When Is It Too Cold For Dogs to Be Outside?

 Tuesday Nov 28,2023
By  Lancaster Puppies

As days become shorter and temperatures drop you may find yourself wondering, “How cold is too cold for my dog?” Just as the risk of heatstroke is prominent in the summertime, winter brings along threats of frostbite and hypothermia. While we may think dogs can stay warm on their own because of their fur, this isn’t the case for many breeds. Keep reading to learn more about your dog’s tolerance for low temperatures, signs your pup is too cold, and how to go on walks in the winter.

It Depends on the Dog

There are many factors that largely contribute to a dog’s overall tolerance for cold weather and winter temperatures. Among these factors are a dog’s breed, size, build, coat length, coat type, age, and health.

Breed & Build

Couple playing with a Siberian Husky in the snowBreed and build have important roles in a dog’s ability to endure cold temperatures. Some breeds thrive in the winter while others are better suited for the summertime. Throughout history, various types of dogs have been bred for cold climates. Today, these dogs love spending time in the snow and excel as winter sports companions or snow rescue dogs. A few breeds most famous for their love of winter are:

Dogs with thin builds or small bodies will have much lower tolerances for cold temperatures than large, hardy breeds. Winter weather poses a great threat for thin, small dogs as many are not built for it and cannot insulate themselves against the cold. A few examples of these breeds include:

Coat Type

A dog’s coat type plays an obvious part in its tolerance against cold weather. Dogs with thick double coats do best in the cold while short-haired breeds struggle the most with winter temperatures. Dogs with short fur have a harder time keeping themselves warm and protected from the cold.

Greyhound wearing a green crochet sweater

Along with fur being a factor in a dog’s ability to withstand low temperatures, a dog’s colors have an impact as well. Because they absorb more sunlight, dogs with darker fur colors, like brown or black, will stay warmer on cold, sunny days. In contrast, dogs with light or white fur will not absorb much heat from the sun.

Age & Health

Even if your dog is a breed that does well in cold temperatures, its age and health can make being outdoors in the winter dangerous. Dogs with short-term or long-term health conditions are more susceptible to discomfort and injury from cold temperatures. No matter the breed or coat type, if a dog is underweight or sick, their tolerance for the cold will drop drastically. For example, dogs with diabetes, kidney issues, cancer, arthritis, and other conditions will need short walks with plenty of protection against the cold to stay safe.

Wintery weather and cold temperatures don’t just affect dogs with existing conditions, they can also weaken the immune systems in healthy dogs, leading to sickness. Even dogs bred for cold climates will be more susceptible to injury or sickness if they have existing health issues.

Likewise, elderly dogs of all breeds and sizes will have reduced resistance against the cold and can have trouble staying warm. It’s not uncommon for elderly dogs and dogs with health conditions to need additional warmth from sweaters and coats even when inside.

Freezing Temperatures

Although there are always exceptions, dogs of all breeds and sizes are usually okay in winter temperatures above 45 degrees Fahrenheit. However, once temperatures go below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, it becomes unsafe for short-haired dogs to be outside for extended periods of time.

 While all dogs will have different thresholds for the cold depending on their sizes and breeds, avoid letting any dog outside for a long time when the temperature is at or below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Once outside temperatures drop this low, there’s an increased chance your dog could get frostbite or hypothermia. It’s also important to be aware that temperature alone isn’t the only dangerous part of winter weather. Wind, rain, and snow can greatly add to the already damp and cold conditions.

Signs Your Dog is Too Cold

French Bulldog in a red sweater holds up a paw while standing in snow

When taking your dog outside in the wintertime, there are multiple signs that will let you know if your dog is too cold. These signs include:

  • Shaking & shivering

  • Keeping 1 or more paws off the ground

  • Looking for warm places to shelter

  • Whining & crying

  • Anxious or upset behavior

  • Curling or hunching up

  • Tucked tail

Ultimately, our dogs will let us know when they are experiencing discomfort or pain. It’s up to us to pay attention to our dog’s condition and take immediate action when they show signs of distress.

Symptoms of Hypothermia & Frostbite

Similar to humans, dogs can develop hypothermia and frostbite when they spend lots of time outdoors in freezing conditions. Canine hypothermia and frostbite are serious health issues that can have the following symptoms:

  • Lethargy

  • Confusion

  • Pale or discolored skin

  • Severe shivering that stops as hypothermia progresses

  • Fast breathing & heart rate

  • Dilated pupils

  • Stiffness

  • Swelling

  • Blisters

  • Pain when touched

If you notice these signs after your dog has been outside you should immediately take it to a warm area, wrap it in warm towels and/or blankets, and contact your veterinarian.

Taking Your Dog on Winter Walks

In the wintertime, walks should be kept short to limit your dog’s exposure to the elements and low temperatures. If you’re able, avoid walking your dog early in the morning or later in the evening. Choose a time of day when the sun is bright and temperatures are warmer to take your dog outside. If you are unable to walk your dog earlier in the day, use a reflective coat, harness, or collar on your dog so it can be seen by cars and pedestrians.

To help your dog release energy and get exercise on freezing winter days, keep them active with mentally and physically stimulating indoor games. A good rule to remember when taking your dog out for walks or potty breaks in the winter is if you are too cold to be outside, so are they.

Protect Your Dog Against De-Icing Chemicals

Dachshund running in the snow while wearing a red sweater and bootsPart of being a dog owner is making sure your pup’s paws are injury-free during the winter. Keep your dog’s paw pads trimmed to prevent icicles from forming on wet fur. Likewise, use a warm, damp cloth to wipe off your dog’s paws after winter walks. This will remove any de-icer substances used on driveways, roads, and sidewalks that can cause chemical burns and make your dog sick if licked.

For these reasons, you should also avoid letting your dog eat snow that is near roads and sidewalks as they may contain anti-icing chemicals. You can best protect your dog’s paws in the winter by providing boots or shoes for them to wear outside. These items are reusable and will protect your dog’s paws against the harmful effects of ice, sidewalk salt, and various forms of de-icers.

Are you a pet parent? Get more information and tips on dogs through Lancaster Puppies’ blog. Looking to add a puppy to your home this winter? Find puppies for sale near you or take our quiz to find out which dog breed is right for you.