Have you ever wondered how cold is too cold for your dog?
I love winter hiking with my dog. The scenery changes, there are fewer people, and we can participate in different activities, like snowshoeing and cross country skiing.
Winter outdoor adventures mean colder temperatures. Some dogs can handle cold better than others, depending on a number of factors, like age, breed, coat, and size.
Learn how to keep your dog warmer during the colder months so that you can enjoy outdoor adventures all year long.
How Cold is Too Cold for a Dog? It Depends on the Dog
Just like some people wear long sleeves during the summer or sleep in shorts and a tank top with the window open in the winter (it me!), dogs can vary with their temperature tolerance. Also like humans, dogs can acclimate to cold or hot weather if they are exposed to it with regularity.
Further, a dog’s tolerance to weather depends on a number of factors, including their age, weight, breed, and more.
Here are a few factors that can determine whether your dog will enjoy winter hikes.
Dogs with thick, double coats will have a much higher tolerance than single-coated dogs.
A double-coat simply means that the dog has two layers of fur: a dense undercoat consisting of shorter hair and a top coat of longer hairs. Double-coated dogs typically include Northern breeds, many shepherds, and retrievers, such as Malamutes, Huskies, German Shepherds, Australian Shepherds, Samoyeds, Bernese Mountain Dogs, and more.
Dogs with a single coat will not have as much insulation and will likely feel colder more easily. A good dog jacket can add some additional warmth.
Smaller dogs tend to lose body heat faster than larger dogs because they have a larger surface area to volume ratio.
Plus, they’re closer to the ground, which means that they’re more directly exposed to any snow and ice on the ground.
Thin dogs, like sighthounds or high energy juvenile dogs that burn a ton of calories will be more susceptible to colder temperatures compared to dogs with more body weight.
Dogs with a higher percentage of body fat will have more insulation, and despite the glorification of “cute” “chonky” dogs, obesity in dogs is a serious health condition that must be addressed appropriately.
Age & Health
Young dogs, seniors, and those with some medical conditions cannot regulate their body temperature as well as healthy or adult dogs. Jackets can help add a layer of warmth in some cases, but be sure to keep a vigilant eye for signs of discomfort.
Conditioning to the Cold
That first 50-degree fall day will feel cold after a summer’s worth of temperatures above 80°, but after a few days or weeks, our bodies will acclimate to the colder weather. Dogs can acclimate to temperatures just the same as humans can.
That first winter hike might be a little more uncomfortable for your dog, but if you hike outdoors continuously throughout the winter, then your dog will get used to the cold gradually.
Most recommendations will suggest that owners should take cold into consideration when the temperature drops below 45°, however, different weather conditions can make it feel colder than what the number on the thermometer reads.
Here are some weather variables to take into consideration before heading out into cold weather with your dog:
Wind chill – The wind is not only unpleasant if it’s strong enough, but it can make the temperatures feel much colder than they actually are. If it’s windy or you’re heading to an exposed mountain top, pack a jacket for your dog to cut the wind.
Cloud Cover – A cloudy day can tend to feel colder than a sunny day, so it’s a good idea to bring an extra layer for your dog.
Damp Conditions – Rain, snow, fog or other wet conditions can make a dog feel cold. Being wet is what can lead to more severe health problems like hypothermia. If the weather is wet, then bring a waterproof jacket for your dog and keep a towel and dry blanket in the car.
Signs that It’s too Cold for Your Dog
Using the temperature as a gauge to determine if it’s too cold for your dog is a good starting point, but as I’ve discussed, different dogs are more perceptible to the cold over others.
Knowing your dog’s tolerance and monitoring their symptoms and behavior is the best way to determine if the weather is too cold.
Here are some signs to watch out for:
- Lack of coordination
- Excessive panting
- Low heart rate
Hypothermia is one of the most serious conditions that can affect a dog in the cold. Knowing what to look for when you’re on the trail is important to prevent it from happening. If your dog is exhibiting any of the signs listed above, it’s best to get them into warmer temperatures as soon as possible.
Frostbite in Dogs
A dog can get frostbite when they are exposed to extreme cold for long periods of time. The most frostbite-prone areas of the body include the paws, tail, nose, and ears.
- Pale, gray or bluish discoloration of the affected area
- Pain to the touch
- Necrosis (blackened dead skin)
- Blisters or ulcers
Left untreated, frostbite can lead to amputation of the damaged area.
Winter Gear for Dogs
The right winter gear can help keep your dog more comfortable. This includes a waterproof jacket in wet conditions, like the Ruffwear Vert Jacket, a fleece layer for dry days like the Tummy Warmer from Voyagers K9 or the Climate Changer Fleece Pullover from Ruffwear.
Paw wax can be helpful because some dog’s paws crack in the snow or painful snowballs can accumulate in between their paws if they have longer fur. Booties are another option for dogs whose paws crack in the snow. The Grip Trex Dog Boots from Ruffwear are a solid choice for year-round adventures.