As a responsible dog owner, you do your best to protect your dog 24/7. But sometimes there are “hidden dangers” that can harm your dog…things you never thought of as dangerous but can actually be deadly. Cold weather is one of those things!
Thankfully the number of dogs killed each year from cold weather continues to go down. A big reason for this is because of social media. Each winter, you’ll probably see posts pop up in your newsfeed reminding you to bring your dog inside. But what if your dog doesn’t want to come inside? Some dogs LOVE cold weather and prefer to stay outdoors. This leads to a fundamental question:
The key is to figure out how cold is too cold for YOUR dog. The rest of this article will provide you with the information you need to figure out what weather conditions your dog can handle and how you can keep them warm when you take them outside during those harsh winter months.
Each Breed is Different
Although the general rule is that anything under 45 degrees is too cold, some dogs can handle much cooler temperatures, and some dogs can barley handle 45 degrees. Here are a few factors to consider for your breed
Dogs with thick coats or long hair can handle much colder weather than dogs with thin coats. In fact, not only can they handle the cold weather, they prefer it! Next time it snows outside, watch how much fun your fluffy, thick-coated dog has jumping around in the snow! You have to be careful with thick haired breeds though. They’ll want to stay outside in the cold even when it’s dangerous.
Dark hair does a better job absorbing heat from the sun than light hair. However, this is only applicable when the sun is out.
Small dogs lose body heat much quicker than larger dogs. This means smaller dogs can handle the cold for a short period, but eventually, they’ll need to head back inside. Let’s use the American Eskimo and the Alaskan Husky as an example. Even though both have a thick double coat, the Alaskan Husky can last outside much longer in cold temperatures than an American Eskimo.
Although you don’t want your dog to have excess body fat, that extra fat does a great job acting as an insulator. Don’t intentionally fatten up your dog for the winter weather, but if they already have some extra poundage on them, they can probably handle colder weather better than a thin dog.
Age, Health, and Acclimation
There are things other than the breed that will affect what weather conditions your dog can handle. The three primary ones are age, health, and acclimation.
Puppies under the age of six months and elderly dogs approaching the end of their life need to be kept warm and shouldn’t be out in cold weather for an extended period of time. The immune system of a puppy is still developing while the immune system of an elderly dog is weakening. This means they’re more susceptible to develop hypothermia or frostbite.
For a dogs body to produce heat, they need to have a healthy immune system. Without a healthy immune system, the body won’t be able to produce heat as quickly as it otherwise could. If your dog is currently sick or is coming off an illness, you’ll want to keep them indoors during weather below 45 degrees.
For elderly dogs, we also have to take into account arthritis. You’ll notice dogs with arthritis have difficulty standing up during the cold winter months because cold weather makes arthritis hurt even more than it already does.
This is a factor that’s not often talked about but is SO important. A dogs body does a great job adjusting to conditions over time. Dogs that have lived their whole life in a cold climate can easily handle cold weather. However, a dog that grew up in a warm climate area such as California and then moved to a colder climate area such as Chicago is going to have a much more difficult time during those chilly winter months.
This won’t be permanent, after a few months, their body will adapt, and they’ll eventually be able to handle colder weather than they could during the first few months.
Wind Chill & Rain
This will be a brief section, but it’s important to keep an eye windchill and rain. Windchill significantly increases the chances of frostbite and hypothermia. It’s ok to let your dog out in the rain, but if it’s under 45 degrees and raining, you’ll want to keep them indoors.
YOUR Dog Will Be Different
Up to this point, we have covered the general rules for how cold is too cold for your dog. But the truth is that each dog is different. Just like humans, some dogs run hot and some run cold, even if they are the same dog breed.
Part of being a responsible dog owner is learning YOUR dog’s needs. Instead of just going with the average of 45 degrees, it would be a good idea to let your dog out in cold weather and see how they respond.
Make sure you don’t start with the extremes though. Wait until it’s around 45 degrees outside (give or take a few degrees). Go outside with your dog and watch for the following signs. If they seem to be handling things fine, wait until the temperature drops to 40 degrees and do the same thing. Continue doing this until they begin to show signs of discomfort.
Signs of Discomfort
Let’s start with the obvious. If your dog is shivering, it’s too cold.
Trying to Hide
If it looks like your dog is trying to hide, they’re actually looking for a safe place. They know it’s too cold outside for them, so they’re trying to find a warmer spot.
Some dogs have learned to communicate with their owners verbally. If your dog looks up at you and either starts crying or whining, he’s telling you he’s too cold and wants to go back inside.
If your dog doesn’t move, it could be a sign their paws are too cold, or they have ice stuck between the pads of their toes.
If you take your dog outside and don’t notice any of those signs, odds are they are fine. Never experiment by letting your dog out for a few minutes and then coming back later to check on them. It’s important to go outside with them so you can carefully watch for all these signs.
Health Risks of Keeping Them Out in Cold Weather
Unless it’s approaching single-digit temperature, it’s ok to take your dog outside real quick to go potty. The issue is when you keep them out for an extended amount of time. If you leave your dog out in extremely frigid temperatures, you’re putting the health of your pet at risk. Here are some potential health risks that come along with keeping a dog outside in cold weather.
This is a serious condition that can be deadly for a dog. Hypothermia is when the body loses heat faster than it can produce heat. When this happens, it affects your dog’s breathing ability, blood flow, heart rate, and mental cognition. If you want to keep your pet safe, it’s a good idea to purchase pet insurance if you live in an area that reaches negative degrees. The costs of treating hypothermia can add up without insurance!
Dogs are susceptible to getting frostbite on their paws because their paw pads are the only area on their body that has sweat glands. Sweat glands produce moisture, and in freezing temperatures, it can immediately turn into ice. Ice that sticks to dog feet will eventually lead to frostbite if not taken care of quickly.
Increased Arthritis Pain
If your dog suffers from arthritis, staying out in the cold will make it much worse. Not only is this bad because of the pain, but it will also cause them to lose motivation to move around and keep their body as warm as possible.
Making a Fashion Statement
Just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean you have to keep your dog locked indoors all day. Dogs love to run around, and being locked inside might drive them crazy. If you want to take your dog out for a walk on a cold day, you should consider getting them a coat and some boots.
When looking for a coat, the most important thing is warmth. There are an endless amount of options when it comes to style, but it’s not just about style (trust me, your dog doesn’t care). Look for a layered coat, preferably with fleece lining. That’s what I use for my dog and she loves it! You can also go with puffer coats, but most dogs find those a little too uncomfortable. If you have a short haired dog, the coat becomes essential. Dogs that have long hair can get away with no coat.
If it’s snowing or raining outside, you definitely want to put some boots on your dog. Snow and rain significantly increase the chances of frostbite. If your dog is wearing boots, you won’t have to worry about frostbite.
If your dog has never worn boots before, it’s going to take them a few walks to get used to it. In fact, the first time they wear them, they’ll probably refuse to walk! You have to gently drag them for a few steps until they get used to them.
If you live in a cold area, it’s a smart idea to start putting boots on puppies at a young age even when they aren’t needed. This makes things much easier when you actually will use them.
Other Ways to Keep Your Dog Warm
Other than making a fashion statement with a coat and boots, here are some more ways to keep your dog warm during those freezing winter months.
Insulate The Dog House
You have two options here. First, you can either manually insulate the dog house, OR you can purchase a winter dog house which is already insulated. If you already have a dog house you’re happy with and would rather not buy a new one, insulating it yourself is easy! Simply line the inside of the walls with reflective soil. It may not be pretty, but it works!
Limited Outdoor Time
If your dog has always been an outdoor dog, it may be hard to make the transition to spending more time indoors, but during icy conditions, it’s smart to keep your dog inside and only let them out under careful supervision.
If your dog refuses to walk with boots on, the next best solution to protect their feet is paw balm. Not only will this help prevent frostbite, but it will soothe your dog’s paws and even help repair cracked paws because of the moisturizing properties.
Find The Solution That’s Best For You
Remember, being a dog owner means finding solutions that work for you and your dog. Although 45 degrees is the rule of thumb, it would be wise to figure out how cold is too cold for YOUR dog. Remember to supervise them when they go outside in cold weather and watch for the signs they’ll be giving you letting you know it’s too cold for them. If you live in an area that gets extremely cold, you may want to get pet insurance in case your dog does get hypothermia or frostbites. Pet health care can be expensive, but now when you have a good pet insurance plan!
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Bryan Harkins is an avid dog lover and the proud owner of dogdorable.com, a website dedicated to all things canine. With years of experience working with dogs, Bryan is passionate about providing valuable information, tips, and resources to help pet owners provide the best possible care for their furry companions.