How Cold is Too Cold?

It’s important to keep in mind that the cold can be dangerous to your dog. There are two serious health conditions caused by cold weather.

1. Hypothermia

This occurs when a dog spends too much time in the cold, or when dogs with poor health or circulation are exposed to cold. In mild cases, dogs will shiver and show signs of depression, lethargy, and weakness. As the condition worsens, his/her muscles will stiffen, his/her heart and breathing rates slow down, and he or she will not respond to stimuli and may die.

2. Frostbite

Frostbite which is less common but begins when the dog’s body gets cold. The body automatically pulls all the blood from the extremities to the centre of the body to stay warm. The dog’s ears, paws, or tail can get so cold that ice crystals can form in the tissue and damage it.

Note: The thing to remember about frostbite is it’s not immediately obvious because the tissue doesn’t show signs of damage for several days.

What to do

If you suspect your dog has frostbite, bring him or her into a warm environment immediately. You can soak his or her extremities in warm water for about 20 minutes to melt the ice crystals and restore circulation.

It’s very important that you don’t rub the frostbitten tissue, because the ice crystals can do a lot of damage to the tissue. When your dog warms up, wrap him/her in blankets and take him or her to the Vet who can assess the damage and treat your dog for pain or infection if necessary.

Note: If you notice any of these symptoms, you need to get your dog warm. Wrap him or her in blankets, and take him/her to your vet who can monitor his/her heart rate and blood pressure and give warm fluids through an IV if necessary.

That said, there is no hard and fast statistics to ascertain what constitutes weather that is too cold. For example, a harsh winter wind may create more wind chill because the air will feel colder than the thermometer registers and this will affect a dog as much as it does a person. Also, cold, drenching rain just above freezing, sleet and ice, or wet heavy snow can all create dangerous conditions.

Which breeds are Vulnerable?

The breeds of dogs bred to live in colder climates such as Alaskan Malamutes, Siberian Huskies, Samoyeds, and other northern breeds are generally going to have fewer problems with cold weather if they normally live in it. Although northern breeds not used to extreme winter conditions may suffer in it even if they have a heavy coat. For example, an Alaskan Malamute from Florida, may be uncomfortable in cold weather because he or she is not used to it.

As a general rule, dogs with a short coat and no undercoat will not cope well with winter temperatures. Short-legged or toy breeds who for example, have to wade or jump through deep snow will get chilled and tired quickly. Furthermore, puppies, elderly and dogs with health conditions such as heart disease, kidney disease, and diabetes can all interfere with the dog’s ability to maintain his or her body temperature. Hence, like puppies they feel the cold quickly.

More confusing, is that some dogs simply feel the cold more than others. A Jack Russell Terrier I rescued as a child would start to shiver when the temperature got below 50 degrees F. That’s not cold, it’s just cool, but for him it was uncomfortably cold. It’s important to know your own dog’s ability to tolerate cold.

If your dog hasn’t had a check-up recently, or if he/she’s not doing as well this winter as he/she has in years past, take him or her in to visit your vet.

Winter can be a fun time for both you and your dog providing you take precautions. Here are a few tips to get you and your dog(s) through to the winter months.

Limit the time your dog gets to stay outside when it gets especially cold. A good rule of thumb is to go out with him or her and when you are ready to come in, he/she should be too. If they must stay outdoors for a significant length of time, be sure to provide them with a warm, insulated shelter with plenty of thick bedding, and make sure their water cannot freeze. For extra warmth, a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel to prevent burning your dogs skin can be placed in their bed.

While most long-haired dogs can spend more time outside than the short-haired breeds, its important to remember that the smaller dogs, even if they have long hair, will get cold more quickly than the bigger dogs if he or she is wading though shoulder-deep snow. Also, a dog’s health will affect how long he or she can stay outside. For example, medical conditions like diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, and hormonal imbalances can compromise a dog’s ability to regulate their body heat, unlike a dog that is in good health who can stay outside for longer.

Also be mindful that older dogs are also more vulnerable to the cold, irrespective of their health, although, no dog should stay outside for unlimited amounts of time in freezing-cold weather. If you’re unsure about how long your dog can be outside safely, ask your Vet.

Monitor your dog carefully when you go for a walk or if they are in your garage. Some dogs are very attracted to the taste of antifreeze, which is toxic and could kill them.

If you live near an open body of water, be very carful about letting your rambunctious dog off lead. Although it may seem to be solidly frozen, your dog could slip through a hole or step on a thin spot and not be able to get back out. Hence, make sure you keep your dog near you at all times.

An open fire or the soothing warmth emanating from a space heater is as attractive to your dog as it is to you, so keep your eye on your dog to make sure that he or she doesn’t accidentally burn his/her tail or paws for example.

Do not leave your dog unattended in a room with a space heater, as he/she could easily knock it over and start a fire in your home. If you have to leave your dog in the room with the fire still burning, then make sure you have a secure guard in front of it.

Make sure you get your boiler checked for carbon monoxide leakage before you turn it on for the first time each winter. Carbon monoxide is odourless and invisible, but it can cause problems like headaches, fatigue, breathing troubles, or even kill you. Dogs usually spend more time indoors than owners, particularly in the winter, so they are more vulnerable to carbon monoxide poisoning than the rest of the family.

It’s not uncommon for dogs to get rock salt, ice, and chemical ice treatments caught in their footpads. To minimise damage to his or her paws, wipe them with a warm cloth when he/she comes inside. This will also keep him/her from licking the salt off his or her feet, which could cause an inflammation of his or her digestive tract.

Cold dogs can be very resourceful in their search for warm shelter. They will burrow into snow banks, hide under porches or in window wells, climb into a dumpster or get into unsecured sheds, greenhouses and get trapped. ALWAYS, observe them closely while they are loose outside and if you have to leave your dog out, provide him or her with quality and easily accessible shelter.

ALWAYS make sure that you dog’s water bowl is not frozen. A thirsty pet is more likely to drink out of puddles or gutters, which can be polluted with oil, antifreeze, household cleaners, and other chemicals.

Make sure that you are gentle with elderly and arthritic dogs during the winter. Because the cold tends to make their joints extremely stiff and tender, consequently they may be more awkward than usual. ALWAYS stay directly below these dogs when they are climbing stairs or jumping up on furniture to catch them if they slip. Although you should have ideally deterred this behaviour from a young age. You should consider modifying their environment to make it easier for them to get around. Give them a thick, soft bed in a warm room for the chilly nights. Take special care when you walk them outside; a slip on the ice could be very painful and cause a significant injury.

You could try to put a coat or sweater on your dog , if they will wear it, as this may help a little, but remember that dogs lose most of their body heat from the pads of their feet, their ears, and their respiratory tract. The best way to protect your dog from winter weather damage is to watch them closely and make sure they are comfortable.

Do watch for signs of discomfort when you are outside with your dog during the winter. If they whine or seem anxious, begin to shiver, slow down or stop moving, or start to look for warm places to burrow, then they are telling you they want to be in a warmer place.

Winter is a beautiful time of year. It can be a dangerous time as well, but it doesn’t have to be. With a few sensible precautions, you and your dog can have a wonderful time enjoying the icicles, the snow banks, and the warm, glowing fire at the end of the day. THINK SAFE AND BE SAFE.