Dogs are, of course, biologically different than humans, and they regulate their body temperatures differently. That being said, if the temperature outside is uncomfortable for you, a good rule of thumb is to assume that it is uncomfortable for your dog. Since all dogs are different, their thresholds for what is too hot or cold will differentiate. Below are just a few physical characteristics to keep in mind when determining what your dog’s threshold for certain temperatures might be:
- Snout - Dogs with shorter snouts will get hotter faster since the warm air has less time to cool before reaching their lungs.
- Coat - Dogs with thick coats of fur will do better in cold temperatures but worse in hot temperatures. Conversely, dogs with shorter coats will do better in hot temperatures and worse in cold.
- Size - Small dogs are much more susceptible to cold weather.
- Weight - Dogs with a few extra pounds are better insulated against cold.
- Condition - If a dog is well adapted to a certain temperature, it will do better at that temperature than dogs not well adapted.
- Age and health - Very young, old, or sick dogs are at higher risks in extreme temperatures.
Heat is especially dangerous for dogs, with humidity being particularly hazardous. Dogs cool off by panting, and high humidity makes that process more difficult. Therefore, dogs in warm, humid temperatures are much more likely to suffer from heatstroke or heat exhaustion.
In order to protect your canine companion, make sure your pup has ready access to cool water and shade. Adjust exercise and walks accordingly, so that you do not overwork your dog in the heat. In extreme heat, only bring dogs outside at the coolest hours of the day, such as morning and evening.
Since there is always a danger of heatstroke in hot weather, be alert for these symptoms:
- Excessive drooling
- Rapid Heart Rate
- Vomiting blood
- Muscle Spasms
- Loss of Consciousness
If you ever suspect your dog is suffering from heat stroke or dehydration, take steps to cool them down internally and externally. Immediately move the dog into a shady or airconditioned environment. Bring your dog’s temperature down externally with cool water or cool wet towels. Encourage the canine patient to drink small amounts of water, or else to lick ice cubes. And of course, seek veterinary aid immediately!
One last important note: never, under any circumstances, leave a dog alone in a parked car in warm weather. Temperatures inside a parked car quickly soar far above the temperature outside the car, even with the window cracked. Thus, the temperature in a parked car on what feels like a reasonably cool day might not be tolerable or even survivable to that dog who is locked inside and unable to escape.
Cold weather is generally less dangerous for most dogs than hot weather, although dogs can freeze to death if left outside in extreme temperatures. As such, cold still comes with the possibility of frostbite, hypothermia, or even death. Most every dog will be fine in temperatures down to 45°F. For temperatures between 32°- 45°F, small dogs with short coats, old dogs, young dogs, and sick dogs, are at risk. Whether a dog is acclimated to the cold also comes into play. Below 32°F, all dogs are at risk of frostbite, hypothermia, and potentially even death depending on the size, coat, and health condition of the dog. Temperatures below 10°F are potentially life-threatening for dogs of any size, age, health status, whether or not acclimated to cold weather, and prolonged outdoor activity should be avoided.
To bolster a dog's cold-fighting capability, invest in a warm, adorable sweater, and a nice set of booties to keep ice off paws. Limit a dog's exposure to the cold as much as possible, walk them during the warmest times of day, and up their caloric intake. Harsh wind and damp conditions will accelerate the damaging effects of cold temperature. Be vigilant for the signs of hypothermia:
- Slow breathing
- Fixed pupils
- Muscle Stiffness
If any of these symptoms present themselves, immediately take your dog into warmer conditions. Seek veterinary aid immediately if your pet experiences hypothermia, especially if the symptoms are prolonged or severe.
The dangers of extreme temperatures affect dogs in all climates. It is always safest to acknowledge your particular environment, your dog’s aptitude for such conditions, and take the appropriate precautions. Above all, be aware of your dog’s health, watch for signs of hypothermia or heat stroke, do not leave them in a warm parked car or a car in direct sunlight, and have an emergency backup plan for veterinary care just in case.