dogs will also need a little preparation before heading outside. A doggy coat or jacket can help protect your pet from wind chill and also look grrr-eat at the same time, while special booties can provide extra warmth for canine paws.

Most importantly, watch your dog closely for any signs that they're struggling with the cold conditions. If you can recignize the warning signs, you'll be able to respond quickly to help your pet stay snug and warm.

Winter Safety Tips for Dogs:

  • Stay inside: Pets should never be left outside when the temperature is below freezing. In fact, the best spot for your dog during winter is inside with you.
  • The best bedding: Make sure your dog always has access to shelter and a place to sleep that's protected from the elements.
  • Winter-proof purchases: Consider a doggy jacket, pet booties, and a heated pet bed for extra warmth during winter.
  • Monitor your pet: Watch your pet closely for any signs that they are struggling to cope with the cold. Act quickly to help them warm up and seek veterinary attention if necessary.