How Cold Is Too Cold for Your Dog?

Updated Jan. 2, 2024
jack russell dog in coat standing in snow

Being outside is great for a dog’s physical and mental health. Walkingrunning, sniffing, are all activities that help keep dogs happy and healthy.

But what should we do when it’s cold outside? When do the risks of spending time outside in the cold with your dog outweigh the benefits?

Let’s look at the dangers associated with cold weather, how cold is too cold for dogs, and how we can still safely enjoy the great outdoors with our dogs in the winter.

How Cold Is Too Cold for Dogs To Be Outside?

A temperature that feels comfortable to one dog might make another dog shiver. There are a few variables that affect how dogs respond to the cold and how cold is too cold for a pup.

Dog Coat Type

Dogs with thick, double-layered coats tend to be the most cold-tolerant (think Siberian HuskiesNewfoundlands, and Samoyeds). Many of these breeds originated in northern climates and have attributes that allow them to thrive when temperatures drop.

However, dogs with exceptionally thin coats, like the Basenji and Xoloitzcuintli, may suffer in the cold and tend to do better when it’s warmer outside. If your dog has a very thin coat, you will want to consider bundling them up before heading outside.

It’s good to purchase dog sweaters like the Kurgo® K9 Core Dog Sweater, and keep them in convenient locations so you’ll always have one on hand if you need it.

Dog Coat Color 

On a clear day, black, brown, or other dark-coated dogs can absorb significant amounts of heat from sunlight, keeping them warmer in comparison to dogs with light-colored coats.

Dog Size 

Dogs lose most of their heat through their skin. Small dogs have a larger surface area to volume ratio compared to big dogs, which means, they have a bigger surface to lose heat through and a smaller area "inside" to hold on to heat. Therefore, small dogs get colder faster than large dogs, all other things being equal.

Dog Weight 

Body fat is a good insulator, so thin dogs become cold quickly. However, the health risks of being overweight far outweigh any benefits, so don’t let your dog pack on the pounds in preparation for winter.

Dog Conditioning 

We’ve all experienced this one. After the heat of summer, 55 F can feel frigid, but after a long, cold winter, the same temperature can make us break out a pair of shorts and a T-shirt. Dogs that are used to the cold handle it much better than those that aren’t used to cooler temperatures.

Dog Age and Health 

Puppies, senior dogs, and dogs with underlying health problems cannot regulate their body temperatures as well as healthy dogs in the prime of their lives.

For example, dogs that are sick and senior dogs may not be able to increase their metabolic rate to generate extra heat as well they used to. Additionally, puppies may have less body fat to act as insulation, and their relatively smaller size works against their ability to stay warm.

Be sure to protect vulnerable dogs from the cold with proper accessories, like dog sweaters or coats, and to keep their walks short.

The temperature on a thermometer isn’t the only environmental factor that affects how dogs feel the cold. Other factors to consider when wondering how cold is too cold for your dog include:

Wind chill 

A brisk breeze can cut through a dog’s coat, greatly decreasing its ability to insulate and protect against the cold.

Dampness 

Rain, snow, heavy fog, going for a swim—any form of dampness that soaks through the fur can quickly chill a dog even if the air temperature is mild.

Cloud cover 

Cloudy days tend to feel colder than sunny days, since dogs can’t soak up the sun and warm themselves.

Activity 

If dogs are going to be very active while outside, they may generate enough extra body heat to keep them comfortable even if the temperature is quite low.

How To Keep Dogs Warm in the Cold

Dog Coats and Sweaters

Most dogs don’t need help staying warm indoors or when it’s warmer outside. However, a cute dog sweater like the GF Pet® Chalet Dog Sweater or dog hoodie like the Frisco® Basic Hoodie, can help dogs with very thin coats stay warm when there’s a slight chill in the air.

Don’t leave your dog unsupervised outdoors when conditions are extreme. The best way to monitor your dog is to keep a close eye on their behavior.

Keep in mind, dog sweaters and fleeces won’t provide enough protection when weather conditions become more extreme.

For colder temperatures, bundle your pup in an insulated, windproof, and water-resistant dog coat instead. Good options include the Hurtta® Expedition Insulated Dog Parka and the Frisco® Insulated Parka.

Dog Booties

Paws need protection too. Cold temperatures, snow that accumulates between pads, ice, and chemicals used to treat roads and sidewalks all pose a risk to dog paws in the winter.

Look for dog booties that are waterproof, provide traction, and are tough enough to last. Neoprene boots like the Bark Brite® Dog Boots are a comfortable option for milder conditions, but heavier boots like the Muttluks® Dog Boots, are better for pups when winter truly sets in.

How Cold Is Too Cold for a Dog Walk?

While broad generalizations are difficult, cold should not become a problem for most dogs until the temperature falls below 45 F, at which point some cold-averse dogs might begin to feel uncomfortable.

When temperatures drop under 32 F, small breed dogs, dogs with thin coats, or very young, old, or sick dogs could be in danger if they spend too much time outdoors.

Once temperatures drop under 20 F, all pet parents need to be aware that their dogs could develop cold-associated health problems like hypothermia or frostbite when outside for extended periods of time.

Of course, most dogs still need to go outside to pee and poop when it’s cold. Usually, they will quickly take care of business so they can get back inside where it’s warm. If the snow is deep, shovel an area close to your door so they don’t have to fight through the snow.

Don’t leave your dog unsupervised outdoors when conditions are extreme. The best way to monitor your dog is to keep a close eye on their behavior. If you notice your dog shivering, acting anxious, whining, slowing down, searching out warm locations, or holding up one or more paws, it’s time to head inside and warm up.

Call your veterinarian if you notice any signs of frostbite or hypothermia, including sluggishness, confusion, severe shivering (which may stop as hypothermia progresses), and parts of the body that appear pale and are cool to the touch.

Featured Image: Evgenyi_Eg/ iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images


Jennifer Coates, DVM

WRITTEN BY

Jennifer Coates, DVM

Veterinarian

Dr. Jennifer Coates is an accomplished veterinarian, writer, editor, and consultant with years of experience in the fields of veterinary...


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