Many dogs enjoy playing in the snow and being outdoors with us. But do dogs get cold outside in winter and do you know how cold is too cold for dogs? Keep on reading!
Dogs, just like humans, can get chilly when the temperature starts to drop. One of the most common ways animals can become hurt is when they are left outside and it gets too cold.
So let’s take a look at how you can help your pets safely enjoy winter outdoors.
Many people are under the impression that dogs have a better capability of surviving cold temperatures than humans. However, that is not entirely true.
Just like their owners, dogs can get cold. Different dogs tolerate cold temperatures differently. Smaller dogs, as well as dogs with short coats, will feel the cold more sharply than larger dogs or breeds with thick coats.
A dog’s ability to withstand the cold depends on many factors, such as breed, size, body fat, fur, health and medical condition.
How Cold is Too Cold to Leave a Dog Outside?
A general rule of thumb to use is if the outdoor temperature is too cold for a human to be comfortable, it’s too severe for your dog.
When temperatures fall below 32ºF, pets that are smaller, with thinner coats, and are very young, old or sick, should not be left outside for very long.
Once temperatures hit around 20°F, the potential for frostbite and hypothermia increases significantly for your dogs. Therefore, when the temperature reaches this point, don’t allow your dog outside for long periods.
To make your decision about outdoor fun easier, we created a Cold Weather Safety Chart.
As you can see, if the outside temperature falls below 50ºF, small to medium-sized dogs begin to feel a cold nip. Larger dogs can, however, tolerate temperatures up to 41ºF.
Of course, not all dogs react to the cold in the same way. Breed and size matter in cold weather.
Some dog breeds, such as Siberian Huskies or Alaskan Malamutes are bred to withstand freezing temperatures, even to be exposed to them for days when considering dog sledding.
On the other hand, small dogs tend to be more sensitive to weather conditions. For example, if you have a Chihuahua, it can get too cold for them before it even reaches freezing.
Size alone isn’t everything, however. Those with shorter hair or a coat that is not thick are also easily affected. So, if your dog has a thin coat and the temperature is below 50ºF, it’s time to bundle up.
How to Tell if Your Dog is Cold
When any warm-blooded creature gets cold, the muscles tremble in an effort to raise the body heat. Dogs are no exception. One of the main signs of a cold dog is trembling, shaking, and shivering in an attempt to warm the body.
Also, if your dog quickly returns to a door that leads to warmth such as a car door or a house door, it’s his or her way of telling you that the cold is too uncomfortable.
Another indicator is your dog’s ears. Ears that are cold to the touch likely mean that the whole pup is cold, too.
Dogs who have been outside in the cold too long may start to whine, bark, or howl. They’re trying to tell you that they’re freezing-cold and need to go inside and warm up.
Finally, another clear sign on how to tell if your dog is cold is if your dog appears to be extremely sleepy or lethargic, and this could be very serious.
Risks Associated with the Cold Weather
Normal body temperature for dogs is between 101°F and 102.5°F. If your dog’s temperature drops below this, he is at risk of hypothermia.
Hypothermia is a life-threatening condition, and its symptoms include weakness, drowsiness, lethargy, muscle stiffness, and shallow, slow breathing. An overall hypothermia of the body can cause deep organ damage and even be deadly.
Frostbite is another risk associated with cold weather. It’s damage caused to skin and other tissues due to extreme cold. Frostbite occurs when the body redirects blood flow to the most important organs in the body.
In other words, the body automatically pulls blood from the extremities to the center of the body to stay warm. As a result the skin becoming very pale with a bluish-white hue due to a lack of blood flow.
The tricky thing to remember about frostbite is that it’s not immediately obvious. As frostbitten areas warm, they can be extremely painful. Severely frostbitten skin will eventually turn black and slough off.
For dogs with arthritis, the cold can mean increased suffering. The joints become less and less mobile while they start to lock up. Therefore you’ll need to limit the walks and let your dog spend most of their time indoors where it’s warmer.
How Do I Protect My Dog from Cold Weather?
If your dog isn’t a breed that can withstand the cold well, getting them a coat can be helpful. It will help prevent his body heat from escaping. Make sure that the coat is snug but still allows your dog to have a full range of motion.
If your dog is outdoors much of the day for any reason, they must be protected by a dry, draft-free shelter that is large enough to allow them to move comfortably, but small enough to hold in body heat.
In addition to, it’s important to note, that the floor should be raised a few inches from the ground and covered with cedar shavings or straw.
On the food side, you can add a sprinkle of cinnamon to your pup’s daily meals to help warm him from the inside out, and switch his primary protein source to a warming meat, such as lamb, venison or chicken.
However, just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean you should feed your dog more food! In fact, it’s recommended that you decrease his caloric intake during the winter if his activity level is lower than usual.
Most dogs will be ok in the elements for short periods of time, but this will depend on the breed of the dog. If you live in a cold climate, it’s important to know your dog’s limits and how you can keep them safe and warm.
So, do dogs get cold outside in winter? How cold is too cold for dogs? The golden rule is if it’s too cold for you, it’s too cold for your dog!
Never leave dogs outside unattended for any length of time. Only take them outside if they’re going to be active and exercise. But even then, you may need to shorten a walk if it’s really cold.
The only way to determine your dog’s temperature accurately is by using a rectal thermometer. If your dog’s temperature drops below 99°F this is an emergency situation. Wrap him in a warm towel or blanket and drive him to the veterinarian’s office or nearest animal hospital.