Winter Assessment for Outside Dogs
Acclimatization – Being outdoors continuously from warmer weather into winter helps a dog adapt his body and coat to cold weather. Dogs cannot be thrust suddenly from warm to cold temperatures, but require time to adjust.
Age – Very young (under 8 weeks unless with dam) and older dogs may be vulnerable to cold, if they are unable to regulate their body heat or have a meager or poor coat.
Coat – Only double-coated dogs with water resistant outer hair and dense undercoats are suitable for living outdoors. Although long hair is not essential; slick, very short, or single-coated dogs are not adapted to very cold weather. Dogs with poor working coats or cottony soft coats may lack the needed water resistance. A clean, dry coat provides better insulation than a dirty or wet coat. Dogs with proper dense coats can lie on snow without melting it.
Health – Dogs in poor health, underweight, or recovering from surgery, injury, or illness may need special consideration.
Nutrition – Outdoor living dogs need more calories in cold weather, high quality or energy food, and sufficient fat calories.
Size – The body mass of larger dogs allows them to cope with colder temperatures more successfully than smaller dogs. Muscle mass and a small fat layer also help provide insulation, although dogs should not be overweight.
Dogs should be monitored closely in extremely cold weather and checked for good body condition and any signs of frostbite on ears, tails, or paws. Areas of potential frostbite can feel extremely cold to the touch.
Signs of distress or hypothermia may include one or more of the following:
• Strong shivering
• Reluctance to move, weakness, abnormal stiffness, or slow, shallow breathing
• Remaining in a tightly curled position
• Reduced alertness or listless behavior
• Ice on coat due specifically to snow melting and re-freezing, due to loss of body heat.
In an emergency, call medical professionals. Immediate care includes removing the dog from the cold, warming, and drying the coat.