A common question we’re asked this time of year is; “ How cold is too cold to take my dog outside? “ The answer, unfortunately, isn't so straightforward. Weather in the UK varies depending on how far North and South you are and therefore you will need to take extra precaution depending on your location. Whilst it's fun playing outside on that crisp, white, winters morning, or running around in the snow, keep in mind that the cold weather can be dangerous to your dog.
If your dog gets too cold, it could develop hypothermia; the same condition humans develop when the body temperature falls below normal. If your dog's body temperature continues to fall below normal, the muscles will stiffen, their breathing and heart rates starts to slow down and they could potentially die. Frostbite in dogs is less common but has been known in extreme weather conditions. Your dog's ears, paws, and tail are the most susceptible to frostbite.
Unfortunately for pet owners, there's no hard and fast number as to what signifies the weather to be ‘too cold’. A harsh winter wind can create a wind chill and this can affect your dog as much as you. The cold heavy rain, sleet, ice and snow, can all create dangerous weather conditions.
To help understand the impact of weather conditions on your dog, Mypetzilla has put together an easy to understand chart for you to refer to. Remember that common sense should always be taken into account. If you feel the weather is dangerous, or your dog is showing signs of discomfort, or distress, then leave your dog inside.
What breeds are most vulnerable?
Understandably, what type of breed you have will dictate what coat they have. The build of your dog, whether their stocky or solid with a reasonable amount of muscle tone and hardly any fat, are most likely to get colder than finely built dogs. The type of fur they have will also indicate how well they stand the weather.
If your dog is very short and has a single-layered coat, then they are most likely to feel the cold and may need a little coat, or jumper to keep them warm. If your dog has a long coat, you will need to assess if it is thick and layered, as some dogs that have longer hair may only have a thin fine coat that doesn't offer much protection in the colder climate.
Dogs that have a double coat are better accustomed to the colder weather, such as the Alaskan Malamute, Siberian Husky, and the German Shepherd and therefore will not need any clothing. Breeds such as a Chihuahua or Greyhound have a thin coat and therefore will feel the cold much more and will need some clothing for added warmth.
Some breeds can be borderline, such as the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. Whilst they’re stocky and have the muscle to keep them warm, they also have a fine short coat, so you will need to assess how they cope in the colder weather conditions.
A healthy dog is better tolerated to colder temperatures than those dealing with health issues. If your dog hasn't had a checkup recently, or they're not doing as well in the winter months as previous years, then you should take them to visit the vet to have a health check.
If feels too cold, or the wind is blowing a storm, then common sense should tell you to leave your dog inside. Dogs that spend most of their time outside will need water that won't freeze. You can purchase suitable heaters that can help keep your dog warm during the winter months. Feeding your dog a higher fat food will also help them with the low temperatures because the fat becomes a metabolized source of energy.
Salt and chemical de-icers can irritate your dog's paws and cause them to become sore, or even cut, in harsher weather conditions. If their paws seem damp, you must wipe them dry or put some unscented baby talcum powder on to help them dry off.
Potential signs to watch out for
When you and your dog are playing outside during the winter, your dog will most likely show some signs that they've had enough, or are struggling because of the weather.
- Barking or whining. Some breeds are more verbal than others, but if your dog suddenly starts ‘talking’ to you, whilst maintaining eye contact, then they've had enough.
- If your dog stops moving, or playing, or is holding up their paw, then they might have something wrong with their paws, or they're too cold and need to go inside.
- If they start to really shiver, even after playing, this is an obvious sign that they need to go inside.
- If their behavior changes, or they become anxious. They may jump up on your legs, or even turn around to go home, along with whining and barking. Be assured that they are telling you that they want to go home.
As with anything, common sense should indicate what is safe for your dog and understanding their behavior is a sure way to tell if they're happy or not to be outside in the colder weather conditions. For further information please make sure to visit some of our other Pet Advice articles.