As much of the UK feels the chill of winter, it might be tempting to hide back under the duvet, snuggle up to your canine companion and hibernate until spring arrives. But how much exercise your dog does now, could make all the difference in the summer when the weather heats up. In this post we’re going to explore some of our recent research findings relating to weather and canine activity.
After keeping you all waiting for far too long, we finally had an opportunity to analyse the results from the canine activity survey we ran in 2018. Thanks to the incredible generosity of the on-line canine community, we received over 3000 responses to our canine activity survey where we asked you to tell us about your dog, about their activity routines and how the weather impacted their exercise. You can read the full results here:
In this post we’re going to focus on the winter weather results from our survey
- 64% of dog owners surveyed said ICE reduced their dog’s activity
- 48.2% said COLD reduced their dog’s activity
- 25.3% said RAIN reduced their dog’s activity
We also explored which dogs’ activity levels were most impacted by cold, wet, icy winter weather:
- Small dogs (under 10kg) were most impacted by winter weather.
- Both brachycephalic (flat-faced) and dolichocephalic (long-nosed) dogs were more impacted by winter than dogs with a mesocephalic (medium – like Labradors and spaniels) shaped skull.
- Older dogs (8 years and older) were more impacted than young dogs.
And which dogs were less impacted by winter weather:
- Dogs that competed in canine sports were less impacted by winter weather.
- Dogs that were routinely active for 2 hours or more per day were less impacted by winter weather.
When individual breeds were compared, the results were frankly unsurprising; Yorkshire Terriers, Whippets, Chihuahuas, Greyhounds and Pugs were the breeds most likely to miss out on exercise in winter weather.
At the other end of the spectrum, Huskies, working Cocker Spaniels and Springer Spaniels were less impacted by winter weather (and all these breeds were compared to the Labrador Retriever).
Overall, 50% of respondents agreed that they use dog-jackets and coats to keep their pet warm during exercise in the winter. We also asked which dogs were most likely to wear a coat in the winter:
- Dogs weighing under 10kg
- Brachycephalic and brachycephalic cross breed (e.g. Jugs, Pugaliers and Lhasaliers) were more likely to wear coats compared to mesocephalic dogs.
- The dolichocephalic breeds Whippets and Greyhounds were the breeds most likely to wear a coat.
So why does this matter?
As you will by now be aware, this is a blog all about hot dogs, so why are we harping on about cold dogs all of a sudden? One of the ways of keeping your dog safe in the hot weather, is to prepare them for the heat. We know that overweight dogs are more likely to develop heat-related illness because the extra fat they carry makes it harder for them to cool down (we explain this in more detail in a previous post). We also know that unfit dogs will get hotter faster during exercise, so keeping your dog fit during the winter means they will be better prepared to cope with sudden hot spells in spring and early summer. So if your dog does less exercise in the winter, they will be less fit in the summer and they could put on some excess weight, both of which will make it much harder for them to stay cool.
We should also pause here, to remember that dogs can still develop heat-related illness in the winter! In one of our previous studies we reported that dogs were presented for veterinary treatment of exercise-induced heat-related illness all year round, and one of those dogs died as a result of their exertional heat-related illness in January. Just because its cold, there is still a risk of overheating, especially for dogs with underlying diseases that affect their breathing, so make sure you can spot the early signs of heat-related illness so that you can take immediate action.
We do however recognise that there are times when it isn’t safe to exercise a dog in winter weather. If your dog is older, has mobility issues, or underlying heart or lung disease then you may need to speak to your veterinary professional about ways to help them stay safe during wintery walks. We’re also not suggesting putting yourself or your dog at risk heading out into a blizzard, or onto icy roads and pavements. We also recognise that exercising your dog in the dark can be a serious personal safety issue, particularly for women, so you need to put your own wellbeing first when deciding when and where your dog can be active.
Dogs can also develop hypothermia (the opposite problem to heat-related illness – becoming too cold) especially smaller dogs, older dogs and those with underlying health issues. There are additional winter hazards related to ice and snow that can result in injuries, and even toxins such as antifreeze that pets may encounter in winter which can be extremely dangerous if ingested.
So how can you help your dog to remain active through the cold, dark, wet winter months?
- Consider if a coat or fleece will help them stay active.
- Wipe your dog’s paws and belly after walking to remove any traces of grit, salt and ice.
- Find ways to stay active at home or in the garden.
- Consider an alternative winter activity like hydrotherapy to help maintain fitness if you can’t get outside as often (ensure you have checked with your vet that this is safe first).
- Join a canine sports club to keep you motivated!
We found dogs that took part in canine sports (like canicross, agility and field sports) were less likely to be impacted by winter weather, so if you need some added motivation to keep moving with your canine companion consider joining a local club?
We also investigated the impact of summer weather on canine activity, so we’ll share another post in spring to explore those findings ready for the hot weather. In the meantime, if you can’t wait for more Hot Dogs research findings you can read our recent papers open-access here:
Full results from the survey discussed in this post:
Our latest research exploring heat-related illness in UK pets. This paper uses the SAVSNET database of primary-care veterinary practice patient records to explore heat-related illness in all pets, including cats, rabbits, guinea-pigs and ferrets:
Anne has also been busy researching working trial dogs: