As winter approaches, you may be wondering: How do you know if your dog is warm enough? How cold is it to take them for a walk?
This is a tricky one; a lot depends on their natural fur. Our family has this problem every day in the winter because one of my dogs is small and doesn’t have much coats – she now wears a jumper over my lap under a blanket.
But most varieties are probably fine in most temperatures in Australia. In many ways, keeping a cold dog warm with a thin coat is easier than keeping a hot, thick coat cool when the mercury is rising.
That said, there are some good general rules to follow to make sure your canine friend doesn’t suffer when an Antarctic blast strikes.
some guidelines to follow
My rule of thumb is to feel their limbs. If I can feel their ears or feet feel a little cool to the touch, it’s a sign that their core temperature might be a little low. Then I’ll provide a coat or put on a heater (if we live inside).
A lot depends on whether your dog has a double coat – many do. You can see if your dog has undercoat by parting their hair and looking for a soft, pale coat between the glossy topcoat and the skin.
Breeds with double coats include most Kelpies, Cattle Dogs, German Shepherds, and Huskies. Some breeds, like the Samoyed, have a very bushy undercoat that tolerates cold well. A dog with a thick undercoat doesn’t need anything to stay warm on a cold day.
If your dog only has one coat, you may need to think more carefully about colds. Breeds in this category include Maltese, Cavaliers, Greyhounds, Whippets, and Staff Dogs.
In addition to coatings, consider the golden rule of surface area to volume ratio.
Smaller animals have more surface area to lose weight than larger animals, which means they have more surface area to dissipate heat than larger and heavier dogs.
For this reason, small, skinny dogs are often more prone to colds than other dogs. For example, Italian Greyhounds are more vulnerable than regular Greyhounds.
If we are cold, they may be cold too. A thicker coat helps slow heat loss, which is fine if you live in a cold environment, but not so good if you live in a warm environment.
What behaviors can we look for?
If your dog is shaking, curling their tails, trying to bring their paws close to the body or lifting them off the icy ground, they will be uncomfortable.
Dogs are at greater risk of catching a cold if they are still. For example, when our youngest dog is in the car, we wrap it in a blanket – but once she’s running around, she seems to generate enough heat to stay comfortable.
At home, pay attention to where your dog sleeps. If they’re curled up into a tight ball on the thickest bed they can find, or rubbing under a blanket, they’re trying to keep themselves warm.
My puppy has learned to show me if she wants a pullover and if I hold it to her, it will wag its tail and stick its head in. So we might be able to teach our dogs to answer the question “Would you like another layer?”
If dogs don’t sleep well at night or get up a lot in the early hours, it’s a good idea to check how cold they feel and try to offer them some warm sleeping options.
If you have a dog in the yard, make sure they have shelter and a bed to keep them off the cold ground, especially if there is a cold wind.
Let your dog choose
In Australia, cold weather is often easier to manage than hot weather for dogs.
So yes, you can keep an Italian Greyhound as a pet in southern Tasmania, as long as you add a few layers when needed and maybe accept that they will sleep with you in bed.
I like to give dogs as many options as possible to manage their core temperature.
For example, you can provide a covered bed on cold days, or extra bedding and blankets so they can use what they need and leave it once they’ve warmed up enough.
Once I put a coat on my dog, she can’t take it off on her own, so I rely on being able to tell her somehow she doesn’t want it anymore.
Still, it’s an improvement for her always crawling into my jacket with me, which she still sometimes does even though she has her own extra layers.
However, sometimes you just want to hug a warm friend. It’s hard to argue with that!