How Cold Is Too Cold for Your Dog?
You and your dog can enjoy lots of beneficial and fun outdoor activities in the winter. Many dogs love to play in the snow, bounding and leaping through small drifts and taking long walks in cooler temperatures that won't leave them panting. However, you may wonder what temperature is too cold for dogs—and your dog specifically. Here's the quick answer.
Things that Affect Your Dog's Ability to Handle the Cold
Every dog is unique and will handle the cold differently depending on some factors:
- Coat length. You may have to grab a jacket on the way out the door when temperatures dip but don't forget that your dog has a built-in coat. The coat of a short-haired breed like a Whippet or a smooth-coated Dachshund provides some automatic protection from mildly cold weather. Then there are some long-haired “cold weather" breeds like Newfoundlands, Siberian Huskies, and Great Pyrenees1 that are naturally more suited to deeper cold.
- Body weight. Whales, polar bears, walruses, and other cold-weather mammals increase their cold-tolerance with body fat. While you wouldn't want your dog to pack on the pounds for this purpose, it's still true that a heavier dog will stay more comfortable in the cold than the same dog carrying less weight.
- Color. Dark colors absorb light—and heat—while light colors reflect it. So dogs with black or brown coats stay a bit warmer than dogs with white or yellow coats.
- Age. Older dogs may be less capable of regulating their body temperatures and may not tolerate cold weather as well. And don't forget to protect your puppies too!
- Size. Small dogs have more difficulty creating and holding on to their body heat, so they might get cold more quickly than big dogs.
- Height. Short breeds are closer to the snow and get colder much quicker.2
How Cold is Too Cold for Dogs?
While it depends on the specific type of dog, there are a few guidelines you can use to help you estimate when he can go out and when he might be better off staying indoors.
- 45°F. Most dogs will be naturally comfortable enough at this temperature, even without the aid of a dog jacket. Play on!
- 32°F. This is the temperature at which water starts to freeze, and it's also the temperature at which some dogs may begin to feel too cold. Again, it depends on the individual dog, but older, young, and small dogs may really start to feel the chill and need to be monitored to make sure they're not too uncomfortable at this temperature.3
- 20°F. This is where things start to feel really cold, and hazardous conditions like frostbite and hypothermia become possible. Be careful!
What Temperature is Too Cold for Dogs?
In super cold and snowy weather, you may notice your dog holding up his paws when he goes outside, hunching over, or even shivering—this is his way of telling you he's very cold and it's time to get inside, pronto! You can also take some additional steps to keep your dog warm.
- Potty breaks. Some dogs may tolerate even very cold weather for a minute or two—long enough for a quick walk to relieve themselves. Tiny dogs may need a temporary indoor location for bathroom breaks.
- Cold-weather gear. Short-haired breeds may appreciate a dog jacket or parka to help them retain body heat, even if they're only going outside briefly. You can also experiment with dog boots that protect his feet from the cold, but many dogs are averse to wearing them.
- Heated help. If your dog spends some time in a garage, barn, or porch setting, he might enjoy the protection of a Thermo Tent, which comes with an electrically heated pad to keep him warm. Indoors, try a Thermo-Snuggly Sleeper. (Concerned about the safety of electrically heated beds? Make sure these items are safety tested.)
You know your dog needs plenty of water on a hot summer afternoon, but it's just as important for your dog to stay hydrated in the cold. Humidity levels are lower in the winter,4 and the air can also be quite dry inside a heated home. If your dog spends plenty of time outdoors in the winter, you might consider offering him an outdoor heated water bowl to keep his water from freezing and make it more appealing to drink.
You and your dog don't need to get the winter blues as long as you know it's not too cold! Stay safe while you get out and enjoy the outdoors—and then come back inside for a movie in front of the fireplace!
1. Schuler, Mattie. Outside. “The 20 Best Cold-Weather Dog Breeds," 6 Dec 2013. https://www.outsideonline.com/1859446/20-best-cold-weather-dog-breeds
2. Reisen, Jan. American Kennel Club. “Does My Dog Need a Winter Coat?" 16 Jan 2018. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/lifestyle/does-dog-need-winter-coat/
3. Coates, Jennifer. PetMD. “How Cold Is Too Cold for Your Dog?" 3 Nov 2016. https://www.petmd.com/dog/care/how-cold-too-cold-dog
4. Wag! “Why Do Dogs Drink More Water In The Winter," https://wagwalking.com/behavior/why-do-dogs-drink-more-water-in-the-winter