As our temperatures fall through January and into February, we receive a lot of questions about how best to prepare your dog for the winter weather. Are those cute coats and bothersome booties really necessary? The simple answer is…it depends! Read on for information on how to make the best choice for your pet.
First of all, during a true Michigan winter, it’s not safe for dogs to stay outdoors. They require so much energy to maintain their temperature that their body condition decreases quickly. As their body fat disappears, so does their ability to stay warm. Our advice is always to find an indoor location for your dog to stay in the winter! If bringing them into your home is simply not an option, a heated area in your garage is better than having them brave the elements.
For those quick “pit stops” outdoors, no dog really needs to don a coat or other comfy clothes. I do recommend that an area be cleared of deep snow for those of small stature. If they can avoid direct contact with the snow, your pet’s body temp will stay within the normal range as they relieve themselves. Speaking of relief, isn’t it great to know that you don’t need to perform Jiu Jitsu to get those booties on for a quick trip outside?
However, if your diminutive best friend is going to be outdoors for a long period of time, a coat is not just fashionable but also functional. While they may not suffer life-threatening hypothermia, small breed dogs can turn into pawpsicles pretty quickly. They have a very high surface-area-to-body-weight ratio, which means they cool down faster than large breed dogs. So, go ahead! Splurge on that PoshPuppy pullover or those Bloomingtails booties. Your pet will thank you for it!
Medium and large breed dogs tend to conserve body heat a bit better. Nordic breeds like Huskies, Samoyeds, Malamutes, etc. in particular can handle the cold pretty well. Thin-coated breeds may still struggle a bit. Think sigh hounds, bully breeds, Great Danes, Mastiffs, Dobermans, German Shorthaired Pointers, and Boxers. Yes, I know these dogs can seem imposing, but drop the temperature and they are a shivering mess! My own Tugger is a 75-pound American Bulldog mix. Our morning walks (in the dark, with a headlamp) can get pretty chilly. Unless I keep our pace at about a 10-minute mile, Tugger gets geared up just like Mommy. If your large breed dog is going to be active outdoors (like a brisk walk or jog), the coat may actually cause them to overheat! So, pay attention to their behavior cues. My typical rule of thumb – if we are moving fast enough for me to work up a sweat, my fine furred buddy doesn’t need that coat! In summary, unless your dog is the type that could pull a sled in the Iditarod, a coat is called for in below-freezing temps when they will be outdoors for longer periods.
What about those feet? There is a bit more controversy there! The controversy is centered on the difficulty of boot application, the challenge of finding the right fit, and the impossible task of keeping those darn things on! If you have felt these frustrations, you can take other steps to protect your pet’s feet. Some good alternatives include applying petroleum jelly or paw wax to protect those pads from drying and cracking before you head outdoors and simply soaking their feet in warm water when you come back inside. Have you found that Holy Grail of dog boot? Then by all means, use them! And share the brand and all your other secrets with the rest of us!