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How Cold is Too Cold For Dogs: Keeping Your Pup Warm During Winter

How cold is too cold for dogs? You might be asking yourself this question if you own an outdoor dog. Read on to find out when it's time to bring Fido inside.

Janet Wall

Last Updated: January 29, 2023 | 13 min read

Dog is Cold Outdoors

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How cold is too cold for dogs? You may find yourself asking this question if you live in an area that gets snow during the wintertime. Just because your dog has a fur coat it doesn’t necessarily mean that he can tolerate the cold better than you can. In fact, some breeds do much better in cold weather than others.

Most pet dogs are accustomed to the warmth of their owner’s home, and the cold weather can be as hard for them as it can be for you. So, when winter arrives, your furry friend needs a little extra care. Knowing what temperatures dogs can tolerate is essential, especially if you live in a colder region.

In this article, we will explain what health risks your dog faces during cold weather. We also provide 12 tips on keeping your canine companion safe and warm this winter. So, are some dogs better suited to life in a cold climate than others? Let’s find out more about dogs and how they tolerate cold weather.

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How Cold Is Too Cold For Dogs? Key Points

  • Most dogs are safe when the temperature is above 45 F. When temperatures dip below 45 F, some canines will start to feel the effects of the cold.
  • At 32 F breeds with thin coats, and those that are smaller, with less fat, start to become at risk for adverse effects. these dogs should not be outside for more than a few minutes, and should wear a sweater or coat.
  • When temperatures fall to 20 F, or lower, dogs are at high risk of developing frostbite, and hypothermia.
  • Older dogs, sick dogs, and younger puppies are most susceptible to cold. They should not be exposed to colder temperatures for long.
  • A dog’s normal body temperature should be between 99.5 F and 102.4 F.
  • Remember that wind chill can make it feel much colder than it is. Always pay attention to your dog for signs he is too cold.
  • Some breeds are more susceptible to cold weather. This list include hairless breeds, short haired breeds, smaller dogs, and giant breeds. Some cold sensitive pups include Beagles, Boxers, Chihuahuas, Dobermans, French Bulldogs, Greyhounds, Great Danes, Pugs, and Yorkishire Terriers.
  • Never let your dog sleep outside in cold weather.

12 Cold Weather Canine Tips

Dogs Cold Weather Winter Tips
It’s up to you to ensure your dog stays warm during colder weather, especially snow.

Even winter-loving breeds need extra care when the temperature drops. It doesn’t matter if they are a cold-resistant breed, or if your pup has a thinner coat that just loves to play in the snow. You need to keep them warm to ensure that they won’t have any health issues. Here are 12 top tips for keeping your dog warm and safe this wintertime.

Wrap Up Well

If you have a dog who has a thick coat, he’ll probably keep warm naturally in very cold temperatures. However, thin-coated or hairless dogs will need to wear a coat or sweater when they head off out for a winter walk.

Remember to take into account the wind chill factor, as well as the air temperature. Even if the sun is shining, a stiff breeze can lower the air temperature considerably, putting your pup at risk. Some breeds such as Whippets and Greyhounds may need to wear a sweater or fleece indoors too on particularly cold days.

Outside Dwelling Dogs

Dogs that spend part of the day or night in a kennel are especially at risk of becoming chilled.  Make sure that your dog’s kennel is sited in a sheltered spot that’s well away from drafts and facing away from the prevailing wind.

The sleeping area of the kennel should be just big enough to allow your dog to lie down in comfort, and it should be very well-insulated with warm bedding material. A smaller space stops chilly drafts from creeping in and allows your dog’s body heat to act as a natural radiator.

The floor of the kennel should be raised a few inches off the ground and sprinkled with wood shavings or straw that will provide good insulation. Cover the doorway of the kennel with a curtain of waterproof canvas or plastic. Dogs accustomed to spending most of their time outside should be brought indoors for part of the day during spells of extremely cold weather. Regular grooming will help keep hair under control if that’s one of your reasons for having your dog live outdoors.

Walk When The Sun Is Out

Dog Playing outside in Snow when sun is out
It’s always better to let your dog walk, run or play in the cold when the sun is out.

During very cold weather, walk your dog late in the morning or early in the afternoon when the temperature is slightly higher. If possible, avoid going out in the early morning or evening. To help keep you and your dog warm, try playing fetch with a ball or Frisbee, and choose a sunny spot for your game.

Winter Bedding

If your dog usually sleeps on a cold, tiled floor, you’ll need to get him a warm winter bed. Elevated beds are perfect for keeping your furry friend off cold concrete or tiles and a few extra blankets can create a snug nest. Be sure to put your dog’s bed in a cozy spot away from drafts.

No Ice, Please

A surprisingly common danger that owners often overlook is that posed by metal water bowls that are placed outside. When the temperature drops below freezing, the water in the bowl can quickly turn to ice, and the bowl itself can become a danger to your dog.

When your dog tries to take a drink, his tongue may easily become stuck to the bowl, causing a painful injury when he tries to pull away. A tennis ball placed in a wide-topped plastic container can help to keep the ice from freezing over completely.

Dry Skin

When you put your central heating on for the winter months, the air inside your house can become very dry. A dry atmosphere can cause your dog’s skin to dry out and become dehydrated. That can cause itchy areas, which your dog will scratch and nibble at, causing sore patches and hair loss.

You can combat the effects of a dry atmosphere by grooming your dog regularly. Grooming is not only very enjoyable for your pet, but it will also help to remove any dead hair and stimulates the production of natural oils in the skin that will help to keep it moisturized and supple. Use a dog shampoo made for sensitive skin if your dog continues to run into this problem.

Lost Dogs

If you have a dog that likes to go exploring while out on walks, bear in mind that falling snow can prevent scent from lingering. That means that your dog might not be able to retrace his steps if he runs off in pursuit of a rabbit or squirrel, and your pet could end up becoming lost.

Snowfall can also change the appearance of familiar landscapes and hide potential hazards such as bodies of water. There are accidents every winter where dogs have wandered onto thin ice on rivers and lakes, only to plunge into the icy water hidden beneath. Invest in an escape-proof harness for your dog’s walks during snowy winter weather if he is inclined to go ‘off-piste.’

By The Fire

Dog Sitting by Fire
Dogs love warming up next to the fire, but make sure to keep them leashed and away from open flame.

When you come home from a chilly winter walk or settle down on an icy evening in front of a blazing open fire, spare a thought for your dog’s safety. Many dogs are just as keen as you are to cozy up to the heat, but stray sparks can land on your pet, causing singed fur and nasty skin burns. Gas fires can also present a danger to wagging tails and curious noses.

If you have an open fire or a gas fire with a naked flame, always use a fireguard to prevent your dog from being injured, and never leave your pet unattended in a room where a fire is burning.

Do Not Overfeed

Many owners make the mistake of feeding their dogs extra rations during the winter months in the belief that a layer of fat will keep their pets warm. However, during cold weather, your pet may be less active than he is when the temperature is higher.

Shorter days and inclement weather can also mean you go for shorter walks or briefer play sessions. Keep an eye on your dog’s weight, and don’t overfeed him. If your pup does gain weight, make sure to put them on a weight management dog food formula to trim back the extra pounds.

Cracked Paws

Almost as bad as foxtails, the cold weather on a dog’s paws can cause them to become cracked and sore during very cold weather. The damage can be caused by walking on sidewalks that have been salted to remove ice. Always wash your dog’s paws after a walk to remove salt residue. Make sure your pup’s nails have been ground down regularly.  If not, it’ll be harder to treat cracked paws.

When you’re walking in the snow, ice and salt can accumulate between your dog’s toes, causing discomfort. You can protect your dog’s paws by outfitting him with a set of snow-proof dog boots. Although your dog might find his new boots a little strange initially, most pups soon adjust.

Leave Fido At Home

Dog laying in bed
Sometimes the best thing for your pup is to keep them bundled up indoors if possible.

You know that you should never leave your dog in your car on a hot day. Well, the same applies during a cold snap. The temperature in your car can quickly fall down well below what’s comfortable and safe for your dog, so leave your pet at home in the warm when you go out in your car to run errands.

Increase Visibility

When walking your dog before the sun rises and at dusk, increase your dog’s visibility by attaching a small light to his collar and using a Hi-Viz harness with reflective strips, especially if you walk close to roads.

Avoid Frozen Lakes & Rivers

If your dog is a swimmer, the chances are he’ll head for his usual dipping spot when you’re out walking. It can be impossible to gauge the thickness of ice on lakes, ponds, and rivers, so always keep your dog on his leash or change your route until the weather warms up. If going by the water is unavoidable, use a safety device like a canine life vest so that it’s easy to grab your dog in the event they go in and it’s too cold.

Winter Risks

The two primary health risks for dogs during very cold weather are hypothermia and frostbite.  Both of these conditions are a result of being exposed to the elements far longer than any dog should be. Let’s look at the differences, what they are, and how you can identify the signs and symptoms of each condition.

Frostbite

Dog with Frostbite
This condition is a real concern for dogs that spend a lot of time outdoors in the winter.

Frostbite mostly affects dogs left outside in the extreme cold for prolonged periods. When the temperature drops below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, the blood vessels close to the surface of the dog’s skin begin to constrict and become narrower.

That’s the body’s way of diverting blood towards the animal’s vital organs and away from the dog’s colder extremities. Unfortunately, the protective process reduces the blood flow in these areas to dangerously low levels.

The combination of low blood flow and cold temperature can cause the tissues to freeze, especially in areas such as the ears, tail, and paws. In severe cases, the tissue damage that results from frostbite causes the skin to turn black and eventually fall off.

Symptoms Of Frostbite

If your dog shows any of the following symptoms, he may have frostbite:

  • pale, bluish, or gray skin
  • brittleness or coldness of the area when touched
  • pain and swelling in affected areas
  • skin ulcers or blisters
  • areas of dead or blackened skin

As frostbitten tissue thaws, the area may become painful, red, and inflamed. The signs of frostbite can take several days to appear. As soon as you suspect your dog may have frostbite, contact your vet immediately. Here are steps you can take if you suspect your pup has frostbite.

  • Move your dog to a dry, warm area right away.
  • Do not rub the affected area.
  • If you’re indoors, carefully warm the frostbitten areas with warm water.
  • Do not do this if you are outdoors as refreezing can be dangerous.
  • You should be able to put your hand into the water comfortably.
  • Remember if the water is too hot, you’ll cause more damage.
  • Warm the area by applying warm water compresses.
  • Do not use direct heat such as a hairdryer or a heating pad.
  • When the affected area is warm, gently, and thoroughly pat it dry.

On the way to the vet or pet emergency room wrap your dog in dry blankets warmed in your clothes dryer. It’s important not to overdo it and get to your vet so you can have proper emergency assistance.

Hypothermia

Hypothermic Dog
This is a real concern for dogs that spend a good portion of their time outside in the winter.

Hypothermia is the second serious cold weather condition that dog owners should be aware of, especially older dogs. The condition occurs when your dog spends a lot of time exposed to cold temperatures, especially if he gets wet too. Elderly dogs and those with poor circulation or conditions such as kidney disease, heart disease, and hypothyroidism are especially vulnerable.

A dog’s normal body temperature is between 101 degrees F and 102.5 degrees F. If your dog’s temperature falls below 100 degrees F, he is considered to be hypothermic. If hypothermia is sustained, severe complications may occur, potentially leading to death.

Signs Of Hypothermia

If your dog shows any of the following signs after being outside in the cold for too long, he could be hypothermic. Here are the symptoms you should watch for:

  • pale skin
  • shivering
  • lethargy
  • cold ears and paws
  • depression
  • weakness
  • slow heart and respiration rates

In a case of hypothermia, here’s what to do:

  1. Warm some blankets with a hairdryer or in a clothes dryer.
  2. Wrap the dog in the blankets.
  3. Fill a hot water bottle and wrap it in a towel so that it doesn’t burn the dog’s skin.
  4. Place the hot water bottle against the dog’s tummy.
  5. You could also use a heating pad on its lowest setting, wrapped in a towel.
  6. Do not put the dog right on top of the heating pad, as direct heat may cause issues.
  7. Check the dog’s temperature every ten minutes.
  8. Once the temperature is above 100 degrees F, remove the hot water bottle.
  9. This will ensure your pup does not overheat.
  10. Keep the dog in a warm room and monitor his temperature every 15 to 30 minutes.

Hypothermia is potentially life-threatening and always requires prompt veterinary attention, especially in younger dogs. If the dog’s temperature falls below 98 degrees F, it’s a medical emergency.

Cold Tolerant Dog Breeds

Malamute Outdoors
There are a number of cold-tolerant breeds, including the Malamute.

Some dog breeds have evolved to withstand the harshest of winter conditions with ease. Often, these dogs were bred to work in snow and ice, so a few weeks of sub-zero temperatures are no problem for these pups. If you live in a region where the winter climate is particularly severe, you might want to consider choosing one of these breeds.

Tibetan Terrier

The Tibetan Terrier is the smallest winter-loving pooch on our list but he can still handle cold winters with no problem. An ancient breed, the Tibetan terrier was bred in the Lost Valley in the mountains of Tibet, where they worked as watchdogs, flock guardians, and herders. These pups were also valued companions to the monks who lived in remote Buddhist monasteries way up in the mountains.

Tibetan terriers have long, thick coats and huge paws that act as snowshoes, making them perfectly adapted to life in a cold, icy climate. If you have a dog allergy, one of these pups could make your perfect pet, as they are very light shedders.

Siberian Husky

The Siberian Husky originates from Siberia, where the breed was used to haul sleds across snow and ice for many miles, sleeping out in the open with no comfort or shelter, even in the harshest weather. Huskies have a water-repellent double coat that keeps them insulated, warm, and dry in the harshest of conditions.

You will find the husky a loving, loyal, and cheeky companion who will thrive in winter weather.

Alaskan Malamute

The Alaskan Malamute was also bred to work as a sled dog and looks similar to the Siberian Husky, although the breed is typically bigger and heavier. The Alaskan Malamute is one of the oldest Arctic dog breeds and has a heavy, long coat, and is perfectly adapted for life in a climate where the winters are extreme.

Saint Bernard

Saint Bernards are a giant breed, standing up to 30 inches at the shoulder and weighing in at a massive 140 to 180 pounds. These gentle giants, teddy bear dogs have been around since 1050, when a monk named Bernard of Menthon founded a shelter way up in the Alps to where pilgrims could rest on the long route to Rome.

The pass through which the pilgrims traveled was dangerous. At 8,000 feet above sea level, violent blizzards, avalanches, and snow drifts up to 40 feet deep were commonplace.

To help find and rescue lost travelers, the monks bred huge, powerful working dogs that could dig through snow and pull out those who became trapped, and so, Saint Bernards were born. Needless to say, a Saint Bernard will be more than at home living in a region where winters are on the chilly side.

Newfoundland

Newfoundlands are another massive breed of working dog that originates from Canada. These pups worked on ships, specializing in rescuing men who fell overboard, helping to pull in fishing nets, and hauling the day’s catch on carts to market.

The Newfoundland has thick, water-repellent fur and webbed feet, all qualities that make these dogs perfectly adapted for working in icy waters.

Japanese Akita

The Akita was once kept by Japanese royalty and used as a hunting dog in the chilly areas of Northern Japan. These dogs have a short, thick coats that are perfectly adapted for keeping out the winter cold.

Akitas are quiet dogs who can be wary of strangers and don’t generally get along with other animals in a household. These big, strong canines are hardwired to protect their human family, they must be well-socialized from birth.

Norwegian Elkhound

The Norwegian Elkhound hails from Scandinavia where the winters are notoriously frigid. These thick-coated, sturdy little dogs have been around since the time of the Vikings and were once used to guard farms, herd flocks, and defend their charges from bears and wolves.

Elkhounds were also used to hunt elk and other large deer, holding the prey at bay until their masters arrived. If you live in a region where winter hunting is a popular pastime, a Norwegian Elkhound may make the perfect sporting companion for you.

Final Thoughts

Snowy winter walks and cozy log fires can be just as enjoyable for your dog as they are for you. Do bear in mind the dangers that cold weather can present for your canine companion. To keep your pup safe, take the steps you’ll need to ensure your dog stays warm and safe this winter.

The information provided through this website should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease; it is not intended to offer any legal opinion or advice or a substitute for professional safety or care advice. Please consult your health care provider, attorney, insurance expert, or product manual for professional advice. Products and services reviewed are provided by third parties; we are not responsible in any way for them, nor do we guarantee their functionality, utility, safety, or reliability. Our content is for educational purposes only.

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