How to Keep Dogs Warm in Winter

Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP
By Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP on Oct. 20, 2023
A pet parent and their dog enjoy a snowy day.

In This Article

Can Dogs Get Cold?

When the weather starts to turn cold, it’s important to take into consideration how the colder temperatures will impact your pup.

If your dog is used to spending time outdoors during the summer—or has a high energy that warrants more playtime—it’s critical to know how to keep them warm in cold temperatures.

Let’s look at everything you need to know to keep your pup comfortable during the chilly season.

Key Takeaways

  • A dog's coat isn't enough to protect them from cold temperatures long-term.
  • If a pup doesn’t find warmth, they can quickly develop hypothermia, which can be fatal.
  • If there is a snow or cold-related emergency, never leave your animals behind. Take them with you to seek a safe shelter.

Can Dogs Get Cold?

Dogs are mammals, just like humans. And just like us, dogs can get cold.

While pups may have a fur coat that helps provide some insulation and protection from the weather, this layer isn’t enough to protect them from long-term exposure to the cold.

Dogs have extremities—ears, feet, and tails—which usually don’t have much fur and are prone to frostbite. Dogs also have a baseline body temperature that’s higher than humans. In fact, dogs may even feel cold more quickly than their human.

However, this isn’t true for all pups.

Some dogs—especially those that are well adapted to the cold weather—have thick double coats that help to protect them from the cold. This includes breeds like Siberian Huskies, Newfoundlands, Old English Sheepdogs, and Golden Retrievers.

Other dogs with thin coats—like Greyhounds and Chihuahuas—will lose heat and feel cold very quickly.

Size also plays a role. Small dogs have a larger surface area (more skin exposed to the environment relative to size) and so they lose warmth much more quickly than larger dogs do.

A heavy dog is carrying more natural insulation than a thin one, and therefore will also stay warm longer. Another factor is age and health—puppies and senior and sick dogs get colder quickly.

Senior pups usually have lost muscle mass, which is important to stay warm.

Sick dogs generally have bodies that are “distracted” with trying to get better and aren’t as likely to “waste” heat on warming to a comfortable temperature, especially as blood pressure and blood flow drops.

Signs That Your Dog Is Cold

What are the risk factors for dogs getting chilly—and how do you know if your dog is comfortable? 

Fortunately, most dogs are quick to tell us if they are getting cold and they want to head inside. To show you their discomfort, they may:

  • Shiver or tremble

  • Hold their feet up in the air

  • Whine

  • Hunch up

  • Tuck their tails

  • Show behavioral changes, such as acting disoriented, confused, or dazed

  • Refuse to walk

If a pup doesn’t find warmth in this situation they can quickly become hypothermic, which can be fatal.

Some signs of hypothermia in dogs include:

  • Weakness

  • Lethargy

  • Decrease in mental function

  • Loss of consciousness

Hypothermia is a serious condition. This is why it’s important to act quickly when your dog is beginning to look cold or even before the cold has time to set in.

Is It Safe to Keep Your Dog Outside?

Determining how long your dog can stay outside is not as simple as looking at the thermometer.

Other factors will also play a role, including the strength of the wind, the amount and type of precipitation that’s falling or is already on the ground, and how active your dog is.

When the wind chill drops and the snow is falling in icy conditions, dogs spending time outside will feel colder than they will on a calm, sunny day at the exact same temperature.

Likewise, if your pup is playing an intense game of fetch, he will probably stay warmer than if he is just sitting on the porch or in the yard.

No dog will be comfortable or happy spending long periods of time in cold weather. 

A few breeds—such as Huskies raised outside—might be conditioned for these temperatures, but these are most commonly working dogs bred for specific duties and not like most of our domestic pets.

Dogs that are not properly acclimatized to a cold environment will probably be uncomfortable and can also suffer hypothermia and possibly die from exposure to harsh conditions.

Other factors to consider include the health status of your dog. For pups with arthritis, there are some factors that lead many to believe that joint pain can be made worse in colder temperatures.

If your yard or driveway is icy, it may lead to a slip or fall that could injure a healthy dog or make sore joints even worse.

Always take into consideration any ice melts used on your driveway. Your dog could possibly be exposed to these dangerous household chemicals while outside if the products aren’t paw-safe.

There’s also the risk of injury to a pup’s delicate ears, tails, and paws in the form of frostbite.

How Long Can a Dog Be Outside in Winter?

How long your dog can be outside in the winter is complex. 

For the most part, if you are outside with your dog and you are feeling cold, it’s time for both of you to come inside.

Even if you’re still warm and your dog is starting to shiver or look cold, it’s still time to warm up. 

If your dog is going to spend some time outside alone, this becomes more complicated.

Once the thermometer hits 40 degrees Fahrenheit on a dry, windless day, keep a close eye on your small pup or any other thin-coated dog that is more sensitive to the cold temperatures. This is more than 60 degrees colder than the normal body temperature of a dog. If they’re not actively playing, dogs are likely to become cold quickly.

Once we’ve reached 30 degrees Fahrenheit on a sunny calm day, most dogs are starting to get cold if they aren’t busy walking, running, or playing. Thin-coated dogs probably need to wear sweaters, and many dogs will appreciate booties to protect their feet. Keep close watch on your pup and bring them in immediately if they seem uncomfortable.

If it’s 20 degrees Fahrenheit or below outside, most dogs will notice how cold it is. Dogs will benefit from sweaters and booties. Time outside should be limited to active playtime and letting your pup relieve themselves.

Most dogs will be uncomfortable outside for any extended period at these chilly temperatures.

If it’s a windy day, it’s wet (snow or ice), or there are any additional factors that make it feel colder, plan on taking your pet inside even sooner.

A windy day with snow or rain is extremely uncomfortable for most dogs and people.

How You Can Keep Your Dog Warm This Winter

Fortunately, there are many ways to keep your dog toasty warm this winter.

Warm beds, some of which are heated or are designed to reflect body heat back to your pup, are wonderful for napping and sleeping on chilly winter days.

When it’s time to go outside, sweaters and booties can help protect your dog from some of the chill in the air.

A warm bowl of water and a nice blanket to snuggle into can make your pup much more comfortable once they’ve come in from the cold.

What To Do if Your Power Goes Out

The good news is that for the most part, if you are staying comfortable, so is your dog. Plus, it gives you an excuse to snuggle with your pup and share body heat.

If the power is out for an extended period, grab some warm beds, blankets, and quilts, and offer them to your pup. It’s OK for your dog to wear their sweater and booties in the house to keep them extra warm.

If you have any of the chemical/portable type of hand warmers, these can also work well to help keep your pet warm. Be careful not to put them right against your pet’s skin or any place they can be chewed on. For best use, tuck them into blankets to help keep your pooch warm and toasty.

If your pup is starting to look cold despite your best efforts and sharing body heat isn’t working or an option, it’s time to look for warmer shelter for your pet. Your veterinarian might be able to help with short-term boarding, or even a local kennel.

In the case of a major natural disaster, your local humane society might be able to help. Keep in mind that some shelters for people will allow pet parents to bring their pets along with them.

Never evacuate your home and leave your animals behind alone—always plan to protect your animals in case of an emergency! It’s best to make an emergency safety plan for your pup before it’s needed.

Featured Image: GettyImages/AleksandarNakic

Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP


Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP


Sandra Mitchell is a 1995 graduate of the New York State College of Veterinary Medicine. Since graduation, she has worked in many fields...

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