Getting your dog fit for winter


Last updated 12/12/2023 at 9:36am

Photo by Bill Bartlett

No amount of snow is too cold or too much for Robbie McDougal of Inverness, a Sisters golden retriever.

Does your dog really need a coat just because it's winter? Sisters routinely gets overnight lows in the single digits and commonly sees temps in the teens much of November through March.

With the change in the seasons, out come the canine jackets, some quite stylish and color coordinated to match the dog's coat. But are they necessary? It depends, say the experts. It has little to do with the temperature and much to do with your dog's coat.

The AKC (American Kennel Club) has this analysis: "As a general rule of thumb, large dogs with thick, dense coats are well protected from the cold. This includes northern breeds, like Alaskan malamutes and Siberian huskies, with fur coats genetically designed to keep them warm. But there are dogs that need to be protected from extreme weather.

"Small, toy, and miniature shorthaired breeds, like Chihuahuas and French bulldogs. These small pups can't easily generate and retain enough body heat to keep themselves warm.

"Dogs that sit low to the ground. Although breeds like Pembroke Welsh corgis, for example, have thick coats, their bellies sit low enough to the ground to brush against snow and ice.

"Breeds that typically have long hair but are clipped or shorn, like poodles. Grooming may alter the natural protection of their coats.

"Lean-bodied breeds with short hair, like greyhounds and whippets, should also be protected from the cold.

"Senior dogs are prone to conditions that may require a winter coat, such as arthritis or a weakened immune system. Heat regulation may decline with age, making even a thick-coated dog uncomfortable in the cold."

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Not all vets, breeders, and trainers agree and call for a common-sense approach. "A dog will tell you if it needs a coat," said Jolyn Snider, who has trained dogs for 50 years and is an AKC evaluator. "The best judge of whether it needs a coat is to look at your dog. If it's shivering, put a coat on it."

How cold is too cold for your dog? Cold and snow seldom slow down Sisters Country folk. Winter hiking and snowshoeing or cross- country skiing are quite popular here. Bringing along your fur buddy "is generally a great idea to keep them both physically and mentally active. But are they going to enjoy the cold just like you?" said Dr. Dwight Alleyne, DVM.

"Your dog might be a trooper and soldier on through the cold – or might run off yelping at the first touch of snow on their paws. Besides, snow and cold weather can mess with your dog's sense of smell, which can increase the chances of them getting lost if they run off."

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Vets tend to agree upon this guide: At 45 degrees and below, most dogs will start to become uncomfortable. At 32 degrees and below, small, thin-coated, young, old, and sick dogs should not be left outside for long. At 20 degrees and below, dogs become vulnerable to hypothermia and frostbite.

There's no one answer to the question of how cold is too cold for dogs. Different dogs tolerate cold temperatures differently. Some dogs love snow and cold weather, while others get cold very easily and cannot stay outside in the cold for very long, Alleyne says.

But in general, your dog's ability to withstand the cold depends on factors like their breed, size, body fat, fur, overall health and medical condition, and whether they're an indoor or outdoor dog.

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What about the paws?

The Farmer's Dog tells us: "While humans aren't able to stand barefoot in the cold without risking discomfort and even frostbite, dogs can and will walk around in the cold and snow like it's no big deal, thanks to the amazing way their paws work. So when it comes to booting up strictly to combat the cold, most dogs don't need the extra protection for average cold-weather conditions."

Paw pads are made up of adipose tissue and elastic fibers that are covered by heavily pigmented, thick skin. All of these elements inhibit freezing naturally, but that's not the only thing that allows them to frolic in the snow.

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Research shows that it's not just the combination of fat, fiber, and thick skin that keeps dogs' paws warm. Canines also have a special circulatory system in their paws that places arteries and veins in close proximity and allows warm blood to be circulated more quickly.

There is risk to your dog absorbing chemicals through its paws such as from chemical snow melt products or anti-freeze that has leaked.

Don't let old man winter keep you or your pooch inside.


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