How Cold Is Too Cold for Dogs?

Keep Dogs Safe This Winter With These Cold Weather Tips

We all know dogs love spending time outside, whether taking a good walk, playing in the yard, or romping with four-legged friends at the dog park, but what about in the cold winter months? How cold is too cold for dogs to be outside? When does a fun frolic become risky?

In truth, it depends on a number of factors. Let’s sort out how cold is too cold for dogs.

How Cold Is Too Cold: Depends on the Dog

warm dog coats and jackets

Just like with people, some dogs tolerate winter weather better than others. While one dog might be overjoyed to roll in the snow, another small dog might not even want to step foot outside. Here are some of the factors that affect cold tolerance:

Coat Type

The double-layered, thick coats of dog breeds like Siberian huskies, Newfoundlands, Alaskan malamutes, and Bernese mountain dogs tend to be the most cold-tolerant. On the other hand, dogs like Greyhounds, German shorthaired pointers, or American pit bull terriers who have short, thin coats will have a more difficult time maintaining a warm body temperature in colder weather.

Size 

Smaller dogs and toy breeds like Chihuahuas have a harder time in the cold. They tend to lose body heat faster than larger dogs. Deep snow can reach their chest and make them cold and wet, so they are more at risk in colder temperatures.

Weight 

Thinner dogs generally get colder faster when temperatures drop than heavier dogs because body fat is a good insulator. BUT this doesn’t mean you should fatten your pup up for the winter! There are greater health risks for overweight dogs than any warmth benefit of a little extra fat. Making your dog overweight is animal cruelty.

Age, Health, and Activity Level 

Older dogs, puppies, and sick dogs have weaker immune systems and might not be able to generate or retain body heat compared to healthy dogs. These dogs normally need assistance to help stay warm, such as a dog coat or jacket.

How Cold Is Too Cold: Depends on the Weather

how cold is too cold for dogs

Once you have an idea of how likely your dog can tolerate chilly conditions, you’ll also want to keep an eye on the weather. Temperature, wind chill, snow, rain, and cloud cover also play a role in cold-weather safety.

Here’s a look at the temperatures that affect how cold is too cold for dogs.

Cold Temperature Breakdown

According to DVM Jennifer Coates of PetMD, these are the temperatures dog owners should be aware of in order to help keep their dog safe in the cold:

Above 45°F – Should not become a problem for most dogs, but remember the size, age, and coat matter.

Below 45°F – Some cold-averse dogs might begin to feel uncomfortable.

Below 32°F – Owners of smaller breed dogs, dogs with short or thin coats, and/or very young, senior dogs, dogs with health conditions, or sick dogs should pay close attention to their pet’s well-being.

Below 20°F – All owners need to be aware that their dogs could potentially develop hypothermia and frostbite. Never leave them outside in these conditions. Keep potty breaks short.

Symptoms of Hypothermia in Dogs

law protecting dogs left outside in the cold

Pet parents should prevent hypothermia at all costs. Below are some of the symptoms of hypothermia, according to Colorado’s Veterinary Referral & Critical Care hospital (VRCC):

  • Pale skin and gums
  • Shivering
  • Lethargy
  • Whining
  • Stumbling, lack of coordination
  • Dilated pupils
  • Low heart and breathing rates
  • Curled up

Hypothermia Treatment

If your dog shows signs of hypothermia, get them to a warm environment and wrap them in a blanket. VRCC recommends placing warm water bottles around the dog to keep the dog warm instead of using a heating pad in order to avoid burning the skin. Take them to the veterinarian or emergency vet hospital as soon as possible.

Hypothermia Prevention

Again, never leave your dog out in freezing outdoor temperatures. Keep walks and potty breaks short.

If you anticipate being outside for longer, bundle up. Get your pooch a warm winter coat and dog booties to protect your dog’s paw pads from the cold snow as well as antifreeze. Dog clothing might seem silly, but for short-haired dogs, it’s essential in cold climates.

If You See a Dog Left Out in the Cold

laws protecting dogs left outside in the cold
pc: advocacy.britannica.com

If you come across a dog left outside in low temperatures, especially for long periods of time, the HSUS recommends that you “politely let the owner know you’re concerned. Some people genuinely don’t know the risk that cold weather poses to their pets, and will be quick to correct any problems you address.”

If you are still concerned about the outdoor dog’s wellbeing, follow the HSUS steps to get the dog help: reporting wintertime neglect to help keep this pet safe. That dog needs to be inside a warm place to survive.

Many states have laws that protect dogs from being left outside in the doghouse in the cold and snow. Read up on your local area’s reporting procedures should you find an animal or outside dog in distress.

How to Keep Dogs Warm in Winter

why do dogs twitch in their sleep

If your doggy appears to be cold inside the house or kennel, make sure they have a dog bed with self-warming properties. The Best Friends by Sheri calming donut dog bed, for example, is made of soft faux fur designed to mimic the soothing and warming effects of a mother’s fur coat. Let your dog sleep and snuggle in this on a cold day and he’ll never want to leave.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated as of November 2021 to reflect the most pup-to-date information.