How Cold Is Too Cold for Dogs?
Getting outside is essential for the health and wellbeing of your dog, whether it’s for a mooch in the backyard, a quick walk around the block or a full-on exercise session in the park. But as the nights draw in and the temperatures drop, getting that daily outdoor time becomes a little more problematic for your pooch. While a bit of cold and some winter fresh air can actually be good for your dog, more extreme temperature drops means that walk or outdoor play session could actually do more harm than good. So, how do you really know how cold is too cold for dogs?
We take a look at the potential risks of taking your dog out in cold and how you can keep them warm, protected and happy when the mercury decides to take a downward turn.
Cold Weather Guidelines for Dogs
Most dogs can cope with temperatures above 45°F (around 7°C) however, when it starts to drop below this, the more cold-averse pooch will start to feel uncomfortable. And it’s when the temp reaches freezing (32°F) that the cold will start to affect most dogs, with a drop to 20°F (-6°C) putting your pooch at serious risk of hypothermia and potential frostbite.
It’s also important not to just look at the thermometer to see if it’s too cold for dogs, as there are other environmental factors at play which can affect how your pooch reacts. This includes windchill which can reduce your dog’s ability to insulate against the cold; dampness, which can soak into their fur and add more chill and cloud cover, which prevents your pup from soaking up any warmth from the winter sun. Then there’s your pet’s activity level – a slow amble is not going to warm them up, but an energetic blast in the park is going to help them generate more body heat to keep them more comfortable.
Know Your Dog’s Resilience
As well as external factors which could make the outdoor temperature too chilly for your pooch, there are other things that will influence how your own pet responds to the cold. As all dogs are different, the following are areas you need to consider when deciding how cold is too cold for dogs to be outside:
- Breed: Breeds such as Alaskan Malamutes and Siberian Huskies are naturally going to cope better with cold temperatures, even if they don’t live in it all year round, while breeds from outside of northern climes are going to be less adaptive to temperature drops.
- Coat type: Dogs with thick, double-layered coats are more insulated and cold-tolerant than a thinner coated pooch, such as a greyhound.
- Size and weight: With a larger surface area to volume ratio, smaller dogs will lose heat faster than larger canines. Body fat also plays a part, as thinner dogs have less inner ‘insulation’ to keep them warm.
- Age and health: Very young, old or dogs with compromised health are particularly vulnerable to the cold.
Winter Health Risks
Low temperatures not only make a walk in the park a chilly, potentially miserable experience for your hound, it can also cause problems for their health, especially if they are vulnerable. As dogs and cold weather don’t always mix, the main health risks of a winter freeze include:
- Arthritis: Older dogs in particular are prone to arthritis and cold weather can exacerbate the condition, limiting their mobility and increasing joint stiffness.
- Hypothermia: Once your dog’s body temperature drops to a certain level, hypothermia can set in, depending on how cold it is and how long your pup is exposed for. Hypothermia can affect their blood flow, heart rate and breathing, ultimately causing loss of consciousness and even death.
- Frostbite: The sweat glands in your pooch’s paws can release moisture which will freeze in extreme temperatures into ice balls which can lead to frostbite. Their ears and tails can also be affected.
- Rock salt: A familiar sight on sidewalks and driveways through snowy winters to melt ground ice, this coarse salt can cause irritation and blistering if it gets stuck between their paws. Always rinse your dog’s paws after such a winter walk to remove any salt and prevent your pup licking it off themselves.
How to Protect Your Dog
You can give your dog a head-start when it comes to staving off the cold on their winter walk by following a few easy steps:
- Coat them up: Most dogs will be fine in cold temperatures for short periods but if you are venturing out for a little longer, then consider a dog coat to help retain their body heat. Short-coated, thin or smaller dogs will particularly benefit from a dog jacket.
- Supervise them: If they need a pee break and it is blowing a storm or the temperature’s freezing, go out with them so they get on with the business and then get them back inside.
- Manage their outdoor time: When the temperature drops, try walk your dog during the daytime, when the sun is hopefully out and limit their time outside if there is deep snow or freezing weather. Keep a towel by the door so you can immediately wipe their body and paws down and get them warm.
- Go easy on the grooming: Space out the time between baths during the winter so their coat retains more of those essential, waterproofing oils and resist the urge to trim their coat too much so they can hang on to their natural insulation.
Tell-Tale Signs They Are Cold
When the temperature drops, it’s important to know your dog, have an understanding of their cold tolerance levels and be able to read the signs that your pup is getting too uncomfortable on a winter walk. Like humans, dogs will have physical as well as emotional responses to the cold you need to look out for, and some may be more subtle than others. As well as the more obvious shivering, your dog may also act more anxious, keep lifting up their paws or whine. Slowing down is also a sign that all is not well. He may also start barking and turn his head or whole body in the direction of home – or at least somewhere warm. If this is what you are seeing, it’s time to get your pooch indoors, warm and happy.
What to Do If You Suspect Hypothermia
While shivering can help your dog to produce more warmth, it’s also a sign of reducing body temperature and if not acted upon in time, can lead to hypothermia. If the shivering persists and hypothermia takes hold, your dog will deteriorate so look out for signs of increased lethargy, listlessness, weakness and shallow breathing. You pooch may also appear mentally confused or disorientated. If you suspect your dog has hypothermia, it’s essential to act fast – get them out of the cold into a warmer place and cover them with blankets or towels. Use a hot water bottle if you can and then get your pet to the vets pronto.
But prevention is better than cure when it comes to your dog getting too cold and so if you suspect the temperature outside is too cold for your pet, then just keep them inside…. the park is always going to be there and that fun walk with your dog can happen another day.