If You’re Cold, Are They Cold?
By John Gibble
If you’re cold, they’re cold. Bring them inside! That’s one of the cliché’s we hear this time of year about dogs being kept outside. Last year in Pennsylvania, the legislature passed “Libre’s Law”, a sweeping update of animal cruelty statutes. The new law made it illegal to keep a dog tethered outside for more than 30 minutes if the temperature is below 32 or above 90. Similar laws are being passed in other states. Our Pennsylvania beaglers and other houndsmen fought hard for an exemption for hunting dogs. However, that exemption is something we will have to be vigilant about, as it does not take much for that type of language to disappear.
Still, a question remains, is it inhumane to keep a dog outdoors through cold weather? These days many of us keep our hounds in the house with us, and I certainly see nothing wrong with that. Still, if you want to carry a number of dogs, keeping them all in the house is probably not very practical. So that leaves many of us with limited options. I know several beaglers that have kennel buildings equipped with heat. That’s probably a wonderful option for those who can afford it and have the time to maintain it. However, I think most of us are keeping our hounds kenneled outside. I’ve had outdoor, above ground kennels for 30 years, and though I’ve had some cold weather challenges, I have never lost a dog to cold weather.
When it comes to cold weather, injury from frostbite and death from hypothermia are the primary concerns. Frostbite is simply the freezing of extremities. Freezing causes cells to erupt creating tissue damage. Hypothermia occurs when the body temperature drops below the base internal temperature (in dogs that is 100 to 102.5 degrees). A significant loss in core temperature can affect a number of physiological systems causing circulation and metabolism to fail, resulting in death if the situation is not corrected.
A dog loses heat in several ways. Indeed, if a dog did not lose heat it would quickly overheat from the energy generated by normal metabolic processes. All objects radiate heat when they are warmer than their ambient environment. Convective heat loss occurs when air currents blow across the object or body, such as how it feels much colder to you when it’s 32 and windy than if it’s just 32 and calm. Conductive heat loss occurs when heat is transferred through contact, such as your dog’s body pressed against a cold, metal dog box. Then we have evaporative heat loss where transfer for heat is increased by moisture evaporating from the body surface, as when your misery is compounded by being both cold and wet.
So theoretically, the challenge to keeping hounds outdoors is to ensure that the metabolic heat generated by the dog is offset by cooling, only to the point that the internal temperature can remain constant. If cooling exceeds the dog’s ability to warm itself, we have problems. One solution to excessive heat loss is insulation. We stuff our dog’s shelters with straw or other bedding to insulate against heat loss. Dogs are also insulated with a coat of fur. In addition to curbing radiant heat loss, the coat helps cut down on convective heat loss by lessening the effect of air currents on bare skin.
When I first started beagling I expressed my concern to an old houndsman about the dogs being outside in the cold. He advised that, “so long as you keep em dry and out of the wind, them dogs don’t mind the cold a bit.” His advice has served my hounds well so far. Keeping them out of the wind of course, reduces that convective heat loss.
Keeping dogs dry cuts down on conductive and evaporative heat loss. Sometimes keeping them dry isn’t as easy as it might sound. Obviously running in the rain or snow will get your dog wet. Toweling them off prior to putting them in the dog box can help keep them warm. One issue I’ve had is when I put straw in my dog boxes, two of our females insist on urinating in it. If the straw or bedding isn’t replaced, the dogs stay wet and cool quicker. Another problem with urinating in the box is the build-up of ammonia. I’ve noticed if I place a pile of straw outside the box, these females will often go outside to urinate there instead of in the box. Sometimes it works, other times it doesn’t.
Heat loss is the subtraction side of the equation to maintain a constant core temperature. Heat production is the additive side. The Utah Humane Society has an informative, on-line fact sheet for keeping dogs outdoors. They recommend that for every 20 degree drop in temperature, a dog requires an additional 15% more feed. Remember too, that to digest and metabolize those extra calories, additional water is required. My hounds get fresh water in the winter twice each day when temperatures are below freezing. Also, when it’s very cold, I will soak their feed which encourages additional water and food intake.
Don’t forget to check out the rest of this article that starts on page 56 of our January issue!