For our 2016 winter holiday trip, we took Robin to snowy, cold Minnesota. I was pretty worried about how he’d do in the cold, but it ended up being better than I expected!
Robin’s a pretty small dog at 17 pounds, and he’s usually a little underweight due to his high energy level. Since he’s lived his whole life in SoCal (as far as we know), we brought along plenty of jackets and planned to feed extra-tasty high fat foods. It might seem that dogs should easily adapt to cold weather, but thin-coated, small dogs are pretty far removed from wild animals, and even larger, more robust dogs may have an adjustment period.
Here are a few things we learned on the trip:
Cold weather gear:
- As long as the weather was above 15°F, Robin kept himself pretty warm outside. I saw him shivering at night when it was below 10°, but with one or two layers he was fine for an hour in the snow during daylight. He expended plenty of energy gleefully bounding through chest-deep snow! The one time he came out without a jacket, he got chilly after ten or fifteen minutes and headed back on his own.
- The more layers he was wearing, the less happy he was. With one to two layers, he was perfectly happy and bounding through the snow, but he was bothered by the restrictiveness of heavy layering.
- The jacket mattered: in deep snow, his sleeved Climate Changer collected snowballs in the chest area, while his open-cut Kurgo Loft kept him warm without trapping snow. If you’re using a sleeved jacket, check that it fits snugly in the chest and arms.
- Boots didn’t seem to make a difference either way for warmth, but made him clumsier and less interested in moving around, so he got cold faster. We found that Ruffwear’s Summit Trex collected snow in the cuffs, while Hurtta Outbacks and Ultrapaws Durable sealed out the snow perfectly. If we’d spent more time on salted sidewalks and parking lots, I would have used boots to protect his pads.
- Robin’s not a big eater, but even if your dog is, add some higher-fat ingredients into his food before and during your snow trip. Make changes slowly with sensitive stomachs! We fed Robin’s normal kibble mixed with a little bit of bacon grease or cooked chicken skin, and we warmed up the additive before feeding. His half a pound of extra weight slowly disappeared during the week in the cold, so I was glad we tried to fatten him up beforehand.
- We fed three smaller meals a day rather than his normal two meals to keep his metabolism up and prevent post-meal sluggishness.
- Robin’s plane carrier (a large Sturdibag) made an excellent bed for him since the upper section trapped his body heat and kept him warm. He spent most of his inside time huddled inside the carrier, or nestled in our suitcase.
- We didn’t realize this til later, but Robin’s mood was pretty profoundly affected by the cold weather. He flies well and tends to do well with new experiences, but the prolonged cold followed by a cold snap here in California left him moody, tentative and very submissive. Although he had a great time while playing in the snow, he drooped indoors. His personality sprung back with a couple days of warm weather.