a sad looking labrador standing in the rain with their owner, on lead.


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As the owner of a senior dog, I have often found myself erring on the side of caution when going for a walk in less-than-ideal conditions. As soon as the weather is a little chillier than usual, I notice my dog shivering and being more reluctant to go out to the toilet. My empathetic side wants to put his bed under the heater and bundle him up, but my logical side knows that’s an unsustainable method for keeping him healthy.

A good dog owner is caring and empathetic to their dog’s needs, but this can sometimes cloud our judgement about what is best for them. Though a nice thought, keeping your dog bundled up inside is not conducive to good long-term health and may actually inhibit your senior dog’s health.

Movement produces heat.

For your dog to move, their muscles must contract and extend in groups. The exact patterning is innervated by the dog’s Nervous system, as well as some accessory organs. These muscular contractions are a major heat generator within the body, improving blood and nutrient circulation.

This is why you feel cold when you stay still and often warm-up as you move. Even on a cold day, walking your senior dog will help them to stay warm by naturally generating heat within their body.

Movement promotes healthy joints.

A natural by-product of ageing is the decline in the production of synovial fluid needed for joint lubrication. This natural reduction is exacerbated by a senior dog’s increasingly sedentary life.

Movement stimulates the synovial membrane within the joints to produce synovial fluid. This fluid lubricates the joints and reduces friction. Lack of movement means a lack of fluid production, which increases friction within the joints, which can cause stiffness, pain and inflammation. Ever noticed how your senior dog gets up a little stiff after a nap?

This is one major factor that’s often considered with degenerative joint disease (DJD) or Arthritis. While it is important to have your dog checked over by a veterinarian when there are any signs of arthritis, keeping the joints moving (gently) can actually help with pain management and slow the progression of DJD.

Movement promotes flexibility and strength.

As your dog moves, they are flexing and extending their joints, and lengthening and shortening their muscles. When exercise is performed correctly, this movement increases and maintains flexibility and pliability of the muscle, which improves overall physical condition. If an issue is already developing, it is best to consult with a Myotherapist to ensure the exercises performed are appropriate for your dog and your goals, but in general, a gentle walk will do only good. 

As nutrients are carried around the body via the circulatory system, good circulation is imperative for maintaining overall health and muscle function. If a muscle has reduced blood circulation, the muscle begins to waste away. It will lack oxygen and nutrients, and therefore, the muscle fibres will die as they cannot be sustained. Bleek, I know! 

If we do not encourage our senior dogs to remain active, their joints stiffen, and their muscles tighten and weaken.

Jacket or no Jacket?

Clothing dogs has never been more popular than it is today. The number of different styles, fabrics, and colours of jackets, jumpers, and vests is ridiculous. Hear me out. I love dogs more than anyone I know, and it is this love that allows me to see dogs for the amazing creatures they are, not as the human babies they are often treated as.

Options are amazing as there are so many different breeds of dogs and variations within those breeds; however, most of the different clothing options are not beneficial to the dog and are more of a way to market a product to you, the dog owner. This makes me really angry as we often look to brands to educate us on what our dogs need. We read food packaging to learn why the product is good, listen to commercials about why a particular toy is beneficial, and so on.

Firstly, does your dog NEED a jacket?

In general, dogs benefit from a jacket/jumper/vest when there is a high wind chill, especially if they are a smooth-coated breed or are built for speed and if it is raining. I personally have no experience with snowy weather, but I have seen many smooth-coated breeds happily frolicking in the snow without any protection and equally with full protection—boots, jackets, and even scarves.

Wind Chill

In my experience working with and studying dogs, each individual seems to have their own temperature tolerance. Some breeds are more likely to feel the heat or cold than others, but there are still variances within those breeds.

If your dog is particularly cold, meaning they shiver a lot even when it’s not that cold, they will benefit from a windbreaker on walks. Dogs have hair all over their bodies, and their hair is arranged in a way that traps heat close to their skin, providing insulation.
A dog that is a “cold dog” benefits from the extra insulation provided by a windbreaker. Ideally, the windbreaker will stop the chilly wind from directly hitting their body, allowing the warmth they create for themselves to remain trapped around their joints, further increasing the therapeutic benefits of a gentle stroll.

A dog that typically runs hot, meaning they pant often, might only need one at the beginning of a walk and then it could be removed once they’ve warmed up.

Many dogs built for speed lack hair density. Examples are Greyhounds, Whippets, salukis, and Borzois. This lack of hair density, combined with their low body fat percentage, can make them more susceptible to the cold.

Why I don’t like jumpers or sweaters on dogs

As cute as they may be, jumpers or sweaters are too warm for most dogs. A part from the tiny Italian Greyhound; I don’t think I’ve ever seen a dog in a jumper on a walk that wasn’t panting.
Jumpers sit close to the body and mould to the shape of the dog, making them a very comfortable option that’s relatively safe for long periods of time as there are no or minimal pieces that can get caught on something. This level of comfort makes jumpers a popular choice for cold dogs, often being left on the dog for an entire day.

Consider this: When you are hot, you can take your jacket/jumper off; when you leave a jumper or sweater on your dog, you are removing their choice to cool down. This is actually very dangerous and can lead to heat stroke.

A safer option is to provide your dog with extra bedding or bedding options. Having multiple sleeping areas of different thermal ratings, such as a woollen rug and a simple cotton bed, would allow your dog to choose the best sleeping location based on how cold they feel. 

If your dog is less precious than this, you can also just give them a few extra blankets, and if they are hot, they may sleep outside of their bed.

This idea goes for exercising with a jumper on, too. As soon as your dog starts to pant, they are warm, and the jumper should be removed. For some dogs, this rapid temperature change can be a little too shocking and lead them to shiver almost right away. When using a light, flexible windbreaker, you can typically keep these on even as a dog warms up because it is only stopping the wind. Depending on the design, most allow some air and heat to escape, meaning your dog should not overheat.

You should remove your dogs jacket if they are panting, if the sun has come out, if the wind chill is gone or if they feel very warm under the jacket. But remember, your tactile sensation for heat is not the same as your dogs so you may need to rely on body language and the weather to determine if your dog really needs to keep their jacket on.

The Takeaway

Exercising your senior dog appropriately, even in cooler weather, is essential for your dog’s health. By understanding your dog’s behaviour and with proper precautions like a windbreaker for exceptionally chilly days, you can ensure your senior dog stays happy, healthy, and mobile for years to come.

Keep in mind:

  • Movement creates warmth
  • Movement keeps joints healthy
  • Movement promotes physical strength
  • Dogs have individual temperature tolerances 
  • Leaving a jumper on your dog can cause overheating
  • Listen to your dog’s body language

Related Articles:
Arthritis in Senior Dogs
Lead Pulling is Damaging Your Dog

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