DEAR DIDI: We have a male pitbull that is 3 years old. He is gray colored and a mostly indoor dog. We take a 2 mile walk every morning before I go to work. This means we begin our walks around 6:30 a.m. and we both enjoy it immensely. My wife is concerned that it is too cold in the mornings now to take him for a walk. She points out that I wear gloves, a coat, and a scarf but the dog is “naked”. He does have very short hair. Do I need to halt our walks until spring? -Cautious Dad
DEAR CAUTIOUS DAD: I think it is terrific that you think of your dog’s comfort under different weather conditions! Obviously man’s best friend can’t tell us when they are cold, hot, in pain, etc. We must learn to watch their body language for signals, such as whining, pacing, shivering, etc.
There are many other factors that should be considered. Wind chill factors and relative humidity can make things feel much colder than the actual measurable temperature. Think about the age of your dog. Younger dogs can tolerate cooler temperatures than senior dogs over the age of 7. How healthy is your dog? Be honest with yourself about the weight of your dog. Fat is an excellent insulator. If he is overweight he may not feel the cold as intensely. If your dog is super fit with low body fat, he may notice the cold faster.
You mentioned that your dog is mostly indoors so he isn’t acclimated to colder temperatures the way an outdoor dog would be. Also, consider the pace you walk at. Leisurely, slow paced walks don’t do much for helping the body warm up. High paced, intense walks may warm your dog’s body up nicely and combat the ambient air temperatures. Additionally, darker haired dogs soak up sun rays more readily than lighter colored dogs. It never hurts to reach down and feel your dog’s back with a bare hand to see if he is warm or cold.
Typically, here in California, temperatures that are 45 degrees or warmer won’t have a dramatic effect on a healthy dog during a walk. When we have a hard freeze night and temperatures drop to 32 degrees, owners of small breeds, elderly, very young or infirm dogs should be very aware of temperature related illnesses. Perhaps wait until 10 am for things to warm a few degrees. Once temperatures drop below 20 degrees ALL dog owners should be aware of possible cold associated illnesses such as frostbite, hypothermia, etc, while out on walks. These guidelines do not apply for dogs that are left outside for extended periods of time as they are at higher risk. It never hurts to purchase a jacket for your dog. I like windbreaker material that is lined with fleece and that attach easily with velcro fasteners. Enjoy your walks!! -email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org Didi offers lectures on various topics for organizations.