How Do Dogs Keep Themselves Warm?

Winter is here. Your dog is leaping for joy in the snow, and you are cursing under your breath at all the shoveling that needs to be done. How is it that Fido can stay outside and play for hours on end, when you need 15 minutes just to get all your winter clothes on before stepping out the door?


How do dogs keep themselves warm?

Dogs’ bodies have a number of tactics for dealing with cold. They have the ability to make the hair stand up on end, which decreases the amount of cold air that comes in to contact with the skin.

Dogs that live in extreme environments also have the ability to store fat in their body, which can be used as energy. Larger breeds also have the ability to regulate their body temperature more easily than small breeds.

Dogs keep warm in extreme cold temperatures by temporarily reducing their metabolic rate. This lowers their body temperature and reduces the difference between their body temperature and the air temperature, which helps to reduce the amount of heat lost from their body.

Some dog breeds have countercurrent blood flow. This means that the warm blood pumping from the heart to the extremities warms the blood flowing back to the heart from the limbs. At the same time, the blood flowing from the limbs to the heart is cooled. This also minimizes heat loss.

In extreme cold weather, a dog’s body has the ability to create a state of torpor. Torpor is a state of reduced temperature and metabolic rate that animals use to survive periods of cold or reduced food availability. This period can last for weeks, called hibernation, or can last less than 24 hours, which is called daily torpor. Many animals use daily torpor as a strategy to keep warm during the night, such as birds, bats, and rodents.


Are there dogs that are better suited for cold weather than others?

Many breeds have been developed in extremely cold or arctic environments. These breeds have a distinct advantage over many others as far as their capacity to handle the cold and wet. They come from arctic locations, northern Europe, and high mountain ranges.

Most of these breeds have a thick double fur coat. Their fur acts as insulation to protect against the bitter cold and wet. They are also capable of keeping their feet from freezing, using countercurrent blood flow techniques.

Here are ten breeds that are best suited for arctic temperatures:

  • Alaskan Malamute
  • American eskimo dog
  • Bernese mountain dog
  • Icelandic sheepdog
  • Leonberger
  • Newfoundland
  • Samoyed
  • Siberian husky
  • St Bernard
  • Tibetan mastiff


Are there certain dogs that have a harder time dealing with cold?

There are dog breeds that can tolerate extreme cold (as mentioned above), but many dog breeds are not as well-equipped. These dogs are at a disadvantage compared to arctic breeds.

Without protection, dogs with short coats and no undercoat can become colder much more quickly than their double-coated counterparts. Short dogs are more susceptible because they don’t have as large of a body protecting their core. Their bellies are also closer to the ground than taller dogs. This makes them more apt to come into contact with the cold ground, and wet snow.

Older dogs cannot regulate their body temperature as well as young dogs, so they need to be protected. Arthritic dogs may have trouble getting around on ice and snow. Dogs with health conditions such as heart disease, kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, and diabetes are also unable to regulate their body temperatures as well as healthy pets. Skinny dogs are also prone to becoming chilled faster than dogs with a good layer of fat.


How cold is too cold?

Dogs can get frostbite and hypothermia just like people. We need to protect our pets from the dangers of winter weather. The danger of frostbite and hyperthermia exists anytime the temperature is below 32 degrees.

Temperature is not the only factor to consider when you are trying to decide whether it is too cold for your pet to be outside. Moisture will significantly increase the risk of cold-related injuries. Wet snow, slush, and freezing rain can easily soak through your dog’ coat; making it harder for him to keep warm. Paw pads, toes, ears and the tips of the tail can become frostbitten much more easily during wet conditions.

Windchill factor can also affect the temperatures at which it becomes risky to spend time outside. A bitter cold wind can easily get through a dog’s fur coat, making him feel colder much faster.


How do I know if my pet is too cold?

Shivering or shaking is an obvious sign that your dog is too cold. There are other subtle signs that you can look for to indicate that your dog may be getting cold.

Behavioral changes, such as anxiousness, pacing, reluctance to walk, whining, or turning his head to look behind him probably indicate that your dog has had too much. If your dog starts to pick up or hold up one of its paws, they are probably getting very cold. If your dog exhibits these behaviors, get inside right away.

Weakness, lethargy, slowed breathing and muscle stiffness are all signs that your pet may be experiencing hypothermia, which is very dangerous. These symptoms are serious, and a veterinarian should be consulted right away.


How can I help keep my dog safe and warm?

There are many things you can do to help prevent hypothermia, frostbite and other damaging effects from the cold.

Get your dog a jacket

If your pet is short coated, or does not have a double-coat, investing in a quality coat for him will help tremendously. A good coat should have a waterproof outer layer, with a lining of fleece or similar material on the inside. You should make sure the coat fits properly, and will not become soiled when your dog does his business.

Invest in a pair of dog booties

A variety of boots are available, and they can protect your dog’s feet against frostbite and injuries due to stepping on sharp ice or snow-melting chemicals. Boots are ideal for pets with arthritis or mobility issue, in ofer to give them traction and prevent falls.

Keep your pets indoors

During the winter months, outdoor pets should be brought inside. If they can’t or won’t come in, they should have a well-insulated dog house with a door, or a heated garage for shelter.

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