Keeping your dog warm … or cool

Ever wondered how your dog can hang out with you in your 70 degree house and then run out into the snow and not seem to be bothered at all?   To understand this, we need to look at how dogs stay warm and cool.  (And how I wish I could do the same!)

Stay cool is simple.  Dogs cool off in a few basic ways:

  • They expel heat by panting.
  • They lose heat by sweating through their paws.
  • Staying cool by getting wet.  (One of my dogs that hates to swim will wade in and sit and then rock back and forth to get as much of herself wet as possible without actually swimming!)
  • They seek cooler places to hang out like cool grass, the shade, a whole dug in the dirt to find the cool dirt underneath.
  • Shedding fur.

Staying warm takes more.  Dogs stay warm by:

  • Growing more fur when it’s cold.
  • Converting their food into heat. 
    • A lot of the food dogs eat during cold weather is used to maintain their body temperature.
    • The mass to surface area ration determines how hard it is to keep
      warm.  So large dogs that have a large mass relative to their surface
      area require less energy (for their size) than small dogs to keep warm.
    • Feed your dog more if they are out a lot when it’s cold.  (If they are inside a lot when it’s cold they may need less food as they are less active!)
  • In general, your dogs should be inside if it’s freezing outside.
    • If you do leave them outside for any reason, even a short while, make sure they have water by putting out warm water regularly or investing in a self heating water dish.  Eating snow is not a good alternative – it takes energy to warm up snow and it takes a lot of snow to quench a dog’s thirst!
  • Get a really warm (and cheap) sweater for your dog.
  • Dogs can get frostbite especially on their ears, tails and paws.  The area will look pale and feel cold.  Don’t rub it! And don’t let your dog scratch it. Call your vet immediately.
  • Wash your dogs feet in the winter if you’ve been walking where the roads have chemicals on them.

And don’t forget to have fun with your dog in the winter!  Walking, snowshoeing, and just romping in the snow is fun.  My neighbor’s dog loves to try to catch the snow as she throws shovelfuls into the air!

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