9 min read

This Is Exactly What Happens To Dogs Left Outside In The Cold

So winter's got you all wrapped up.

You know, scarf, gloves, parka and whatever you can find to stuff inside it.

But the chill cuts rights to the bone. And speaking of bones, your dog isn't so interested in the various curbside debris she's normally so obsessed with on these evening jaunts. Instead, she looks up at you in a winter-sucks kind of way.

And the wind cries ... maybe?

As in, maybe your dog is feeling it too? Maybe that fur coat she wears by default isn't cutting it?

Maybe winter bites dogs?

Maybe No, she's right. It' cold. Get inside.

There's no such thing as a dog for all seasons - just animals with varying degrees of tolerance to weather extremes.

And the barometer of that cold is, well, you.

"You're a good indicator of their tolerance for cold," Dr. Barry Kellogg, a veterinarian from the Humane Society of the United States, told The Dodo. "You're less tolerant of cold than the general dogs and cats are. So if you're getting cold and you're out there, then that's the time to abandon the adventure."

Why wait for both of you to freeze to death?

When it comes to winter, dogs do, of course, have a few natural advantages over humans. But those perks vary wildly according to breed.

A long-nosed breed - say, a German shepherd - actually warms the air as it's breathed in. By the time it flows all the way down that warm, fleshy snout and reaches the lungs, the air doesn't feel quite so much like daggers of ice.

Barry Kellogg says mouth-breathers like pugs stand on the opposite end of the spectrum. Their short snouts don't mitigate much of the cold. Air, taken in mostly through their mouths, hits the lungs abruptly. And sharply.

But extremities, like the tips of the nose, are also fair game for one of winter's trademark terrors: frostbite.

"Physiologically what happens is when it's very cold, the body stops the circulation to the extremities," Kellogg explains. "The body no longer sends blood down to the feet to be brought back and mixed with the general circulation."

For dogs, that's often the ears. Long ears are especially vulnerable.

"When you pull the circulation out of those ears, they're susceptible to frostbite."

Feet too. And nose tips. Even testicles.

And if a dog, for any reason, does spend his winters outside?

At the very least, give him a hand.

"If you see a dog chained or penned outside in extreme heat or cold, do not trespass, but try to determine if the dog has adequate shelter," says Scotlund Haisley of Animal Rescue Corps.

That's typically, albeit "vaguely," defined as a waterproof, with something to block the door, like a flap, and bedding that doesn't retain water. Like straw.

"If you determine that a dog is not adequately protected from the elements or if you cannot make that determination from public property, call animal control or the police or sheriff's department that has jurisdiction and ask the authorities to do a welfare check."

Animals, of course, have carved out a reputation for resilience. Perhaps, it's that reputation - many dog breeds are known to adapt dramatically to combat cold, even adding padding to their paws and thickening their coats - that leads their owners to put their pets in dire straits.

As founder of Animal Rescue Corps, Haisley has seen thousands of dogs fall painfully short of coping with the elements.

He has seen them have to adapt suddenly to brutal cold, not by growing denser fur or thicker pads, but by acts of sheer desperation.

"I have cut free a chained golden retriever who had managed to create his own igloo in an attempt to retain his body heat," he tells The Dodo. "I have removed deceased pit bull puppies stuck in a frozen mud puddle."

Despite the staggering risk for so many breeds, Kellogg says there is indeed a dog for all seasons.

Consider the working dogs of Canada's North. Sled dogs. Huskies.

They're animals, Kellogg says, who have consistently been exposed to extreme cold. As a result, they've been given the time to physically adapt.

While Haisley agrees that over time, dogs can learn to physically manage the cold, it's their mental environment that becomes the most desolate place of all.

"What all dogs have in common is their predisposed desire for human companionship," he explains. "Dogs have social, physical and mental needs, and they thrive when they are a part of a family with a structured day filled with exercise and enrichment. They can quickly decline when isolated outdoors in a pen or on a chain, regardless of the weather conditions."

The forecast for a dog left to his own devices?

In addition to anti-social behavior like biting and aggression, an isolated dog is an unhealthy dog. The ongoing stress of isolation can compromise an animal's immune system, Haisley points out, making them more vulnerable to disease.

HEART Hardin Eldora Animal Rescue Team

HEART Hardin Eldora Animal Rescue Team

Older dogs, as well as those with conditions like heart and kidney disease, can make it even worse, undermining their natural ability to ward off hypothermia.

The solution seems obvious. Unless your dog is pulling a sled, indoors is where he is healthiest in winter. And it's where dogs can huddle up to the most important fire of all: the warmth of human companionship.

Here's what you can do if you see a dog tied up outside on a cold day.