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How Dogs Stay Warm in Cold Weather - It Is More Than Their Fur

Dogs in Cold Weather

Dogs react to cold weather so they keep themselves warm

Dogs react to cold weather so they keep themselves warm

How Do Dogs Stay Warm?

Those cold winter days, frigid temperatures, and freezing weather make it difficult for us all to stay warm. So how do dogs stay warm in the winter? The Amazing Fur of Dogs is one of the factors.

Most dogs do well in cold weather. Most canines that live in cold weather areas have thicker coats and are larger dogs. But there is more than just their fur that helps them stay warm.

Dogs do well in cold weather, in large part to the thick coats of fur they are endowed with. Their fur keeps their body heat from escaping. The topcoat of their hair is known as the reflective layer. In cold weather, a dog’s hair will stand up and trap the heat like a blanket to insulate the dog. In the warm weather, the opposite happens to their fur. Additionally, a dog with two coats will shed the lower coat so that they can be a little cooler in the warmer months.
Hair grows from the follicles in the inner layer of the skin (the dermis). In a person, each follicle has one hair. In a dog, the follicles sometimes have many hairs growing out of it. A dog relies on its fur to help regulate their own body temperature depending on the temperature. Some dogs, who were designed to go into water, have a sort of waterproof fur. Dogs like the retrievers and Newfoundlands have waterproof like fur. They have very active oil glands to keep their skin soft and supple and their fur smooth. Most dogs have several types of fur.

  • the undercoat - this is the layer of fur closest to their skin - many hairs grow from one follicle. The undercoat is very soft and cottony like - this layer protects the dog from the cold temperatures. The thickness of the undercoat varies with different dog breeds.
  • guard hair - thicker and longer hairs than the undercoat. This is the dog’s primary coat and protects a dog’s skin from surface injuries and adds another layer of insulation against cold conditions.
  • whiskers also come from follicles on the eyelids and muzzle area. These hairs are more like sensory feelers that help the dog react to something their faces touch.

A Dog's Coat and the Seasons

Dogs shed their coats depending on the season. A dog’s fur will grow within that season to a genetically pre-determined length. When it stops growing, the dog sheds its fur. Shedding occurs depending on the temperature and the sunlight. The longer the days, the warmer the temperatures, a dog will shed the undercoat so they can stay cooler as the weather gets warmer. When the shorter days and cooler temperatures begin to arrive, the dog sheds its lighter undercoat and grown its thicker winter coat. This winter coat is designed to trap the air that is made warmer by the dog’s body. The muscles in the skin of the dog fluff up the coat and they gain even more insulation.

It is important to take note of your dog’s fur. If your dog’s coat is dry, itchy and limp, it can be a sign of a health problem ranging from parasites to a thyroid condition, hormonal imbalance, or a need for a change in their diet. It is best to consult a veterinarian if you notice changes in your dog’s coat.

Overweight Dogs and Body Temperature

There is a correlation between a dog’s weight and their body temperature. In a recent study it was found thin dogs were able to keep themselves warmer than heavier dogs. There is not too much known on this subject, but it is believed that there is a relationship between a dog being overweight and lower body temperature.

Larger dogs have a lower body temperature than smaller dogs. Obese canines have a lower body temperature than thinner dogs. Warm-blooded mammals expend a great amount of energy to keep warm. A dog with a lower body temperature is not using as much energy because their warmth needs are lower.

Dogs sweat through their paws and their tongues in hot weather. This causes a dog to conserve moisture by carrying heat from the hottest part of the interior of their body to the exterior part of their body - their skin. Their brain is the most temperature sensitve organ. Their muscles are where most of the heat is generated. A dog’s body is designed to protect itself from overheating in hot temperatures.

A Dog's Paws

The paws are designed to protect canines from  the cold

The paws are designed to protect canines from the cold

Blood Circulation and Their Paws

In cold temperatures, a dog’s body protects itself through body temperature and insulation. Their feet and legs have the most contact with snow. When people’s extremities come in contact with the cold, our body shuts off blood supply to our hands and feet to protect our vital organs and this causes frostbite. With dogs, their body doesn’t stop the blood supply to their feet and paws.

A dog’s body will run warm oxygen carrying blood going into the limb next to the cold unoxygenated blood leaving their limbs, so that there is no loss of heat in their extremities. This also prevents cold blood from returning to their body. It is not well studied but it is believed there is some kind of artery and vein heat circulation system that helps them survive in the cold weather.

It is also theorized that there may be a different kind of fat in the dog’s foot compared to the type of fat in the rest of their body and this helps contribute to keeping their feet warm. This fat may allow changes in the cells that help them tolerate lower temperatures and still be able to function. There is much more that needs to be studied about this topic.

How Dogs Stay Warm

Using electron microscopes, Japanese scientists have studied the internal workings of a dog’s paws. This network of veins is called “rete mirabile”, which means wonderful network. It manages to keep a constant temperature throughout their legs and paws. The closeness of the arteries to the vein allows heat to be transferred from one blood vessel to another. As the blood in their vein gets cold from contact with cold air and frozen ground, warm blood coming from the heart transfers the heat and warm blood gets returned to the body.

This prevents the dog’s body temperature from cooling down while the paws stay at a constant temperature. Other animals have a similar system. Dolphins have this cirulation system in their fins and penguins have it in their beaks, wings, and legs. Arctic foxes have a thick and stiff fur on their paws which helps keep the bottom of their paws from the cold ground. Their pads have connective tissue and fat that is resistant to freezing temperatures that can keep their tissues in their feet and paws warm at frozen temperatures of -35c.

Dog Breeds for the Cold Weather

Cold Weather Dogs

  • Siberian husky. Known for pulling sleds in the coldest Arctic areas.
  • Chow Chow has a fluffy and very thick coat.
  • Anatolian Shepherd does very well in cold environments and harsh weather.
  • Keeshond related to the other Arctic breeds liks Samoyeds, Chow Chows, and Pomeranians - does well in winter like conditions.
  • Samoyed are large white dogs who need human companionship. They have a thick coat and have been used to pull sleds with their ability to haul one and a half times their own weight. They are gentle, sturdy, and does great outdoors.
  • Norwegian Elkhound decended from the dogs of the Vikings and can live in very harsh conditions.
  • Akita hunted bears in all weather because of their thick coat of fur.
  • Irish Wolfhound does well in cold weather. They hunted wolves in Ireland.
  • Bouvier des Flandres can comfortably live in cold climates - from Belgium.
  • Golden Retriever - their coat is designed for all weather conditions.
  • Old English Sheepdog - thrives in chilly weather with thick white and gray coat.
  • Saint Bernard - known for saving people lost or injured in the cold Swiss Alps. Best known for carrying a whiskey barrel around their neck.
  • Greater Swiss Mountain Dog - thrives in cold weather. Bred in Switzerland.
  • Bernese Mountain Dog - can do well in all climates, especially in cold temperatures.
  • Alaskan Malamute - Dog sledder - does better in cold climates than warm.
  • Bearded Collie - has a thick coat designed for cold weather.
  • German Shepherd - has a double coat that provides insulation from cold weather.
  • Shiba Inu - does well in cold weather thanks to their thick coat.
  • Newfoundland - thrives in water and tolerates cold weather well.
  • Rottweiler - bred for herding does well outdoors.
  • Curly Coated Retriever - hardy dog who loves water. Thick waterproof coat gives protection from harsh weather.
  • Mastiff - large dogs used for hunting and protecting - withstands the coldest of temperatures.
  • Greater Swiss Mountain Dog - originated in Switzerland as an outdoor working dog.
  • Bernese Mountain Dog - hardy, strong, and sturdy - can thrive in cold temperatures.
  • Great Pyrenees - thrives in winter like conditions as protector and work dog.
  • Alaskan Malamute - sled dog with thick coat ideally suited for cold climates.
  • Australian Shepherd - does well in outdoors - orginated in the United States.
  • Australian Cattle Dog - comes from Australia and used to herd cattle - well suited for outdoors.
  • Bearded Collie - herds sheep in Scotland - has thick coat and can do well in the coldest of weather.
  • American Foxhound - designed to hunt foxes and does well doing many outdoor activities.
  • Belgian Sheepdog - excellent guard dog with a heavy coat designed for outdoors.

In hot weather dogs, try to keep themselves cool, but are not efficient at sweating. Dogs are designed for the cold weather, better than us humans are. But then again, dogs do everything better than people do.

Read More About Dogs

Read more about the amazing canines by clicking here:

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Some dogs do better in the cold

© 2012 toknowinfo


Starwish246 on January 22, 2015:

A few years ago, I went to the Thrift Store, and found a very large size, heavily padded, man's thermal winter coat. I bought it for my dog. I just button up the coat, and my dog just crawls right inside of the coat. It is like a nice, soft bed inside, and so warm in winter while camping with me. It's my doggie sleeping bag/coat. And the price was cheap. Just make sure that the coat is cleanable ( for the doggie smells).

Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent from Mississauga, ON on January 12, 2015:

Very informative article indeed! I liked the scientific reason.

I hike long distances with my Kuvasz and most frequently in fall, winters and early spring. Now I know why he doesn't feel cold and wants to play in snow all the time.

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on January 05, 2015:

You answered so many questions that I have had over the years about pups in the cold. I knew a bit about their coat but not nearly what you shared.

I also think the information about the feet is quite intriguing

Thanks for sharing.

Angels are on the way to you this evening ps

Ian from Colorado on November 14, 2014:

I've always wondered this. It got down to -12 this week and my dog was still as happy as can be wandering around for hours. Even started wining to go outside when she saw the snow. The paws were my especially big question. Thanks for answering.

toknowinfo (author) on February 07, 2014:

I am glad my article can be of use to you. My name is Rhonda Tenil. If I can be of any other help to you, please feel free to contact me. Good luck with your project.

aaliyah torres on February 06, 2014:

Hi.I am doing a science project and I need the author of the websites I am looking at for information but your name is not on it can you tell me your name for my project:-)

toknowinfo (author) on January 05, 2014:

Hi M, I am glad this article was helpful for you. It is so interesting how our canine friends are designed.

mbusley on January 05, 2014:

Very informative and helpful article. I have a rough collie so a lot of what I found in your article was very useful for understanding his needs in different temperatures.

Lisa on January 05, 2014:

You forgot Finnish Lapphunds. They are caribou Herders with amazing coats.

toknowinfo (author) on April 17, 2012:

In the meantime, a warm and loving home is all your dog needs from you.

DoItForHer on April 17, 2012:

Sometimes, yes! We are limited in what we do- my next best friend will having a little more 'ruffage'.

toknowinfo (author) on April 17, 2012:

Hi DFH, So for a dog living in Montana, she has it ruff.

DoItForHer on April 17, 2012:

I have a Border Collie/Pit Bull mix and she doesn't have the undercoat, so she can't handle the cold like a typical Border with the double coat.

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