How Do Changes in Climate Affect Dogs?

Sudden changes in climate affect dogs, but it's up to you to make the transition as smooth as possible. Here are some tips!
How Do Changes in Climate Affect Dogs?
Sara González Juárez

Written and verified by the psychologist Sara González Juárez.

Last update: 19 November, 2023

Sometimes, life takes us away from home, and changes in climate affect both us and the dogs that accompany us on our way. In these cases, the dog’s circadian rhythms can be affected by another light-dark cycle. In addition, in cold climates, dogs can suffer hypothermia and develop skin infections, while in hot climates, heat stroke can occur.

Although these animals have strategies to adapt to variations in temperature and humidity, it’s important to know how to help them when this variation is very abrupt. In this regard, a gradual exposure to changes in climate, as well as the care of the canine’s skin and coat, are some of the recommendations, when moving or traveling to other latitudes with conditions different from those your furry friend is used to.

In the following article, you’ll find how to help your dog cope with these environmental changes, as well as basic notions about its own thermal regulation mechanisms. Don’t miss a thing, as these transitions should be as smooth as possible for these animals.

Thermoregulation mechanisms in dogs

If you live with a dog, you should know that this species isn’t capable of sweating like other animals. Therefore, their mechanisms to regulate body temperature are different (and less efficient) from sweating:

  • Panting: When a canine is hot, it will often pant. As it does so, its tongue hangs out of its mouth. In this way, it expels heat from the body, while cooler air enters from outside. In addition, it takes advantage of the principle of water evaporation at the beginning of the respiratory tract, which also allows heat to dissipate.
  • Temperature conduction: It’s normal to find the dog looking for cold surfaces – or digging in the ground – to lie on them and thus transfer the cold to its body. This method is secondary, as dogs have a peripheral vessel system that doesn’t exchange warm blood for cold.
This mechanism isn’t very efficient in dogs, unlike in other species, such as humans, where this exchange does occur.

The only areas of the dog’s body that have sweat glands are the pads, but because they represent such a small part of the animal’s total surface area, they don’t have the capacity to lower body temperature. This is why it’s not usually believed that dogs sweat as a method of regulating their temperature.

A dog owner sitting on the tailgate of his car next to a panting golden retriever.
The panting of dogs is a thermoregulatory mechanism. In this way, they control their internal temperature. Credit: Freepik.

Do sudden changes in climate affect dogs?

Throughout the change of seasons, several physiological processes gradually change. For example, as winter arrives, metabolism speeds up to produce more body heat. Behavior is also modified by controlling the level of activity and certain behaviors to promote proper thermoregulation.

When this change occurs abruptly – due to a move, for example – the dog’s body doesn’t have time to adapt at a natural pace to the new climate. Some of the effects that can result from these circumstances are the following:

  • Temperature and humidity: In cold climates, dogs can experience hypothermia if exposed to lower temperatures than usual. On the other hand, in hot and humid climates, they’re susceptible to heat stroke, which can be fatal.
  • Daylight hours: Traveling to a country with a different light-dark cycle could affect the dog’s circadian rhythms. This creates disturbances in their sleep and appetite.
  • Skin and coat: In dry climates, the skin becomes dry and flaky, which can lead to irritation and itching problems. On the other hand, in humid climates, it’s easier for them to develop fungal or bacterial skin infections, as pointed out in this publication from the International Journal of Livestock Research.
  • Exercise and activity: A dog that has to adapt abruptly to a very hot climate will reduce its activity significantly. In cold climates, on the contrary, they should move more, but always without exposing themselves to low temperatures for too long.
  • Mood and behavior: Some dogs tend to show more restlessness and anxiety when faced with changes in climate. Very different climates, such as big storms or scorching sunny days, will affect your dog’s emotional life, generating atypical behaviors.
The more abrupt the changes in climate, the more measures you’ll have to put in place to mitigate the effects.

Keep in mind that the dog’s immune system also faces new pathogens during this period, so you should pay close attention to any signs that indicate a health problem.

Tips to help dogs adapt to weather changes

While there are many problems that threaten your canine’s health when experiencing changes in climate, there are also many measures you can put in place to help it through the transition. Here are several of them that are quite important:

  • Gradual exposure: If the change in climate is significant, you can expose your dog gradually to that change. Take short walks and adapt your new home so that it has similar conditions to those of origin.
  • Take care of your pet’s skin and coat: As dermatitis, parasite infestations, and coat quality depend in part on the climate, it’s important to provide your dog with help to keep it in good condition. Deworm more often, if necessary, or use specific products for bathing.
  • Behavioral monitoring: While it’s normal to observe changes in dogs’ behavior when faced with new weather, watch for significant alterations in their appetite and activity level. You should also watch for other signs, such as the acquisition of problem behaviors when socializing.
A small dog wearing a knit winter cap and scarf.
To avoid a sudden change in temperature in winter, you can buy clothes that will keep your dog warm during this season. Credit: Ulrika/iStockphoto.

Confront changes in climate with professional advice

Finally, don’t forget to visit your veterinarian. This professional will give you specific advice for the new climate you’ll be living in, as well as advise you on vaccinations and other legal processes regarding the move. Changes can be exciting new adventures, but only if you’re looking out for the welfare of all family members, human or otherwise.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

The contents of My Animals are written for informational purposes. They can't replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment from a professional. In the case of any doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.