¿Q: Is it OK for our dog to play in the snow with our kids?
A: Generally, yes -- with some caveats. A dog’s normal body temperature is about 101 degrees, so they’re a little warmer than us internally. But other factors explain why some dogs are better able to withstand winter weather.
Small dogs with less body mass have a harder time staying warm. Dogs with double coats -- a top layer and a thick undercoat -- are naturally better insulated against cold (and heat, too, so people shouldn’t shave dogs in an attempt to keep them cooler in hot weather). No matter what size, dogs with short, thin coats shouldn’t spend hours playing in the snow or tramping through wintry woods. Sweaters, coats and booties can help protect them against the elements.
Dogs acclimate to where they spend most of their time, so even a husky living in a climate-controlled house may not be ready for long hours outside in cold weather. Older dogs and puppies are also less able to cope with cold. And certain drugs may affect a dog’s ability to withstand cold, so if your dog is on any medications check with your vet.
Fur doesn’t prevent hypothermia and frostbite. No dog should ever be left outside in cold weather. If it’s too cold for us, it’s too cold for them. On a sunny winter day, it’s probably OK for healthy dogs of medium size and up to play in the snow. But they can’t tell you when they’re getting cold, so keep play sessions short.
When they come inside, remove any snow, dry them off and check their paws for ice that can collect between their toes and pads.
David Tayman, D.V.M., has practiced veterinary medicine in Howard County since 1974. E-mail questions to Dr. Tayman at David.Tayman@vcahospitals.com.