How to Tell if Your Dog is Cold

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How to Tell if Your Dog is ColdIt’s that time again! The trees are losing their leaves, football is on, and the holidays are just around the corner. And of course, with all that comes chilly days and cold nights.

But while we and our children are able to put on coats, or ask for help if needed, our four legged friends don’t have that luxury. So, what do we do then? Is it possible to learn how to tell if your dog is cold? Absolutely! Read on and we’ll cover everything you need to know!


Do Dogs Get Cold?

Yes dogs do get cold, despite their built in protective layers. Some people think a dog doesn’t need any more protection from the cold other than their own skin and furry coat. But this is not always the case. You may also think that because you have an inside dog that they will be warm enough indoors. But dogs can still get cold inside, and also keep in mind that you may still have to take them outside for exercise and bathroom breaks.

While dogs do have layers of fur and fat that help protect them from the elements, there are some dogs that will need a little something extra. Short-haired dogs, small dogs and puppies will always need a little extra warmth and care when the weather turns cold. Also certain factors like age, size and the health status of your dog that can affect their ability to tolerate the cold. You need to be able to recognize when they are cold and take steps to keep your dog warm.

Short-haired dogs and small breed dogs are especially sensitive to the cold, as are puppies, older dogs and some dogs with existing health conditions. Some owners forget about their dogs being sensitive to the cold, but even healthy dogs with a thick coat of fur can need more protection from the cold.

Risks Of The Cold For Dogs

Let’s first begin by quickly covering why it’s important to know if your dog is too cold. What can happen if your dog gets too cold for too long?


If a dog is left out in the cold for too long it can lead to hypothermia. This occurs when a dog’s body temperature falls too far below normal, which is around 101 F to 102.5 F. Temperatures below 99 degrees (or above 104) could indicate an emergency and you should contact your vet immediately.

So why is this bad for your dog and what can happen? Hypothermia causes problems with your dog’s central nervous system and can affect heart rate and blood flow, breathing and the immune system. It can lead to trouble breathing, irregular heartbeat, shock and lead to a possible loss of consciousness and coma.


Your dog may also be susceptible to frostbite if they get too cold. Frostbite happens when the temperature in the environment drops, which causes blood vessels close to your dog’s skin to begin to narrow or constrict. This helps to preserve their core body temperature by diverting blood toward the core and away from the cooler parts of the body.

What this does, however, is it reduces blood flow to the extremities which can allow the tissues to freeze causing severe tissue damage. The most commonly affected parts of your dog’s body are the tail, ears, nose, paws, and legs.

Here are a few ways you can recognize frostbite in dogs:

  • Discoloration of the skin, particularly at the extremities. It may be pale, gray or bluish in color. If severe it can look like blackened or dead skin.
  • Ice forming on an area of skin.
  • Skin that feels cold and brittle to the touch.
  • Skin that cause your dog pain when you touch it.
  • Blisters or skin ulcers.
  • As your dog gets warmer and starts to thaw out, the area can become red, inflamed and painful.

What should you do if you suspect your dog has frostbite:

  • Get your dog warm and dry immediately with warm towels or blankets. You can also use a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel.
  • Use tepid (warm not hot) water on the affected area.
  • Do not rub or massage the affected area.
  • Do not warm an affected area if you cannot continue to keep it warm. Re-freezing will only make it worse.
  • Do not use direct dry heat, like a heating pad or hair dryer.
  • Do not give your dog any pain medication unless instructed by your veterinarian.
  • Get your dog medical treatment as soon as possible.


While being cold or wet does not directly cause a dog to catch a cold or get sick, what it can do is lower their immune system. When their immune system is low their body cannot defend itself against disease. This makes them more vulnerable to picking up a virus or infection.

Keep in mind that if it is too cold for you to feel comfortable outside then it may be too cold for your dog as well. Prevention is better than having your dog uncomfortable or sick. And most likely cheaper for you as well.


Warning Signs That it is Too Cold For Your Dog

You should know your dog well enough to be able to tell when it is acting out of character. Look out for some of these warning signs that might indicate that your dog is too cold.

  1. Trembling or shivering. Dogs react to the cold the same way we do. If you see your dog shivering or trembling they may be feeling too cold. Shivering, shaking and trembling are how the body reacts to try to increase internal body temperature and keep warm. Keep in mind there may be other reasons for this, like fear, stress or excitement.
  2. Sleeping more than usual. If your dog seems to be sleeping more than usual this can also be a sign that he is too cold and starting to feel the symptoms of hypothermia. If you see this you need to get your dog inside and warm him up immediately. It this is prolonged he may start to have difficulty breathing and moving.
  3. Lethargy. Being cold can slow a dog’s body down as it causes weak or tired muscles. If your dog seems lethargic and is slow moving, clumsy or stiff, then they could be feeling the cold. Dogs that are running, jumping and playing in the cold are enjoying it, but dogs that are curled up and motionless are trying their hardest to conserve heat.
  4. Curling up. If your dog is curled into a ball or he is hunched over with his tail tucked and his head low, it is possible he is attempting to warm himself.
  5. Cold ears or body. If you think your dog might be too cold, try feeling his ears. This is a good, quick way to tell if they are feeling the cold more than usual. If their ears feel cold, particularly around the edges, this means that their body is struggling to keep warm and it might be time to take them inside and get them warm. You can also touch their body and run your fingers underneath their coat, particularly in the belly area. If he feels cold rather than warm your dog is likely too cold.
  6. Hiding or seeking shelter. If your dog is trying to hide behind, under or in things that’s another sign he’s trying to conserve heat. He’s seeking shelter like he would do in the wild. This means that he won’t want to play or go for a walk. Head home and indoors right away!
  7. Whining or Whimpering. If your dog is too cold he may try to let you know by whining, whimpering or even barking. If it is unusual for your dog to whimper, then it’s a sign that he’s uncomfortable.
  8. Restlessness. Another sign that your dog is too cold is restlessness. While some dogs will be motionless when cold, others will move around restlessly trying to warm themselves up, or will look for a warmer place to hide.
  9. Dry Skin. If your dog’s skin is dry, particularly around the nose, this could be a sign that they are too cold.


How to Take Your Dog’s Temperature

Now that you know what signs to look for, you may want a more accurate measurement of your dog’s temperature. So let’s go through how to do this.

What you need:

  • Digital thermometer. A digital thermometer that reads quickly, within 3 to 10 seconds, is best. This will help to minimize your dog’s uncomfortableness. It is a good idea to designate this thermometer for pets only, and label it well to avoid someone mistaking it for human use.
  • Lubricant. A good water-based lubricant is good for this. Or baby oil will also work.
  • Gloves. Using disposable gloves is a good idea to help keep your hands clean and prevent cross contamination.

How to take your dog’s temperature:

  • Rectally is the best and most accurate way of getting your dog’s temperature.
  • Get another person to hold your dog gently around its neck and body, like a hug.
  • Place some of the lubricant on the thermometer.
  • Lift your dog’s tail and gently insert the well lubricated thermometer, with a twisting motion, an inch or two inside.
  • Press the start button and wait for the reading
  • Make sure to thoroughly clean the thermometer before you put it away.

As we said earlier, normal temperatures are between 101 F and 102.5 F. Temperatures below 99 degrees (or above 104 F) could indicate an emergency and you should contact your vet immediately.


Keeping Your Dog Warm in the Cold

Okay, so now that you know why it’s important to keep your dog warm, and the warning signs you should be looking for, it’s time to find out how to keep your dog warm when it’s cold outside. Here are a few things you can do to keep your dog warm.

    • Massage or rub your dog to help get the circulation going and generate some warmth.
    • Get moving. If it is not too bad outside put on some warm gear and go outside and move around with your dog. Go for a brisk walk or run around the yard with a game of fetch or catch. If you are confined indoors then play some indoor games. It is important for your dog to keep up their exercise even during cold and wet weather.

Recommended Reading: The Best Ways to Exercise Your Dog

  • Warm home. Make your dog’s home warm, whether they are inside or outside, with blankets or heaters. You can also use a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel for warmth. Raise their bedding off the floor to keep it warm.
  • Warm body. Make your dog’s body warm with a winter dog coat. You should always have one of these on hand to put on your dog in cold weather. Your dog’s winter coat should fit snugly while still allowing them to be comfortable and move freely. It should be waterproof or water-resistant, and have reflective strips that make your dog more visible. The line of winter dog coats from Kakadu meets all these qualifications, and though it’s made from fleece, owners have reported that even in very snowy climates, there was no need to do anything to dry it other than hanging it up just as you would your own coat.

winter dog coat

The line ranges in size from Extra Extra Small all the way up to Large, all at very reasonable prices. Click on a color below then choose the size that’s perfect for your dog.

  • Warm coat. Keep their hair longer than normal during the colder months. If you normally have your dog groomed you should do it less often when it is colder. Fur creates good insulation for your dog and helps to keep them warm. But make sure it is kept clean and dry. Find out how to detangle matted dog hair here.
  • Diet. Ensure their diet and nutrition is adequate for their size. This will make sure they are not too thin which can reduce their ability to tolerate the cold. You may need to adjust your dog’s diet to suit their activity levels. Dogs that live outside may need more food to maintain their weight during winter. If your dog is expending less energy during the colder months then you may need to feed them a bit le so they don’t put on weight.
  • Stay dry. Keep your dog dry at all times. If they get wet make sure you dry them off quickly with a towel and remove any wet coats. Don’t forget to dry their paws after being outside as well.
  • Stay indoors. If you have an indoor dog, try to limit exposure to cold weather outside. Avoid walks outside in the coldest part of the day, or when it is raining or snowing. And get their exercise done inside.


How to Keep an Outside Dog Warm

If your dog lives outside most of the time there are a few extra things you can do to make sure they are warm and comfortable at all time

  • Coat. Make sure your dog has a waterproof, all weather coat to keep them warm and dry outside. Take a look at our best winter coats here.
  • Dog house. Your outside dog should have a winter dog house that shelters it from the weather and keeps them warm and dry. Make sure it is the right size for your dog. Too big and it won’t hold the heat well, too small and your dog will be uncomfortable. Make sure to raise it off the ground to protect it from rain and snow. Fill it with blankets, and a hot water bottle or a heater for warmth.
  • Dog bed. The right size dog bed that is elevated off the floor will keep your pup warm when sleeping outside. Keeping it off the floor will prevent the cold from seeping through to your dog’s body.

Remember, if the weather is extreme you should bring your dog inside to keep them warm, dry, and safe. It is also important to monitor your dog’s health as being colder puts additional stress on your dog’s body which results in reduced immune system function and a higher risk of illness. Look for any changes in your dog’s behavior and visit your veterinarian if you are at all concerned.

Here is some additional information from veterinarian Dr. Morris Samson on cleaning your dog’s pads after they come in from being in the snow:


I hope this has given you all the information you need to enjoy the cold weather outdoors with your four legged friend right by your side!

P.S. Help a friend keep their pup warm by pinning and sharing this! Thank you!!

How to Tell if Your Dog is Cold

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