It’s important for dogs to stay active, even when the temperature drops. But how cold is too cold for dogs? Here’s what you need to know before heading out in wintery weather with your canine companion.
Do Dogs Like Cold Weather?
Some dog breeds were bred to withstand cold temperatures, but even breeds that were not bred for it may still enjoy cold weather—in moderation, of course.
Enjoyment aside, dog owners should take extra precautions in the colder winter months. “Dogs get cold just like humans do, and they’re susceptible to serious issues like frostbite and hypothermia,” says veterinarian Dr. Albert Ahn. How exactly your dog reacts to the cold will depend on a variety of factors, such as his breed and coat. “Long-haired or thick-coated dog breeds are better suited to handle colder temperatures—Huskies are bred for it, for instance, while short-haired breeds have a much lower tolerance,” Dr. Ahn says.
Other breeds that tend to thrive in the cold include Alaskan Malamutes, Samoyeds, and Tibetan Mastiffs. “However, even members of those breeds need time to acclimate to extremes in temperature for them to feel comfortable, and would need some form of a barrier from extreme winds to be safe,” says Dr. Jerry Klein, chief veterinary officer with the American Kennel Club.
A dog’s age, body fat, and overall health will also affect how he handles colder temperatures. For example, “some medical conditions will worsen during colder weather,” Dr. Ahn says. “The most notable condition affected is arthritis, as cold temperatures induce muscle stiffness. I’d recommend a wellness checkup right before transitioning into winter to assess if the dog has arthritis, and the severity of it. That way a plan can be set up to minimize pain and increase mobility as the temperature goes down.”
In addition, dogs with diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, hypothyroidism, or hormonal issues, or dogs that are very young or very old, may have difficulty regulating body temperature. Colder temperatures may also exacerbate symptoms related to health conditions.
How Cold Is Too Cold for Dogs?
The easiest way to determine if it’s too cold outside for your dog is to use yourself as a barometer. When dressed appropriately for the weather and wearing a winter coat, “Just think, ‘If I’m cold, they’re cold,’ to make it easy,” Dr. Ahn says. In general, though, for most dog breeds, you should start paying closer attention to any signs that they are cold when the temperature reaches about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, he adds. “Under 20 degrees Fahrenheit would be considered very cold, and I would not recommend staying outside for a long period of time with them.”
How to Tell If a Dog is Cold
Just like humans, dogs are susceptible to issues related to the cold, like frostbite and hypothermia. As such, it’s important for pet parents to pay attention to signs that their dog is too cold. Luckily, these signs tend to look very similar to human signs. “They’ll shiver, show anxious behaviors, appear weaker, whine or slow down,” Dr. Ahn says. “Another common sign for dogs is paw lifting. This is when a dog starts holding their paws to try to reduce contact with the ground.”
Dr. Klein recommends also checking between your dog’s paws to help prevent ice buildup after spending time outside. “Dogs can and do get frostbite, and this usually occurs on the tips of their ears and on their paws,” he says. “Even those breeds with heavy coats can be susceptible to frostbite, and they shouldn’t be left outdoors in the cold for too long.”
Dog Winter Safety Tips
There are some easy ways to help your dog enjoy the great outdoors as the temperatures start to dip. To start, you can invest in some cold weather gear for dogs—a dog coat, sweater, and booties can help. Dog booties can not only provide better traction on slippery or icy surfaces, but also can help protect your dog’s paws from snow, ice, and salt.
Pet parents should also stay diligent about protecting their pets against parasites. A dog’s risk of contracting worms does not disappear in the winter months, so it’s important not to skip monthly medications like Interceptor® Plus (milbemycin oxime/praziquantel).
See important safety information below for Interceptor® Plus.
Dr. Ahn also suggests swapping out long walks for shorter, more frequent ones. “Other easy-to-implement winter safety tips include moisturizing the dog’s skin—since cold weather can dry it out—making sure the dog is staying hydrated, and adding blanket layers to the dog bed.”
For any specific concerns regarding your individual dog’s tolerance for cold weather, talk to your veterinarian.
How to Keep Your Dog Active in the Winter
If your dog doesn’t enjoy the cold—or is negatively affected by it—Dr. Ahn suggests focusing on increased inside playtime. “Simple games of catch indoors can burn off excess energy in a fun way,” he says.
Dr. Klein also reminds pet parents to keep mental stimulation in mind. “Playing or teaching dogs tricks or activities, as well as puzzles, can also be very helpful until the weather warms up enough for safe outside activity,” he adds. If you don’t have enough space in your own home to make the most of indoor activities, Dr. Klein suggests looking into doggie day cares to help your dog get out pent up energy and partake in some much-needed exercise.
As long as you take proper precautions, and watch out for signs that your dog is too cold, you and your pet can enjoy the great outdoors together all year-round.
Interceptor Plus prevents heartworm disease and treats and controls adult roundworm, hookworm, whipworm, and tapeworm infections in dogs and puppies 6 weeks or older and 2 pounds or greater.
Interceptor Plus Important Safety Information
Treatment with fewer than 6 monthly doses after the last exposure to mosquitoes may not provide complete heartworm prevention. Prior to administration of Interceptor Plus, dogs should be tested for existing heartworm infections. The safety of Interceptor Plus has not been evaluated in dogs used for breeding or in lactating females. The following adverse reactions have been reported in dogs after administration of milbemycin oxime or praziquantel: vomiting, diarrhea, decreased activity, incoordination, weight loss, convulsions, weakness, and salivation. For complete safety information, please see Interceptor Plus product label or ask your veterinarian.
Disclaimer: The author received compensation from Elanco US Inc., the maker of Interceptor Plus, for her services in writing this article.
Interceptor is a trademark of Elanco or its affiliates.
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