How Cold is Too Cold for Dogs? – Dog Winter Tips

How Cold Is Too Cold For Your Dog?

No matter what season it is, your dog needs to get outside for exercise and the mental stimulation being outside provided. But in the cold winter months, how cold is too cold for dogs?

Red and white Alaskan Malamute sitting on hill covered in snow with tree covered in snow in background

During the winter months there are additional dangers associated with spending time outside, so let’s take a look at those dangers and see how we can still allow dogs to enjoy the great outdoors during wintertime.

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What is too cold for dogs?

Each individual dog is unique. One dog may love the snow; another will run from it. But one thing is true for all dogs… the absence of warmth can cause health issues.

But just because your dog may like the snow or cold, does not necessarily mean he or she can tolerate it will. Some dog breeds are just not built to withstand low temperatures. 

But what makes a dog more adaptable to cold days? Let’s talk about a few of the things that make them different.

1. Dog Health and Age

All breeds of dogs are different when it comes to regulating their body temperature. Young, healthy dogs in their prime, tend to be the most tolerant to the cold.

The sick, older dogs, and very young have a harder time controlling their body temperature. Therefore they are more susceptible to the dangers of the cold and require greater protection.

2. Breed of Dog Size

Larger dogs (such as Labradors, German Shepherds, Rottweilers, and Newfoundland Retrievers) have proportionally more muscle mass in relation to their size.

Thus, they have proportionally more “heat-generating capacity” and are able to maintain a higher core body temperature even when subjected to the same external conditions as small dogs.

3. Coat Type

In general, thick coats or double-coated dogs (like Bernese Mountain Dogs, Saint Bernards, Alaskan Malamutes, and Siberian Husky) are the most tolerant of colder weather. They have been bred for centuries to endure the elements and actually allow them to thrive in freezing temperatures.

However, short-haired dogs or thin-coated dogs (such as Rat Terrier, Greyhounds, and Great Danes) suffer more from cold weather than thicker-coated ones. They can’t generate enough natural body heat to stay warm.

So the type of coat your dog has plays a big part in its being able to handle cold climates.

4. Color Of Coat

While the color of a dog’s coat does not play a huge role in keeping them warm, it can help a little.

A dog with a dark coat color is more likely to become overheated when exposed to direct sunlight in the summer. Therefore the same dark coat helps them in the winter.

This is because the dark color absorbs the sunlight and helps to heat the dog. However, this only works on clear days when the sun is out. 

5. Body Weight

We all know that body fat is a good insulator. Meaning heavy-set dogs tend to stay warmer than thinner dogs. Whereas thinner dogs get colder faster.

However, that does not mean you should make your dog overweight just to keep him warmer. The health risks of an overweight dog are much higher than any benefits of being overweight. So don’t attempt to make your dogs obese for winter just to protect them from the cold.

6. Conditioning

A 50-degree day in April makes us all break out the tank tops and shorts. Whereas that same 50-degree day in say September or October will have us reaching for a jacket.

Well, dogs are just like people when it comes to temperature drops. When a dog conditions itself to cold outdoor temperatures it can handle it much better than ones who are not.

How to tell if a dog is cold

There are several factors outside of the temperature that affects how your dog feels the cold. These include the moisture in the air and the amount of wind he is exposed to.

1. Moisture & Humidity 

A dog’s skin is very susceptible to the effects of the elements, especially to the effects of dampness. If you take your dog outside in the rain or snow or in any wet weather he will quickly become chilled if his coat gets wet. This can happen even if the temperatures are not super cold.

However, if it is not wet out but the humidity is higher, this actually helps you and your dog to feel warmer when the temperatures are colder.

2. Wind Chill

Ever been outside when it is 40 degrees Fahrenheit and windy and then again when it is not windy? Feels like a totally different day right? Well, the same goes for your dog.

A cold wind can cut right through the coat of a dog. Therefore decreases a dog’s ability for his body to protect against cold temperatures.

3. Cloudy or Sunny Day

When it is sunny out the cold day may feel warmer to your dog. Because they can be in the sun and soak up some of that solar energy. 

But then it is overcast cloud cover, they may have a harder time staying warm.

What temperature is too cold for dogs?

Most dogs don’t have a problem with cold weather until temperatures get down to about 45° F. When that happens, some dogs will start to feel uncomfortable and might even experience a decreased activity level.

When temperatures drop to 32° F or lower, senior dogs, sick, young, small dogs, or breeds that have thin coats, should be watched carefully. If you see signs they are getting too cold, they need to be brought in.

At 20° F and colder temperatures, all dogs should be removed from the cold and given shelter and/or protection from dangerous conditions. At these extreme temperatures, your dog could develop cold-associated health conditions. Such as frostbite or hypothermia.

You need to pay attention to their behavior when it’s cold. If you notice them acting anxious, restless, whining, shivering, pawing at the floor, or seeking a warm place to stand or lie, it’s time to bring ‘em inside. As these could be symptoms of hypothermia.

Another thing to note is it is not a good idea to yoyo your dog in the cold. What do I mean by that? Well, if you have an outside dog and the temperatures drop slightly, don’t bring them in your house where it is 80 for a little while then put them back out. 

Your dog is way better off having a nice warm insulated box with warm bedding to go into than bringing them in and out. That is because when you do that, their body becomes unconditioned to the cold.

Now it is different if you have an inside dog and you are just letting them out for a few minutes to take care of business and then bringing them back in.

If you do have an outside dog, it is very important that you make sure they have plenty of water. If the water freezes and they become dehydrated, they will not be able to keep their body warm. You may want to invest in a heated water bowl.

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