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  • Dr. Katie Woodley

How cold is too cold for your dog this winter?

Winter time is here, and most of us love playing in the snow and the refreshing winter air. Many dogs enjoy playing in the snow and being outdoors with us, but when is the cold too cold for your beloved pets?


Let’s take a look at how you can help your pets safely enjoy the winter this year.

Firstly, all dogs are not the same. Outdoor temperatures are going to feel different to every dog. Why is that?


Dogs with a thick, double-layered coat (think Siberian Huskies and Samoyeds) can tolerate much colder temperatures than a breed with a thin coat, like greyhounds, pit bulls, and chihuahuas. Also, smaller breeds tend to become colder much more quickly than a larger dog due to the larger surface area to volume ratio. Body weight is another factor in how quickly dogs become sensitive to the colder weather. Thinner dogs become colder much more quickly, but this is not a good excuse to fatten up your pet for winter. There are more health risks to your dog carrying excess weight versus the benefit of tolerating cold temperatures better.

The next factor in determining whether your dog can tolerate the colder temperature is that all temperatures are not the same. I know for a fact, the winter air feels much warmer when there is sun shining and no wind, versus no sun and a chilly wind blowing against me. Keep in mind what weather variables are present before taking your dog outside. What is the wind chill and is there moisture present to soak through your dog’s fur?


Most cold temperatures do not become a problem for a dog until they fall below 45 degrees F, this is the starting point for most cold-adverse dogs to become uncomfortable. When temperatures fall below 32 degrees F, pets that are smaller, with thinner coats and are very young, old or sick, should not be left outside for very long. Once temperatures hit around 20 degrees F, the potential for frostbite and hypothermia increases significantly for your dogs.


A good guideline is to look for signs that your dog is too cold, even if they are a breed that can handle the colder weather. These signs include whining, shivering, slowing down, becoming weaker or starting to look for warm places to burrow. If you notice any of these signs, this could be the first signs of hypothermia and you need to get them inside. If it’s too cold for you to be outside, then your pet should not be outside for an extended period of time.


Is there anything you can do to help keep your dog safe when the temperatures drop?

Most dogs will be ok in the elements for short periods of time, but this will depend on the breed of the dog. If your dog has a thin hair coat, like Greyhounds or Chihuahuas, they will benefit greatly with a coat or sweater. Smaller dogs will also typically need a coat for a walk or playing outside.

They cannot generate enough heat like bigger dogs, and they are also closer to the ground, snow and ice. Older dogs with a weaker immune system may also need a coat.

Boots are another option to help protect your pet’s paws when it is snowy and icy outside. Most dogs do just fine without these and will find them quite awkward. However, if your dog has an injury, it will need to be protected, or if de-icers are used to melt ice and snow, boots will help protect the paws. Some of these products will burn your dog’s paws so make sure to get pet-friendly de-icers if you decide to use these chemicals. When you get back inside after playing outside or going for a walk in the snow with your dog, make sure to wipe down their feet, legs and belly to remove any snow, ice, and chemicals. The chemical de-icers and salt can be potentially toxic to your dogs topically and if ingested.


Don’t let the snow and colder weather deter you and your dog from playing and exercising outside during this time of year. Many dogs love prancing through the snow. Remember dogs can get cold just like us. Keep these helpful tips in the forefront of your mind to keep your dogs happy and healthy through the winter!

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