They aren’t. Have you ever spent hours on end in cold weather sitting in all your layers of puffy winter clothing to still be chilled to the bone? Did your ears ache with cold or your fingers and toes go numb? How was your arthritis? But rarely do humans sit in the cold for long. We go out to run our errands as quickly as possible in our scarves and hats, or we spend an hour playing in the snow before we come in saying that we’re frozen. We’re bundled up, bustling around, and doing it in short bursts.
Now imagine being a pet who lives outdoors, or is left outside for multiple hours at a time. A dog house isn’t heated or insulated. Pets don’t have thumbs to help them keep a blanket tucked around them at night. Drinking water freezes. A cold body burns more calories just trying to maintain body temperature.
Dogs and cats do not tolerate cold weather as healthily or happily as many people think.
We’ve domesticated pets to live with us over thousands of years. Dogs are not quite as similar to wolves as some tv commercials suggest they are. House cats are not lynxes. And even if they were, most wild animals don’t have the lifespans that domesticated or captive animals do, so they aren’t living into the middle- and senior-aged years where arthritis begins to develop and be exacerbated by weather.
It’s true that some breeds are better suited to cold weather than others. A malamute can tolerate cold better than a boxer, for example, due to their thicker coats. But no dog or cat is actually comfortable—or perfectly safe—spending long hours out in freezing temps.
Comfort and happiness aside, there are some real health risks for pets who are outside for extended periods in the very cold. Ears and toes can become frostbitten. Body temperature can lower to dangerous territory. Pain, lethargy, weakness, and low heart rate are among the symptoms of these.
Wintertime dehydration is often overlooked, but it is a common problem. Lower humidity, combined with the body working hard to maintain a healthy homeostasis, means your pet needs constant access to clean, fresh drinking water—just like in the dog days of summer. On top of that, some animals drink less when it’s very cold outside, either because the water is often frozen or just because they are so cold they don’t want more icy cold liquid. This can lead to dehydration, which is easy to miss the early signs of if you aren’t paying attention.
We’re going to go out on a limb here and guess that if you’re even reading a pet blog, you care about your dog or cat. Keeping those we care for safe and comfortable, to the best of our ability, is a responsibility we take on. Does that mean that Fluffy needs a trendy down jacket for pets? No, not really. But she does need a dry, warm place to sleep without unnecessary discomfort or stress to the body. The icing on the cake is all the purrs and wags you’ll get in return.
The American Veterinary Medical Association has some cold weather safety information you can read or pass along to others!