How Cold is Too Cold for Dogs Outside? (Infographic)

If you’ve seen viral videos of malamutes and huskies entirely covered in snow, you may have wondered how these dogs can sit in such cold temperatures without freezing. Can your dog handle the cold this well? What temperatures are potentially dangerous for dogs?

In a previous article, we covered how hot is too hot for dogs. In this article, we’ll be going through the other end of the thermometer, so you know how cold is too cold for your dog.

Heat Regulation and Dogs

Animals all maintain their heat a bit differently from people. Dogs, in particular, will often regulate their body temperature through panting. According to the Purdue Extension, dogs have a temperature range from 68F to 86F where they don’t have to expend energy to produce or release body heat. The further away from this temperature range that the outside environment is, the more energy the dog will have to use. When a dog has to expend more energy than it can produce to maintain a healthy body temperature, the dog’s health will be in jeopardy. This represents a “critical temperature” for the dog.

However, the lower range of critical temperatures of a dog will vary heavily based on a number of factors.

Coat thickness, for example, can affect what is considered a critical temperature. The aforementioned Siberian husky, for example, has a critical temperature under 32F due to its thick double-coat.

Breeds that are brachycephalic, or have a short, flat nose, will expend more energy breathing and can’t release heat through panting as easily as dogs with a larger muzzle. They will generally have a higher critical temperature value.

Puppies, older dogs, and dogs with medical conditions may also not be able to maintain body temperatures as easily and as a result will need to be kept within the 48-86F temperature range.

How to Tell If a Dog is Too Cold

In low temperatures, dogs can develop problems like hypothermia and frostbite. While you should always keep an eye on your dog when they’re in cold temps, here are some things to look out for:

  • Signs of anxiety
  • Seeking warm locations like doors that lead inside
  • Whining
  • Slowing down
  • Panting

If you notice any of these signs while in the cold, immediately seek warmth or shelter because it means it’s time for the dog to go inside. Your dog should not be unmonitored while outside during the winter. Never, ever leave your dog in the car alone, especially when it’s cold or hot outside.

How Much Cold Can Dogs Tolerate? Size Matters

This helpful infographic paints an idea of the types of temperatures that dogs can handle.*

Smaller dogs generally have thinner, single-coats, and the AKC recommends that they shouldn’t be left outside for longer than 15 minutes in temperatures at or below 32F.

Large breeds with double-coats, on the other hand, can stay at temperatures at or below 32F for 30 minutes to an hour. Malamutes and huskies, if acclimated to the cold, can spend an indefinite amount of time outside. The AKC says this is because the long outer hair guards against snow and ice, while the soft undercoat will keep the dog insulated, warm, and dry.

Remember that while size will impact the types of temperatures your dog can handle, your dog will likely be most comfortable in room-temperature environments.

What about walking? How cold is too cold to walk a dog?

Although research suggests that dogs’ circulatory systems have a unique ability to protect their paws from frostbite or freezing, many experts still recommend using caution in extremely cold temperatures. Follow the recommendations of your vet, or use the chart above to decide when and how long you’ll walk your dog in the winter.

In a related article, we explain that dog boots or booties are a good idea – if you can get your dog to wear them – to protect from ice, as well as ice- and snow-melting chemicals.

Other Factors That Affect Dogs in Winter Temps

Temperature is only part of the picture. The environment and weather can also come into play when regulating one’s heat. These conditions will affect the critical temperature that your dog can handle.

“Wind chill” is often used to describe when outside temperatures are made to feel colder than they actually are by the breeze. The effect that wind has on temperature will depend on the speed of the wind, but generally, any wind will cut through your dog’s coat just as it does your jacket and make it feel colder than it actually is.

If it’s raining outside, that water will soak right through your dog’s coat and quickly cool them off. This can be nice in the summer, but potentially very dangerous in the winter as your dog may struggle to dry off and regulate its temperature.

Always be smart and responsible when letting your dog outside during the summer and winter. If it feels a bit too cold for you to stay out too long, odds are your dog feels the same way. Only arctic breeds that are bred and acclimated for winter weather may have different standards from you.

Source for How Cold Is Too Cold infographic: Did You Know Facts, PetPlan (now FetchPet), MentalFloss, and  Tufts Universiy

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