Winter is here again; the outside is cooling down and the indoor heating is cranking up. But just how cold is too cold for our dogs? Should they be going out on winter walks or snuggling up inside?
Dogs are generally pretty hardy creatures, but even they can get cold. Sometimes winter can be simply too cold for dogs. Let’s take a look at the safe & unsafe chilly temperatures for dogs, possible dangers, and how to keep them warm in winter.
How Cold is Too Cold for a Dog?
Exactly how cold is too cold for a dog depends on their breed, age, size, weight, and coat. Certain breeds, such as Siberian Huskies, thrive in cold weather and can handle temperatures of around -60°F. Other breeds are meant for more temperate climates, and some prefer the heat.
Generally, though, the average dog should not be exposed to temperatures of around or below freezing (32°F) for prolonged periods of time. Short walks and a play in the snow is fine. But prolonged exposure to temperatures below freezing can have dangerous consequences.
Some cold averse breeds, puppies, sick & elderly dogs, however, will start to feel the cold and need some extra protection at around 45°F. Cold averse breeds are generally of a smaller build with light, short fur coats, such as Greyhounds.
Factors Which Affect a Dog's Response to the Cold
Let’s take a deeper look into the factors which determine a dog’s ability to tolerate cooler temperatures.
The bigger the dog, the more body heat they have. This is why dogs who have snow in their DNA are typically larger breeds, such as Alaskan Malamutes. Smaller breeds like Chihuahuas are cold averse and will need extra protection when navigating the winter months.
It’s not all about height and build, weight matters too. Fat acts as an internal coat in cold weather, shielding your organs from the harsh temperatures. Great Danes, for example, don’t do well in harsh conditions despite being the biggest canine breed of all, because they don’t naturally have a lot of fat on their bodies.
A dog’s coat is arguably the most important factor in their ability to tolerate the cold. Dogs that are bred to work in freezing conditions tend to have thick, wooly, double coats. The sea-rescue dog breed Newfoundlands, for example, have an insulating undercoat and a waterproof topcoat that keeps them warm and dry in the icy seas of Canada. Breeds with single coats or short, thin fur such as Boxers, usually do not like cold weather.
We all know that darker colors attract heat, and this is also true in relation to a dog’s fur. A combination of a light-colored coat & short fur may mean your pooch is less able to tolerate the cold than a darker colored coat with longer fur.
Dogs’ ears act as a sort of radiator, releasing the heat out of their bodies. Therefore, the bigger a dog’s ears are, the less heat they will conserve. The majority of cold-weather dog breeds have smaller ears in order to keep more heat in.
It sounds strange, but the type of nose your pup has also plays a role in their ability to tolerate the cold. Breeds with short noses, such as Bulldogs, do not have the mechanism within the nasal passages to warm up the air that is being breathed in. This means breathing in cold air cools the inner body temperature down a lot quicker than it would in a dog with a longer nose.
Puppies are naturally more susceptible to the cold because they are smaller, don’t have a full fur coat yet, and are still developing their immune systems.
Elderly dogs are equally as vulnerable to the winter weather, as their immune systems are weakening, and their bones are fragile. Cold weather is known to increase symptoms of arthritis in all animals, which can be very painful.
Dogs who are injured or unwell may need extra protection from cold weather. Their immune systems are already compromised, and exposure to harsh temperatures may damage their health even more. In the cold, most dogs burn more calories trying to stay warm, so you need to adjust their calorie intake accordingly.
How Do I Know if My Dog Is Feeling Cold?
A dog’s behavior can change entirely if they feel cold. They may be lethargic and shake, shiver, cry, and seem anxious. They may also huddle up in a corner, cuddle up to you or give you their paws to hold.
When out on a walk, a cold dog may slow down, stop walking, or keep holding up their paws.
If you think your dog is cold, take them home, keep them in the house as much as possible and watch them for signs of something more serious, as discussed in the section below.
Dangers of Exposure To Extreme Cold
The two main dangers of a dog getting too cold are hypothermia and frostbites.
Hypothermia occurs when a dog’s body temperature drops below 100°F. A dog with mild hypothermia will have a temperature is somewhere between 99°F – 90°F, moderate hypothermia is between 90°F – 82°F, and anything below that is considered severe and potentially deadly.
- Extreme shaking and shivering
- Stiff muscles
- Shallow breathing
- Pale skin
- In severe cases they may have dilated pupils
Dogs with hypothermia should be immediately warmed up with blankets and taken to see a vet for examination and treatment, which could include proper thermal insulation, IV fluids, or oxygen, if severe.
Frostbite occurs when the blood vessels in the skin of a body part get constricted due to exposure to extreme cold. This mechanism protects and preserves a safe internal temperature. But in extreme conditions, it may cause cells in the affected area to die. The most commonly affected areas are paws and ears, and dogs with heart disease and diabetes are particularly at risk.
- Cold and/or brittleness in the affected area
- Patches of dead or blackened skin
Dogs with frostbite should be kept warm (not hot) with blankets and water until they can see a vet. Affected areas shouldn’t be massaged, and veterinary treatment should be sought right away, as frostbite can lead to amputation of the affected area. Treatment includes pain medication and antibiotics.
How Can I Protect my Dog From the Cold?
If your pet is vulnerable, you should try to prevent the cold from reaching them in the first place.
In the House
Make sure your home is a warm temperature, (but below 90°F as you don’t want your dog to overheat!), and that your dog has a toasty bed to cozy up in.
You can buy self-heating beds, thermal blankets, and microwavable pillows to keep them warm during cold winter days & nights. And of course, give them lots of cuddles!
That said, we do not recommend that any breed of dog sleeps outside in temperatures around 45°F, even snow dog breeds like Siberian Huskies.
The best way to prevent your furry friend from getting too cold when on walks is by getting them a coat or sweater, and/or some boots to wear. You can buy protective dog apparel online or from most pet stores.
Dogs who haven’t worn clothing before can feel embarrassed the first time around, so make sure to associate it with something positive.
How Do I Know if My Dog Needs a Coat?
Not all dogs need a winter coat or a sweater.
In fact, most don’t. Nature has provided the majority of dog breeds with their own embedded insulation.
However, some dogs that are vulnerable to the cold may need, or at least benefit, from wearing a coat outside in temperatures below 45°F. This includes toy and small breeds or medium-large breeds with thin fur, puppies, dogs that are unwell, and elderly dogs, especially those with arthritis.
If you have an elderly dog with arthritis, even if they have a thick fur coat, you might still want to think about getting them some winter boots or knee pads to protect their paw and leg joints from feeling the cold when out on winter walks. For proper advice on exactly what kind of protection to get your dog, ask your vet.
Frequently Asked Questions
We’ve gathered all questions we have been asked about how dogs cope with very cold weather and tried to answer them concisely.
Dogs are hardy creatures, but yes, they can get cold. Small or thin-haired breeds may start to feel too cold at around 45°F, and bigger, thicker haired breeds at around 32°F.
30°F is too cold for any dog to be exposed to for a long amount of time. Most dogs will enjoy a short walk in such temperatures, but they should be taken home and warmed up afterward. However, cold averse breeds will need some kind of protection in order to be outside in temperatures around 30°F.
Any temperature around 45°F is too cold for a dog to sleep outside in.
As long as the temperature of your home is above 45°F and below 90°F – which is fairly likely – it should be comfortable for your dog.
If your dog is cold, they may be lethargic, shiver, whine, huddle up into a corner, cuddle up to you, give you their paws to hold, and seem anxious.
The best dogs for cold weather are big breeds with thick coats that were originally bred to live & work in cold conditions. Breeds like Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes, Newfoundlands, and Saint Bernards are among the best cold weather pets, not to mention gentle giants!
So now we know how cold is too cold for dogs. Does your dog like the cold? If not, how do you handle it? Let us know in the comments below.