As winter approaches, temperature safety for dogs is important whether they are going for a short walk or playing in the snow. Dogs get cold at 45°F and below, and by 20°F, dogs can develop frostbite and hypothermia.
Dogs can get frostbite, which initially effects extremities such as ear tips, feet, tail tip, nose, and the scrotum. If left untreated they will develop hypothermia.
Cold temperature safety in dogs is dependent on different variables. Every dog is different, but use of general guidelines in the cold are important for prevention of winter related illness.
Size and Weight
Small dogs lose body heat faster than large dogs. Also, small dogs like chihuahuas have less fat padding around extremities making them more susceptible to ice and snow damage.
Body condition is important. A thin dog will get cold fast because they have less insulating body fat. However, obese dogs may move slower, increasing their exposure time to the cold.
Breed and Coat Type
Thick hair insulates the body. Dogs with thicker fur such as Huskies can withstand cold temperatures for longer periods of time. Short haired dogs have less fur insulation and will get cold quickly. Hair can also be shortened from grooming or medical procedures.
Snow and ice can stick to long hair around toes. This can be painful, and cause prolonged ice contact on skin and toe pads. Snow pellets stick to longer fur, decreasing a dog’s body temperature.
Age and Health Condition
Older dogs generally have more health issues that decrease their tolerance to cold exposure. Pain from osteoarthritis in aging dogs can make it harder to move around in the cold. Older dogs may also have conditions such as kidney disease, diabetes, liver disease, and cancer, making it more difficult to tolerate the cold.
Dogs that live in colder areas regularly can tolerate more cold. Sled dogs get so used to the cold, they will sleep in the snow. However, if an owner moves from a warm to a cold climate and there is not sufficient time to acclimate to the cold, a dog gets cold fast.
What Can Owners Do?
Measures can be taken to keep dogs safe in the cold weather. Shoveling a small area for a dog to eliminate quickly in the cold without having to step through snow is helpful. Dogs can wear sweaters or jackets that extend along a dog’s back and along the chest that is thick enough to block out wind while keeping out moisture. Booties that are warm and water resistant are great if the dog will tolerate them. Getting a dog used to these items can take a while, but persistence is key.
As outdoor temperature drops, it’s important to monitor dogs for signs of being uncomfortably cold. Hypothermia can set in rapidly and is life threatening. Symptoms which should prompt an owner to take a dog to a warmer location include shivering, reluctance to walk, turning to return home, whining, trouble walking, lifting paws frequently, and even falling over. Once an owner has a dog inside, it’s important to keep monitoring them to make sure they are okay. If an owner is unsure, it’s always best to call the veterinarian.