The other week during our first blast of serious winter weather I encountered a neighbour on the dog walk who greeted me with the words “I’ve just met a Beagle wearing a very smart coat.” We both looked down at my undressed Beagle and she looked back at us silenting saying (I imagine) “See I told you it was cold today…”
So how cold does it need to be before you start dressing your dog up and indeed how cold does it need to be before you stop walking a dog full stop? When we lived in Canada with our big hairy Canadian dog I was advised that “when it’s too cold for you, it’s too cold for your dog” but what does that mean?! Too cold for me in a bikini? Or too cold for me dressed in hi-tech ski gear? Sometimes it’s too cold for me in a centrally heated house, if I’m sitting still and not wearing enough layers! And are coats a fashion statement or a necessity?
A lot of it depends on the dog. Whippets and greyhounds don’t have much body fat and will actually shiver in cold weather which is a pretty big clue they need a coat. Macy our Canadian dog sits at the other end of that extreme. She happily ran around in -25c with no side effects other than ice crystals collecting in the fur on her toes and so in the benign UK climate she gets no special treatment in winter.
Bella our Beagle is closer to the whippet end of the scale, but with a few more pounds round her middle to keep her warm. A winter coat makes walking in cold winter temperatures more enjoyable for her, but when temperatures are above freezing, she’s unlikely to suffer too much without one. All dogs have a degree of natural protection against colder weather, as the days shorten their lighter summer coat falls out and is replaced by a thicker winter one. When temperatures are significantly below freezing we tend to limit our walks anyway and do two short 20 minute outings rather than one long one.
One area of concern in winter is paws, both dogs do the morning school run with me along a main road and during a cold spell that pavement is covered in the residue of deicing chemicals which have been applied to the roads and the cars using them. We make sure we keep an eye on Bella’s paws and check for any cuts, cracking or dryness and treat appropriately. As there is usually mud involved somewhere in our daily walks a wash down at the end is a necessity anyway, which means nasty residues aren’t left on her feet for the rest of the day.
The winter months are a time when all of us find we need a few extra calories and Beagles are no exception. Bella has suffered in the past with colitis and we have to keep a close eye out to ensure she doesn’t steal human food (easier said than done with a toddler in a high chair!) but if she loses weight or seems to be particularly keen for her next meal we don’t hesitate to give her a little extra dog food, so this time of year does have its perks!