Many dogs thrive in winter and enjoy playing in the snow. While it may be obvious that some short-coated breeds or small dogs require additional help keeping warm in the winter weather, it’s important to remember that even dogs adapted for northern New Jersey’s inclement weather can get cold, develop hypothermia, or even frostbite due to exposure to the elements.
Dogs have an insulating layer of fur, an undercoat, that helps them to retain warmth. On top of the undercoat are guard hairs that protect that undercoat from getting wet or from wind.
Have you ever seen the hackles go up on a dog’s neck? There are muscles in the skin, the arrectores pilorum, that contract when stimulated by the release of adrenaline. This release occurs when the dog is frightened or cold, kind of like goosebumps on people. When the dog is cold, the erection of the hairs help trap air under the fur as an extra insulating layer to keep the dog warm.
When it rains, snows, or your dog otherwise gets wet, the guard hairs protect the undercoat so that it can retain its insulating properties. But if a dog is submerged in water or stays out in the elements for a prolonged period of time (which could be as short as an hour of play time with your children), those guard hairs can fail and the undercoat will get wet. A wet dog is a cold dog, no matter the breed and short-haired dogs aren’t the only ones susceptible to the deprivations of cold.
Even if your dog is a nordic breed, monitor him or her in inclement weather for signs they’ve had too much outdoor time. If your dog is kept outside, you absolutely must be certain to provide warm, weather proof shelter from the elements or risk losing your dog to hypothermia or frostbite. Dogs who are low to the ground, like dachshunds, don’t clear snow or puddles as easily as their taller counterparts and are more likely to suffer from the cold. You should pay close attention to these and other cold-sensitive dogs, including puppies, elderly dogs, and dogs with chronic health issues.
Signs of hypothermia
Signs of Frostbite
- Low body temp (normal body
temperature for dogs is 100.5 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit)
- Muscle stiffness
- Low heart and respiratory
- Difficulty breathing
- Fixed and dilated pupils
- Skin discoloration
- on the ears, tail and toes
- Pain and swelling
- Sloughing of skin
- Skin ulcers
If your dog’s skin feels cold to the touch, if he has a low rectal temp, or you otherwise suspect that your dog is hypothermic or has developed frost bite, you need to call your veterinarian immediately. Cover your dog with blankets and then contact your veterinarian right away. Your dog may need to go to the nearest animal hospital for more aggressive monitoring or treatment than you can safely provide at home. Warming up the body can be a tricky thing and it is best left to those who are trained to do it safely or are able to guide you directly. Never try to warm your dog by placing him or her in hot water.
References and more information:
Canis Major – Canine Fur
Dog Topics – Winter Dog Tips
How Stuff Works – Chills
Metpet.com – Piloerection: Hair Standing On End In Dogs
Pet Place – Frostbite in Dogs
Pet Place – Hypothermia in Dogs
Follow me on Twitter for dog-related news, tips, and updates! @MGL_NewarkDogs
Become a fan on Facebook to participate in discussions, share photos, and more!
All text in this article is copyrighted and the sole possession of Melissa Garcia Logan, unless otherwise indicated. Available for reprint and/or publishing only with written permission from author. Contact Melissa Garcia Logan with your comments, suggestions, questions, and ideas.