How Cold Is Too Cold For Dogs?
Plus how to warm your dog up 🥶
Your dog’s begging to go out for a walk, but you’re worried the winter weather might be too much for her.
Low temperatures can be dangerous for dogs, so it’s good to know when it’s too cold to actually take your dog out.
But how cold is too cold for dogs? It actually depends on a few things, like what type of fur she has and how big she is.
We reached out to Dr. Michelle Burch, a veterinarian from Safe Hounds Pet Insurance, and Dr. Jonathan Roberts, a veterinarian working with Hepper, to learn more about when it’s too cold for your dog — and some tips to keep her warm all winter long.
What are the best cold weather dogs?
Some dogs are physically built for the cold, which means they can tolerate lower temperatures than other pups (and may even love the cold).
Many cold-tolerant dog breeds exist due to selective breeding for a dense and fluffy coat. “Their thick, double-layered fur provides insulation against the cold and allows them to thrive at temperatures below freezing,” Dr. Roberts told The Dodo.
Important characteristics of cold-tolerant dog breeds include:
- Double coats: These dogs tend to have a dense undercoat that’s an excellent insulator against the cold, working to keep the warmth in.
- Large body size: The larger the dog, the less surface area per weight. “Put simply, they conserve body warmth more efficiently,” Dr. Roberts said.
- Thicker subcutaneous fat layer: This fat layer under the skin also acts as a good insulator against the cold.
- Small ears: According to Dr. Roberts the smaller the ears, the less heat is lost to the environment.
Cold-tolerant dog breeds include:
- Alaskan malamutes
- Bernese mountain dogs
- Saint Bernards
- Siberian huskies
- Shiba Inus
Which breeds handle cold the worst?
On the other hand, some dogs have physical characteristics that make them much more susceptible to the effects of cold weather.
Breeds with short-fur coats, no undercoat and minimal body fat don’t tolerate cold very well.
Dogs who don’t handle the cold well include:
“Toy and tiny breed dogs also do not cope well in the cold,” Dr. Roberts said. “This is due to a large surface area relative to size and minimal body fat.”
What other factors affect how a dog reacts to cold?
When determining how your individual dog may handle cold weather, these are the different characteristics that will affect this:
Her coat type
Coat type dramatically affects how a dog will react to the cold. “Dogs with longer, thicker or double-layered coats will respond less to the cold than dogs with thin coats,” Dr. Burch told The Dodo.
Her coat color
Believe it or not, your dog’s coat color also affects how she reacts to the cold. “Darker coats, such as black or brown, will absorb the heat from sunlight better than dogs with light coats, such as white or beige,” Dr. Burch said.
Smaller dogs will be less cold tolerant compared to larger dogs. “Smaller dogs have a larger surface area of skin and will lose heat faster,” Dr. Burch said.
Although it’s not advised to have an overweight dog, they do tend to be more cold tolerant compared to skinnier dogs. “Fat is an insulator of heat, and having a thicker layer under the skin will keep dogs warmer,” Dr. Burch said.
Puppies, senior dogs or dogs with underlying health conditions will be less cold tolerant. “This population of dogs has a more challenging time regulating their body temperature,” Dr. Burch said.
When is it too cold to walk a dog?
When it comes to exactly how cold is too cold for your dog, you’ll have to take a few things into consideration. “There are many factors that help you determine this for yourself and your dog,” Dr. Roberts said.
How cold is too cold for dogs?
According to Dr. Burch, no dog should be out for a walk if the temperature is 0 degrees Fahrenheit or below.
“Below 20 degrees Fahrenheit is too cold for almost all dogs to go for an actual walk, and [they] should only take short trips outside to do their business,” Dr. Roberts said.
- For medium and large breed dogs: These dogs can tolerate no more than a 30-minute walk in temperatures between 20 degrees Fahrenheit and freezing temperature (aka 32 degrees Fahrenheit).
- For smaller breed dogs or dogs with thin coats: These dogs should not be out for longer than 15 minutes in the above temperatures.
“Please account for wind chill when looking at the temperature for a walk,” Dr. Roberts said. “Wind chill can significantly drop core body temperatures very quickly.”
Additionally, be extra careful in moist and wet conditions. “A wet coat causes body temperatures to drop rapidly,” Dr. Roberts said.
Signs your dog is too cold
A cold dog might begin to shiver across her entire body, stand in a hunched posture or alternate lifting paws up from the ground because her feet are cold, Dr. Burch said.
Other signs that your dog’s too cold include:
- Tail tucked between legs
- Reluctance to move on a walk or continuously trying to turn back home
- Seeking shelter from the weather
Dr. Burch recommends also watching out for signs of hypothermia and frostbite in your dog, as these are both considered medical emergencies.
Signs of hypothermia in dogs:
- Decreased breathing rate
Signs of frostbite in dogs:
Dr. Burch recommends watching for your pup’s tail, paws or ear tips turning pale or blue, which are signs of frostbite in dogs.
“If your dog is experiencing symptoms of hypothermia or frostbite, I recommend immediate veterinary medical attention,” Dr. Burch said.
How to warm up a cold dog
If you notice signs that your dog is too cold while out on a walk, follow the below steps to make sure she stays safe and healthy.
Bring her inside
The first thing you should do if your dog is too cold is immediately get her inside where it’s warm.
Dry her off
If your pup’s wet from the snow or ice outside, you’ll want to reach for a towel ASAP. “Immediately after getting inside, dry off your dog's body and paws to minimize the loss of heat,” Dr. Burch said.
Wrap her in a warm blanket
To help your dog warm up even faster, Dr. Roberts recommends wrapping a hot water bottle or heated bean bag in a blanket or towel and placing it near your dog’s abdomen. “Never let an unwrapped bottle or bean bag touch their bare skin [as] this can cause burns,” Dr. Roberts said. “Also, if it is too hot for your skin, it will be too hot for theirs.”
How to keep dogs warm in the winter
If you want to be proactive, it’s a good idea to know how to dress your dog for the winter even before stepping outside.
Here are some tips to keeping your dog warm in the winter:
Wear an insulated jacket
“When temperatures begin to dip below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, I recommend small dogs, dogs with thin coats, dogs with underlying medical disease, or puppies wear an insulated jacket while walking outside,” Dr. Burch said. “I recommend looking for jackets that will also cover your dog's neck to provide additional warmth.”
When taking your pet outside in cold, snow and ice, using booties can help keep your dog’s paws safe. “Booties will keep your pet's toes dry and warm, which will help prevent any frostbite injuries,” Dr. Burch said. “Covering your pet's feet will also decrease the mess with dirt, snow or debris from entering your house on return.”
Make sure, though, that you’re only using these booties when absolutely necessary, like when there’s snow or ice on the ground. “While they are essential to prevent frostbite in very icy conditions, they prevent the natural splay of a dog’s toes and can lead to pressure sores and moist eczema,” Dr. Roberts said.
Let her sleep inside
You should never let your dog sleep outside, especially in cold weather. Letting your dog stay outside in the cold for extended periods of time can be seriously dangerous for her, so it’s definitely not recommended.
“The most critical safety feature for pets that will remain outside for an extended time, I recommend a well-insulated shelter,” Dr. Burch said. “Housing should protect your pet from the elements, including wind and dampness.”
Make sure her water doesn’t freeze
If you have a bowl of your dog’s water outside in freezing temperatures, the water will probably freeze and your dog won’t be able to drink from it. “I recommend having a heated water bowl available for your pet,” Dr. Burch said. “Many of the commercially available bowls will keep water from freezing to below 20 degrees Fahrenheit.”
Feed her more
“Dogs in very cold climates will need up to 20 percent more calories in order to maintain their body temperatures,” Dr. Roberts said.
But you should definitely talk to your vet before changing up your dog’s feeding schedule or diet to make sure it’s the best move for your pet.
While you probably want to just snuggle up inside and wait for it to get a bit warmer out, sometimes nature calls — so making sure your pup is dressed for the cold (and only going out for walks in the safe temperatures listed above) will ensure she’s perfectly safe all winter long.