As dog owners, we often take the toughness of our animals for granted.
All but the most pampered four-footers spend their lives walking around barefoot, naked and exposed to the elements, while we wear fancy shoes and clothes. Some of us even have the audacity to complain about the weather before marching our dogs out into it, largely unprotected.
For the most part, this approach is sufficient. Most dogs are pretty tough campers, who are protected by their fur, leathery toe pads and bold spirit. But this doesn’t mean they’re invincible – far from it.
All dogs are susceptible to low temperatures, and it is important that you take steps to keep pit bulls and other short-haired breeds warm in cold weather.
Short hair isn’t the only characteristic that makes it difficult for dogs to deal with the cold; several other characteristics affect the way a dog copes with low temperatures. Some of the most important traits in this regard include:
Your dog’s hair helps to protect his skin and insulate his body.
Like all endothermic (“warm-blooded”) animals, your dog produces heat in his body. The more of this body heat he can retain, the warmer he’ll feel.
So, your dog’s coat works exactly like your sweater does. Accordingly, the longer and thicker his fur, the warmer he’ll stay in cold temperatures.
Most dogs have a heavy coat of thick guard hairs, that protect them from the elements and retain heat. However, huskies, malamutes and other dogs from cold climates typically have a second coat – called an undercoat – of softer, denser hair to help insulate their bodies even more. Dogs that lack this undercoat are more likely to suffer from low temperatures.
Hair is not the only thing that insulates a dog’s body, fat is also an effective insulator. This means that really thin breeds – greyhounds are a perfect example – are more susceptible to cold temperatures than breeds with more cushion are.
This tendency is reflected among many wild animals; seals, whales, bears and other mammals living in cold climates often insulate themselves with a thick layer of blubber, while those living near the equator usually lack extra fat.
Dogs are constantly producing heat inside their body, and this heat is constantly trying to escape into the cool air as easily as possible.
This causes a two-fold problem for small dogs. First, they have less body tissue producing heat than larger dogs do, which serves as an initial disadvantage. However, they also have more surface area relative to their size than large dogs do, meaning that it is easier for the heat to escape their bodies, resulting in a chilly pooch!
Like size, shape can increase the surface-to-volume ratio of a dog, which will cause it to lose heat rapidly in cold weather. This means that long, skinny dogs, or those with very long legs will be more susceptible to the cold than short, pudgy dogs, with short legs. Skinny-jeaned hipsters usually face similar issues.
Because your dog’s ears are thin and full of blood vessels, they work as very effective radiators. While this is helpful for cooling off in the summer heat, it means that big-eared dogs are more susceptible to cold temperatures than dogs with more modestly sized ears.
Most dogs can exhibit one or two of these traits without being exceptionally sensitive to cold temperatures, but those who possess several of these characteristics usually have trouble coping with the cold.
While health, coat condition, body size and age can also play a role in a dog’s tolerance to cold temperatures, several breeds are characteristically ill-suited for cold climates.
Among others, the following breeds may suffer in low temperatures:
American pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, and similar breeds are short-haired and lean dogs who are not well-suited for cold temperatures.
They have a tough guy image and sure – they’re known for destroying toys designed for other pooches, to the point where they require the toughest toys and most durable dog beds around – but as any owner will tell you, they’re softies on the inside.
Given their short hair and lean build, plus their high need for human attention, pit bulls are best regarded as “inside dogs.”
Beagles do have a double-coat, but neither is especially long, so they are not ideally suited for cold weather.
Additionally, they are on the small side, yet have the ears of a much bigger dog, which accelerates that rate at which they lose body heat.
Dachshunds are blessed with double-coats, and some even have long hair, but their small size counteracts this, so they catch a chill pretty easily. Plus, their long body design raises their surface-to-volume ratio, further exposing them to cold temperatures.
It’s not surprising that an often-hairless dog is on this list, but even powderpuff cresteds are ill-equipped to battle the arctic tundra. In fact, you should probably avoid walking too close to air-conditioning vents while holding one of these tiny, tufted pups. Whether coated in hair or not, Chinese cresteds are small, delicately built dogs that are particularly susceptible to low temperatures.
Greyhounds are short-haired, lanky and lean, making them poor partners in cold-weather. In fact, greyhounds are characterized by adaptations that help them to shed body heat rapidly; running at high speed generates a lot of heat, so breeders have sought to highlight many of the very attributes that make them chill easily.
Given their similarities to greyhounds, it isn’t surprising to see them on this list. However, the poor whippet is even smaller than the greyhound, so he is even more susceptible to the cold. If you’re wearing a sweater, your whippet probably needs one too.
As you’d expect, speedy hunting dogs that hail from the tropical forests of the Congo are not exactly well-suited for living in a winter wonderland. They are built for running, and have remarkably short hair, small body size and a relatively lean build, all of which add up to a dog that would prefer living in the sunbelt.
Papillons have a fine, single coat which doesn’t provide very much insulation from the cold. Add this to their small body size and relatively slender legs, and you get a dog that needs a sweater anytime he walks too close to the fridge. Papillons also have pretty big (and terribly endearing) ears, which allow even more of their precious body heat to escape.
You can help keep your cold-sensitive dog comfortable by letting him spend most of his time inside, or by providing him with a heated dog bed or kennel and a warm blanket in which he can hollow out a nest. However, even dogs who spend most of their lives living indoors will have to go outside 3 or 4 times a day. Accordingly, you’ll have to take steps to protect cold-averse dogs during trips outside in the winter months.
Unfortunately, there aren’t a whole lot of different strategies for doing this – basically, you’ve just got to bundle your little pup up in some supplemental outerwear. But, on the plus side, this gives you a chance to decorate your poor pup in countlessly clever and entertaining ways.
We suggest checking out our list of the best winter jackets for dogs – there’s an outerwear outfit for every pup there!
Sweaters are generally the first-line defense against the cold, and they work pretty well for the purpose. Many dogs will learn to anticipate the sweater-donning procedure and help out as best they can. Shoes and other types of protective footwear are also a good idea for dogs who get cold easily, particularly if they must walk around in snow or ice.
Be sure to encourage your little winter warrior to run, jump and play while outside to help ensure he gets enough exercise, but this will also help to keep his internal furnace burning at full blast. Once your dog loses interest or expresses a desire to return inside, accommodate him and let him jump on his favorite cozy place to thaw.
If you are worried that your dog is not getting enough exercise, try to let him run around outside for brief periods of time, before coming back inside to warm up. That will help keep him comfortable and avoid getting cabin fever.
Above all else, pay attention to your dog and use good common sense to keep him safe.
It is important to understand that some dogs are unable to tolerate low temperatures very well, so always consider your climate before selecting a breed. If your pup is not ideally suited for cold temperatures, make sure to bundle him up in the winter and avoid making him stay outside for extended periods of time.
How do you help keep your dog warm and toasty during the winter months? Let us know in the comments below.
Meg Marrs is the Founder and Senior Editor at K9 of Mine. She is a lifelong canine enthusiast and adores dogs of all shapes and sizes! She loves iced coffee, hammocks, and puppy-cuddling!