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How cold is too cold for a dog? What you should know about hypothermia and frostbite.

Your dog is more than just your constant companion; he/she’s also a beloved member of the family. No matter the season, frequent exercise, a well-balanced diet, and outdoor playtime are essential to your dog’s health and happiness. Not only does exercise prevent obesity, but it also provides the mental stimulation your pup needs to lower the risk of mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety. We’re all aware of the potential dangers of overheating, but what should we do when temperatures drop? At what point is taking your pup outside for a walk more harmful than helpful? How cold is too cold for dogs?


Cold weather affects some dogs more than others

Chances are good you know someone who wears a sweater in the summer. Maybe you have a friend who keeps their air conditioner set to 20C and still feels hot. Just like people, all dogs are different. A large, overweight breed will respond differently to the cold than a thin toy breed. Breeds with dense double coats like Akitas and Samoyed can tolerate the cold much better than, say, beagles and Italian greyhounds. In terms of volume, small breeds have less surface area than large breeds, so they tend to feel the cold more intensely. Even the colour of your dog’s coat can impact his/her ability to withstand colder weather. When the sun is shining, dogs with dark coats absorb more heat from sunlight than dogs with light-colored coats. Your dog’s general level of health also comes into play. Cold air can exacerbate conditions like arthritis, diabetes, and asthma. Previous exposure to cold weather matters, too. If you’ve recently relocated from Vancouver to Ontario, your dog won’t be able to tolerate the winter chill as well as a dog who’s spent his/her entire life in a colder climate.   


Keep in mind that the numbers on your thermometer aren’t the only environmental factors that come into play when determining how cold weather impacts your dog. A frigid, -1 degree day is miserable enough; -1 degree with a wind chill cuts to the bone and leaves you — and your doggo — unable to properly insulate yourselves against the cold. So Don’t Just Look at the Temperature. The temperature as it registers on a thermometer isn’t the only environmental factor that affects how dogs feel the cold. Consider other factors, including:


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.


Cold-Temperature Guidelines for Dogs

While broad generalizations are difficult, cold should not become a problem for most dogs until the temperature falls below -7C, at which point some cold-averse dogs might begin to feel uncomfortable. When temperatures drop under 0C, 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 6C, all pet owners need to be aware that their dogs could develop cold-associated health problems like hypothermia or frostbite when outside for extended periods of time. The best way to monitor your dog when they’re outside in the cold is to keep a close eye on its behaviour. 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.

Signs to look for that dogs are cold

There are several signs to watch out for that dogs may provide to let you know they are cold. Some may be obvious and others may not be as clear. Call your veterinarian if you notice any signs of frostbite or hypothermia.


👉Shivering (which may stop as hypothermia progresses)

👉Whining

👉Acting anxious

👉Looking for a warm location to get to

👉Walking slower than usual

👉Holding up a paw

👉Parts of the body that appear pale and are cool to the touch.


While some dogs thrive in cold weather, not all breeds can tolerate winter weather. Bundle up your dog in a sweater and booties, make sure to apply balm if his/her paws and nose crack in the cold, dry weather, and don’t let your dog stay outside too long in below-freezing weather. Just like you, your dog wants to stay toasty warm during the winter months.

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