The coldest days of the year are here—and this can be a confusing time for dog owners. “My dog loves playing in the snow, but is it safe?” “How do I protect my dog from the cold when we go outside?” “How cold is too cold?” Many questions arise when it comes to our dogs and potentially dangerous weather. Let us help clear things up. Here’s a quick primer on how to manage your pup in freezing temperatures.
In this regard, there’s no straightforward answer—it depends on the type and size of your dog, along with several other factors. What one dog might find uncomfortably cold, another might consider toasty. The spectrum is wide. As you might have guessed, smaller dogs with thinner coats are more vulnerable to cold temperatures. Here are a few more rules of thumb: Starting at around 45°F, you need to more closely monitor your pet’s behavior for signs of discomfort (we’ll talk more about those signs later).
Once you hit the 30s, those with smaller, older and less-healthy dogs should consider seeking warmth. And below that, all owners should start prepping their pups to return home, no dog should remain in such low temperatures for extended periods of time. But again, these are broad parameters, and each dog will react to the cold differently. Other things to consider: Coat type, weight, age, fitness, breed, wind chill factor, moisture.
For a visual guide, check out this chart by Veterinarian Dr. Kim Smyth:
First things first, closely supervising your pet is essential in cold temperatures. Be on the lookout for any behavior that’s out of the ordinary. If you and your pup engage in activities that require extended exposure to colder weather, consider purchasing him dog booties and a winter coat (the booties will also protect his paws from ice and de-icing salts). Playing in the snow is usually fine, with one exception. If the snow is topped with a hard icy crust, we advise skipping the snow play. These surfaces can harm your pup’s pads, or even cut their legs.
You can also help prevent frostbite by quickly removing ice and snow from your dog’s paws after he’s been outside (pay special attention to any snow or ice balls that may have formed in between the toes).
The following are signs your pup could be getting too cold:
- Barking, whining or any other verbal sign of discomfort
- Suddenly stops playing or moving—they could be uncomfortable, or their pads might be hurting from snow or ice exposure
- Signs of Hypothermia in dogs: Intense shivering, lethargy, shallow breathing, loss of appetite, muscle stiffness, weak pulse
- Signs of Frostbite in dogs: Red, gray, blue, white or pale skin; shriveled skin; pain in the ears, tail, paws or other extremities; skin that remains cold to the touch
If you see any of the hypothermia or frostbite signs mentioned above, consult your vet immediately. For hypothermia, you can help raise your dog’s body temperature by placing warm water bottles wrapped in towels under their armpits and chest. Wrapping them in a blanket warmed in the dryer is also effective. (Never use hair dryers or electric blankets, though, as these can cause burns to hypothermic animals).
If you’re worried your pup might have frostbite, apply warm—but not hot—water to frostbitten extremities for relief. Be careful not to rub or massage areas suspected of frostbite, doing so can cause irreversible damage to the body.
If you’re worried your doh might be a little too cold, but they don’t have frostbite or hypothermia, simply bring them inside, wrap them in a blanket and monitor them until they warm back up. If at any point you become concerned about the health of your dog, again, consult a vet immediately.