As winter sets in, you may be wondering: how do you know if your dog is warm enough? And how much too cold is it to take them for a walk?
It’s delicate; much depends on their natural coat. We ask ourselves this question daily in my house in the winter because one of my dogs is small and doesn’t have much coat – she is currently wearing a sweater and on my lap under a blanket.
But the majority of breeds are probably OK in most Australian temperatures. In many ways, it’s easier to keep a cold dog with a thin coat warm than it is to keep a warm, thick dog cool when the mercury soars.
That said, there are some good general rules to follow to make sure your canine friends don’t suffer when an Antarctic explosion hits.
Read more: How hot is it? Here’s how to tell if your dog is in pain during the summer heat
A few guidelines to follow
My rule of thumb is to feel their ends. If I can feel that their ears or feet are a little cold to the touch, that suggests their core temperature might be a little low. Then I would provide a coat or put the heater on (if we are staying indoors).
It all depends on whether your dog has a double coat or not – a lot of dogs do. You can tell if your dog has an undercoat by parting his hair and seeing if there is a fluffy layer of pale hair between the shiny top coat and the skin.
Double-coated breeds include most kelpies, cattle dogs, German shepherds, and huskies. Some breeds, such as Samoyeds, have very dense undercoats and can tolerate cold very well. A dog with a thick undercoat needs nothing more to stay warm in cold weather.
If your dog has a single coat, you may need to think a little more about the cold. Breeds in this category include Maltese, Cavaliers, Greyhounds, Whippets, and Staffies.
In addition to coat, also consider the golden rule of surface area to volume ratio.
Small animals have more surface area for their weight than large animals, which means they have more surface area to lose heat compared to a larger, heavier dog.
Skinny little dogs generally struggle with the cold a little more than other dogs for this reason. For example, Italian Greyhounds are much more vulnerable than regular Greyhounds.
If we are cold, they probably are too. A thicker coat helps slow heat loss, which is good if you live in a cold environment, but not so good if you live in a hot environment.
What behaviors can we look for?
If your dog is shivering, hunched over with its tail tucked, trying to tuck its paws in close to its body or lift them off the cold floor, it has an uncomfortable cold.
If the dog is immobile, he is more likely to get cold. For example, we wrap our smallest dog in a blanket when he’s in the car, but once he runs he seems to generate enough heat to stay comfortable.
At home, pay attention to where dogs sleep. If they’re curled up in a tight ball on the thickest bed they can find, or snuggled up under blankets, they’re trying to keep warm.
My little dog has learned to show me if she wants a sweater by wagging her tail and putting her head in it if I hand it to her. So maybe we can teach our dogs to answer the question “Do you want another diaper?”
If dogs don’t sleep well at night or get up often in the wee hours of the morning, it’s a good idea to check how cold they are and try to provide warmer sleeping options.
If you have a dog in the yard, make sure he has access to shelter and a bed to protect him from the cold ground, especially when there is a cold wind.
Let your dog choose
In Australia, a cold day is generally easier for dogs to manage than a hot day.
So yes, you could have an Italian Greyhound as a pet in southern Tasmania, as long as you add layers where needed and maybe accept that they will sleep in bed with you under the covers.
I like to let dogs choose, as much as possible, what they need to manage their core temperature.
For example, you can provide a bed with a blanket, or extra bedding and blankets in cold weather, so they can use what they need and move away from it when they’ve warmed up enough.
Once I put a jacket on my dog, she is unable to take it off herself, so I’m counting on being able to say somehow that she doesn’t want to put it on anymore. .
Still, it’s an improvement on her simply climbing into my jacket with me all the time, which she still does sometimes even when she has her own extra layers.
Sometimes you just want to snuggle up to a warm friend. Hard to argue with that!