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Coat Colors and High Temperatures during Summer Months

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I live in Oklahoma and we are starting to get into the heat of the summer; and it gets hot here, normally 30-40 days of over 100 degrees. While I understand that conditioning makes a huge difference in how BC's handle heat, I have to wonder if the traditional B/W dogs are at a disadvantage here vs the lighter colored dogs.

 

Have there been any studies done to see if coat color makes a difference in how well the dog handles heat, all other things being equal?

 

I ask this, because my deceased B/W male did not handle the heat well, yet my current R/W male does. With any type of outdoor activity I had to cool down my B/W male regularly with water, yet my current R/W male just keeps going and going, heat does not seem to phase him. I am in the process of trying to find another BC to adopt and do not want another dog that does not do well in the heat. I don't want to be one of those people who pick out a dog because of coat color, but I do have concerns about handling heat in the summer.

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I'd tend to guess that it's very dog-dependent. I have a B/W and so does my mom. Hers handles the heat better than mine. Mine is a rough and hers is smooth, but mine has WAY less coat. That said, mine still does fine in the heat. I'm in Colorado, so it doesn't get horribly hot, but it was 97 at the horse show all weekend and he did fine. Me on the other hand....

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I would think that the black dogs would have more trouble. But you are right about the smooth coats. My smooth actually had a much denser coat than my roughs.

 

It's getting hot enough here some days that I am not letting the dogs stay out for very long at a time. They all tend to run a lot so I make them come in and cool off for a while.

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My dark red (liver, really) border collie doesn't tolerate heat well at all. He's often very uncomfortable in the nursing homes where residents often have their rooms quite warm. (TBH, so am I.) He minds hot days in the summer, too. (ETA: He's a medium rough coat.)

 

I suspect it's largely an individual thing.

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I have had 3 short coated ginger dogs, 3 short coated black and whites and one long coated ginger dog in the last 18 years (not all bcs) and the short coated ginger dogs have been less tolerant of heat than the others.

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My b/w older male does fine in the heat in his older age. As a youngster he would get wobbly after playing in the heat though. The younger b/w male does fine. My dark red girl (passed away last year) was always fine in the heat as well. Now my red merle girl, very light colored in general, has hated the heat from the get go. When she was a baby pup in the summer she hated being held or touched and would pant constantly and lay on the tile floors. She has adjusted over the years to heat but she still does not like it. She can work in the heat though. Ask these dogs are rough coated. So I guess to me it seems like an individual dog thing, not necessarily a color thing.

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First a caveat: I recognize that things can vary between breeds. But I will say that when I worked with a Labrador (wilderness SAR), I had a light yellow Lab. I thought that color preferable in the high desert summer sun. Meanwhile, we worked with black Labs and brown Labs, and B/W Border Collies, and they all seemed just fine in the sun.

 

My sled dog/Aussie X of that same generation managed the heat okay; but when I placed my hand on her dark back after just a few moments in the sun, I could already feel the intense heat there. By contrast my impression with my B/W Border Collie now (medium rough coat) is his back doesn't give me the same impression of feeling hot. Our previous BCX was a short coated, mostly white coat. I don't think she did any better in the heat than our Lab.

 

All subjective, I know. You were right to ask about studies. That's the only way to generalize a reliable understanding of this.

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My anecdotal evidence: There are an awful lot of black and white border collies working stock in all sorts of weather. I think heat tolerance is partly individual and partly what the dog is acclimated to. I live in VA, and for 15 years before that in NC. Summers are hot and humid. For many reasons, I don't run a.c. in my house. One advantage to this is that my dogs are acclimated to the heat and humidity, so when I ask them to work in it, I have to worry less than I might if I pulled them out of a nicely air conditioned house and asked them to work (works for me too). I have two dogs I set sheep with at trials. One is a black tri, whose body is completely black. The other is completely white, except for his head. Although the hard work isn't sustained, it's nothing for us to be out working for 10 hours total and the work can be pretty intense, depending on the sheep. On a summer day, that's draining, even if we aren't actively working the entire time. I have never noticed the dark dog being any less tolerant of the heat than the white dog. Both have similar coats.

 

J.

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I always worry about Cal because she's solid black on top. Even on a 75 degree day, she'll come inside panting heavily and her fur is very hot to the touch. It's a little better if you feel her skin underneath, but she's still so hot.

 

We're going to take more frequent but shorter walks this summer with lots of water and ice breaks and we typically don't even get over 100 degrees. She also lifts up her paws from the pavement one at a time because it's so hot. We try to walk only on white cement or grass instead of the black top.

 

We'll be doing our running early in the mornings or in the evenings when the sun is down.

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It has been my experience that color has little relevance, but also that dogs 'grow into' better heat tolerance during their first few summers. At least, that's been the case with my three young 'uns this time. When we got Thud he MELTED into a puddle of apathy and misery from April to October. The next year he was somewhat better. This year he does just fine. Kylie had a similar pattern of improvement and Molly seems to be doing so, too.


They still get HOT, they still pant, but they stop flattening out with heat.


This would be a faster process, I've no doubt, without AC, but I am not giving up my AC.

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To a certain extent "hot" is dependent more on the dog than the temperature of the dog. Fit/conditioned/acclimated dogs have had internal temps up to 108 with no adverse effects. But those temps could kill other dogs. I know Kenzi actually gets hotter than Kolt but acts less affected than him.

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You know, I hadn't thought about it but I bet general fitness matters, too. I was attributing it all just to age, but thinking about it the dogs have ALL improved in conjunction not just with being older but more exercise, better muscle tone, increased stamina and in most cases (with mine) less body fat.

 

Acclimation just kind of happened when exercise increased, and continued in warmer months. With some concessions, sure, but they were out more and moving more than previously.

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Have there been any studies done to see if coat color makes a difference in how well the dog handles heat, all other things being equal?

Ooooh! Oooooh! Call on me, teacher; I have data!

 

Several years ago I had a group of students approach me about doing a study on the effect of coat color on body temperature in dogs for their freshman biology lab project. Since I was the (crazy?) dog lady in the department, they enlisted my assistance in gathering together enough dogs for them to do their project. I knew a member of our dog training club who bred Lassie-type show collies, and between her and several other members of the local (foo foo) collie club we gathered together a bunch of rough coated and smooth coated tri-color, sable, and merle collies. This was a cool day in February (I'm thinking it was maybe 50 degrees or so), so to simulate a hot day, each dog spent 15 minutes in a small run with a heat lamp before taking measurements. The students had a heat sensor that would measure the surface temperature, so they measured the temperature of the top of the coat on the rump, and then parted the hair and measured the temperature of the surface of the skin. A high point of my 30 year teaching career was then demonstrating to them how to take the dogs' rectal temperature, and watching each student then take their turns doing this. The dogs were incredibly sweet and tolerant of this whole process by the way. And, drum roll, the results were....

 

.... not at all surprisingly, the outer surface of the black coats was consistently two or three degrees warmer than the coats of the sable and merle coats. Of course, one doesn't really need a fancy surface temperature sensor do determine this. The difference is easily detectable to the touch. But, the skin temperature underneath all that hair was actually statistically lower in the black coated dogs. And there was no difference in rectal temperature.

 

So, of course there are a zillion caveats to this. The sample size was pretty small. I think it was five of each color for the rough coated dogs, but despite the small sample size the difference was significantly different. There weren't enough smooth coated dogs of each color to do any statistical comparison for them, but the general trend of cooler skin in the darker dogs held, and there was no consistent difference in skin temperature of the rough vs smooth coated dogs. And, again, this was done on a cool day using a heat lamp for 15 minutes as a substitute for full sunlight on a hot day. And, as several posts have pointed out, of course there is way way more involved in heat tolerance than just skin temperature. So, no, we didn't send these results off to Nature to be published.

 

Still. I think this little project did a pretty good job of showing that just because the outer surface of a black coat is warmer than the outer surface of a lighter coat, that doesn't mean that extra heat gets transmitted through the coat to the dog's body. And, although I no longer have a copy of the report, so I don't have the citations handy, the students did find two or three peer-reviewed studies that showed the same thing. One that I sort of remember, and that sparked their interest in this project in the first place was a study on polar bears. Of course the big advantage of that white fur in polar bears is that it's great camouflage against a snowy background. But the researchers also presented evidence that their white coat actually transmits more, not less, heat to the body than a darker hairs do. While it's true that white reflects more radiation than black, it's also true that more of the remaining radiation that isn't reflected, is transmitted through the coat and warms the skin. So, that nice white camouflage coat actually helps the bears absorb more heat from sunlight than a black coat would.

 

The more you know...

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Why didn't I have any fun projects like that when I was a student? :))

 

I know that this would have been beyond the limited scope of a student project, but I would love to hear about any data that investigated the effects of follicular density, coat length and ratio of primary to secondary fibers to body heat.

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This is the only published study I know of.....

 

The Microclimate of the Canine Coat: the Effects of Heating on Coat and Skin Temperature and Relative Humidity

C.J. Chesney

Veterinary Dermatology, Vol 8, pp 183-190, 1997

 

The study found no differences in skin temperature for white or black coated dogs when exposed to an IR lamp or bright sunshine

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I'm not one to argue scientific facts. But since black absorbs heat and white reflects it, one would think black/dark dogs would absorb more heat in direct sunlight than white/lighter dogs. There's not a lot but what little science we have around it indicates you don't need to be concerned. Good to know.

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Hooper and Mark, thank you both for some real info.

 

I'm fascinated that the lighter coats in Hooper's small study consistently transmitted more heat to the skin. Why would that be? (And I note that doesn't seem to correlate with the result in the study Mark mentioned.)

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Once absorbed by the fur the heat needs to be transmitted or radiated to the skin, this is apparently an inefficient process.

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Highway61, I suspect it has a lot to do with the insulating properties for the undercoat beneath the surface fur. The surface may be getting hotter on a black dog, but the undercoat's keeping it from getting through to the skin. . . . which is why, of course, it's not recommended to shave dogs in the summer. It interferes with that insulation.

 

It is good to know. Thanks, all for sharing.

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My dog has a very black coat and virtually no undercoat for most of the year. She overheats easily. She will actively seek shade in even moderately warm weather (76F) and will attempt to walk in my shadow.

 

A data-set of one, I know. But I think undercoat really is a big factor.

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Tess is white and does well with heat. Granted, around here it's rarely too hot and we usually walk in places where there's water. But I think the main thing is she has no undercoat. My previous dog was dark, almost black, also had no undercoat and also did well with heat.

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