Dog Biology

Human beings are drawn to dogs because they seem to be so similar to us, and with their emotions and body language we think they are easy to understand. Actually dogs experience a very different ‘Umwelt’ to us, as they are very different biological creatures, and one of the many ways they differ from us is in the way they experience temperature, and the way in which they regulate their body temperature.

Dogs, like us, are homeotherms, meaning they regulate their own body temperature. Normal temperature for dogs is 38.61 degrees Celsius. At this temperature cell chemistry operates best. At 37 degrees, a dogs cells don’t function properly. Every living cell generates heat, the product of combining oxygen with sugar. Dogs have very richly vascularized tissue and over haemoglobulated blood with a rich supply of burnable oxygen, so they are very good at burning fuel and generating heat.

 Humans are likely to be the best mammal at getting rid of excess heat, but they are very bad at storing it. Dogs are just the opposite – terrible at getting rid of heat but experts at storing it. The balance point between trying to retain heat and trying to lose heat for humans is an ambient temperature of  21.11 degrees Celsius (depending on size and shape), and for a smooth coated sled dog for example it is 15.55 degrees centigrade.

 Dogs don’t have sweaty bare skins, so they can’t get rid of excess heat by evaporation. Panting hard cools the lungs and brains, but the only place a dog sweats is through the pads on its feet. The pads just don’t have enough surface area to make them effective radiators. Dogs remove excess heat from surface areas just like a radiator. They dilute the veins and arteries under the skin. Hot blood is exposed to this cooler surface, which radiates the heat away from the body. Of course the surface is covered with fur, which makes it harder to radiate the heat. And the bigger the dog is, the worse the heat load problem. The volume of the dog goes up by the cube, while the surface area squares. Big dogs have proportionately less surface area to radiate heat from. Also a dog that is overweight will find it much harder to keep its body cool even with moderate exercise. Streamlined dogs with a ‘radiator-like shaped’ dogs such as greyhounds have a greater surface area than normal shaped dogs, and will radiate heat more easily.

Dogs may well be the most populous carnivore in the world, with the widest geographical presence. Dogs have taken on an endless variation of shapes. Some dogs are very well adapted to living in freezing temperatures, while others are adapted to life in the desert. Their sizes, shapes and types of coat are all perfectly adapted to specific conditions.

 Domestic dogs don’t often experience climatic conditions that they are adapted to. They can suffer in hot weather because they cannot effectively radiate heat, big furry dogs suffering more than small short haired dogs. In winter they spend most of their time in heated homes, which might feel very comfortable to us, but may in fact be too warm for the dog. When dogs come outside in winter, it is often to be walked, and the exercise will generate heat very efficiently.

 As most domestic dogs don’t truly experience seasons like their forebears, they don’t usually have a cycle of twice yearly moults. Instead they shed hair continuously, this dead hair often stays in the dog’s coat and will be prone to matting especially when the dog gets wet frequently.  This dead mainly undercoat needs to be removed from the coat with regular brushing and combing, this will ensure a flow of air to the skin and help the dog maintain its body temperature. Often people’s busy lifestyles don’t leave much time for lengthy brushing sessions, and often it is more practical to cut the dog’s coat short for easy maintenance.

 Our relationship with our dogs is based on mutual trust and empathy. They are a very different species to us with very different needs. Being aware of a dog’s physical well-being and happiness is a first in creating a rewarding relationship and goes a long way in ensuring mental well-being too.

Regular grooming is not a luxury for dogs, but an essential part of taking care of them. A grooming session with ‘Top Dog’ mobile dog grooming is a way of ensuring a big step in looking after your dog’s health and happiness in a holistic way.

 In the next blog, I will cover the effect of nutrition on a dog’s coat and skin.

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