We’ve all been there before: The forecast calls for record-cold temperatures, freezing rain, or a full-blown snowstorm—but you still need to take your dog out.
So, what temperature is too cold for a dog and how can you protect your pup? Learn everything you need to know about taking care of dogs outside in cold weather including how to tell if your dog is cold, potential risks of icy weather conditions, and prep and safety tips for winter walks.
Do Dogs Get Cold Like Humans?
“Yes, animals are affected by weather and temperatures like humans,” says Dr. Nancy Welborn, an assistant professor of veterinary clinical sciences at the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine in Baton Rouge.
Just like us, dogs can get a rush out of outdoor activities during the winter like long walks through the woods and snowy games of fetch. But there’s a common misconception that dogs can handle the cold better than humans thanks to their fur.
The reality is, pups can also get too cold even with a nice winter coat—especially if their fur gets wet or they’re exposed to strong winds. “Any pet that is shivering is too cold,” says Dr. Judy Morgan, a New Jersey-based veterinarian specializing in integrative medicine. “Once their coat is soaked, it’s impossible for the dog to maintain body heat.”
To ensure your dog stays safe in cooler weather, it’s important to know his limits.
What Temperature Is Too Cold for Dogs?
So, when is it too cold for a dog, exactly? “If it’s too cold for you, it is probably too cold for your pet,” says Dr. Welborn. So if you feel miserable, it’s safe to assume your pup’s uncomfortable too.
In general, most dogs can tolerate temperatures down to the low 40s. Think of 45 degrees Fahrenheit or about 7.2 degrees Celsius as your cut-off point for long periods of time outside. “Below that, all animals require some form of shelter to get out of both wind and precipitation,” says Dr. Welborn.
It’s true that some dogs can tolerate extreme weather conditions better than others depending on factors like their coat, body mass, and breed (hello, Balto!). Heavy-coated dogs like Siberian Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes can naturally withstand colder temperatures better than short-haired or hairless breeds like Chihuahuas and Chinese Crested Dogs. But once the temperature dips below freezing, no canine should be left outside—not even the tougher ones.
For certain types of dogs, you may want to consider an even stricter limit for safe temperatures outdoors, says Dr. Katalin Grant, a board-certified veterinarian specializing in general and emergency medicine, surgery, and dentistry.
Dogs that are smaller, older, younger, with low-to-no hair, or living with chronic health conditions like hypothyroidism, arthritis, heart disease, or kidney disease tend to be more sensitive to the cold. So if they look chilly, cover them up and keep walks short (more on this later!).
No matter their breed or health condition, it’s essential to keep an eye out to make sure your dog is safe in cold weather conditions.
How to Tell If Your Dog Is Too Cold
Just like us, dogs can be at risk of frostbite and hypothermia—which can be deadly—if they spend too much time out in the cold. Signs of trouble in dogs are the same as those in people, says Dr. Welborn.
- Anxious behavior
- Uncontrollable shivering or shaking
- Pale, blue, or gray lips or skin (often on tips of ears or toes)
- Cold skin
- Pain and tenderness when you touch the area
- Holding one foot up
- Lethargic, sluggish, or clumsy movements
- Refusal to continue walking
- Looking for places to burrow for warmth, or looking at you like they want to come inside
If you suspect your dog could be suffering from hypothermia or frostbite, immediately move him indoors to a warm area, wrap him up in a blanket, and promptly bring him in to see a veterinarian for an assessment, suggests Dr. Welborn.
Otherwise? Avoid a pupsicle by following these tips.
Safety Tips for Dogs Outside in Cold Weather
To protect your pup from the elements, take these precautions and keep an eye on them to ensure they’re safe throughout your time outside.
Stock up on Warm Dog Gear
“Waterproof coats that will also block wind help dogs stay warm on winter walks,” says Dr. Morgan. On days without precipitation, dog sweaters can also help keep short-haired breeds or more fragile dogs comfortable. Just make sure they stay dry—a wet coat could make a dog even colder than none at all.
During cold-weather walks, regularly check your dog’s paws for injury like cracked paw pads or bleeding, and keep ice away by keeping the hair between their paws well-trimmed. “If the ground is covered by jagged ice, protective dog boots with anti-slip soles are recommended,” says Dr. Morgan. For smaller dogs, shovel mini-walkways through snow. Check the underside of their paws for ice balls, and remove if seen.
Keep Outdoor Time Brief
“Be mindful of the outside weather,” says Dr. Welborn. In some conditions, it only takes about 30 minutes for a dog to begin developing frostbite. So, if temperatures have dropped below your dog’s comfort zone or it begins to snow, opt for shorter trips outdoors for walks and bathroom breaks to avoid overexposure to cold.
Don’t Let Dogs Lick Ice
“De-icing agents used to melt ice on driveways and sidewalks are also a toxicity risk to pets, so it is imperative to read the ingredients in the product and use animal-safe products,” says Dr. Welborn. Don’t let pets lick ice on sidewalks or cleared areas if it looks like a de-icing agent has been used. Also, make sure to wipe down your pup’s paws when you get in so they don’t lick any chemicals up that could put them at risk of poisoning.
Pay Attention to Your Dog’s Body Language
As your pup’s pet parent, you know your dog and his cues better than anyone else. If something seems off, don’t hesitate to hurry inside, warm up, and call up your veterinarian to talk it out or schedule an emergency consultation.