It’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 can 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!
From the right temperature to the different ways you can keep your dog warm, we will cover everything you need to know about dogs and the cold season. Read on to learn more!
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 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.
Dogs with thick fur are bred to enjoy wintery climates. These breeds include the Akita, the Tibetan Terrier, the Siberian Husky, the Alaskan Malamute, the Chow Chow, Saint Bernard, the Tibetan Mastiff, and the Newfoundland.
While dogs do have layers of fur and fat that help protect them from the elements, some dogs 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.
These breeds include the Chihuahua, the Greyhound, the Miniature Pinscher, the Whippet, the Rat Terrier, the Yorkshire Terrier, the Great Dane, and the Weimaraner.
Even if your dog does not fall into this category, it is still very important to make sure they stay warm!
Also certain factors like age, size, coat color, 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 pup warm at all times.
Dogs with dark coats can absorb a significant amount of heat from sunlight to keep them warmer compared to light-coated ones. Body fat is also a great insulator. Thinner dogs tend to get colder quicker than do their heftier counterparts
The very young, the very old, and the sick are not as able to regulate their body temperatures in comparison to healthy dogs in the prime of their lives, and they, therefore, need greater protection from the cold.
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.
How Cold is Too Cold for Dogs?
Generally, cold temperatures are only a problem for dogs if they fall below 45° F.
When temperatures fall below 32° F, owners of small breed dogs, dogs with thin coats, or very young, old or sick dogs should pay close attention to their pet’s well-being. As soon as the temperature goes below 20 ° F, all owners must beware of the risks associated with the low temperature.
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 F degrees (or above 104 F) 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.
If your furry friend appears to be always sleepy and lethargic, as in moving awkwardly, they can be at risk of hypothermia. Get them inside and warmed up immediately.
If your dog is barely moving and appears to have stiff muscles or seems to have difficulty breathing, you should go take your dog to your vet immediately.
Watch this video to learn more about hypothermia.
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. 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 causes 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 hairdryer.
- Do not give your dog any pain medication unless instructed by your veterinarian.
- Get your dog medical treatment as soon as possible.
Pneumonia in dogs can also develop as a secondary infection caused by influenza which is common during the cold season. This disease is an inflammation of the lungs or lower respiratory tract.
Dogs with an immune system disease or those that are on immunosuppressive drugs are at an increased risk of bacterial pneumonia, as are dogs with severe metabolic disorders such as kidney failure, uncontrolled diabetes mellitus, Cushing’s disease, or Addison’s disease.
Here are some signs of this disease:
- high fever
- difficulty in breathing
- decreased exercise tolerance (gets tired easily)
- weight loss
Aside from the symptoms mentioned, your vet can suspect bacterial pneumonia through tests like CBC, chest x-ray, cytology, and tracheal lavage.
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.
The following are symptoms that your four-legged friend has a cold:
- Sneezing too much. The first symptom is your pooch sneezing more than usual every hour. Although it is a sign of cold, your dog can also have an allergy. But when accompanied by other common signs that are mentioned below you can almost be sure that they have the flu.
- Trouble breathing. Your dog inhaling through their mouth or lying on their chest can indicate difficulty in taking breaths. When dogs have a cold their nasal passages get blocked which causes congestion and problem in breathing
- Leaking red eyes and nose. Bacteria can make their way to your dog’s eyes and nose through the fur in just a jiffy. A thick white or green discharge from the nose and eyes are the result.
Let your dog rest and give them a quick steam treatment. Steam can help your pooch breathe easily as their nose and throat become decongested. You can do this by running hot water in the washroom and letting the dog breathe in the steam.
Warning Signs That it is Too Cold For Your Dog
You should know your dog well enough to be able to tell when they are acting out of character. Look out for some of these warning signs that might indicate that your dog is too cold.
- Cold outdoors. It’s common sense to know your dog is cold if you head outside and see for yourself how cold it is. A dog’s body temperature is higher than ours, but when you go out and feel cold despite having a jacket, gloves, and boots on, it means that it is too cold for the hound as well
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- Curling up. A dog may also tuck their extremities closer to the heat of the torso, keeping the tail and legs tucked under and ears pinned back against their head.
- Keeping paws up. If you are on the cold ground, your dog may lift his or her paws constantly and be unable to put the full weight on all four paws by walking gingerly or limping along the ground.
- Cold ears or body. If you think your dog might be too cold, try feeling their ears. This is a good, quick way to tell if they are feeling the cold more than usual. If the 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.
- Hiding or seeking shelter. If your dog is trying to hide behind, under, or in things that’s another sign they are trying to conserve heat. They’re seeking shelter as they would do in the wild. This means that they won’t want to play or go for a walk. Head home and indoors right away!
- Whining or whimpering. If your dog is too cold they 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 they are uncomfortable.
- 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.
- 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. Your dog needs to keep up their exercise even during cold and wet weather.
- 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 Kurgo meets all these qualifications.
- Give it rest on a heating pad. Sleeping is a great way to fight the flu. Let them rest on a heating pad for more comfort and relaxation during a doze off.
- 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. A bowl of lukewarm chicken soup can be a great help. It’s both yummy and nutritious for combatting colds, strengthening their immune system, and giving them energy.
- Stay hydrated. Give your dog warm freshwater to drink and to stay hydrated. Dehydration causes more suffering
- 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.
- Never leave your dog in the car. A car can be a refrigerator in the winter and an oven during the summer. Either way, it will only cause harm to your dog.
- Clean antifreeze spills or leaks. This may not be a solution to your cold dog but it will help avoid accidental poisoning by the sweet-tasting but lethal chemical.
- Wipe your dog’s paws, legs, and stomach with lukewarm water. Not only will this keep them cozy, but it will also remove salt and other chemicals from the snow that can be harmful when ingested.
- Take them to the vet. If your dog is very sick for quite some days, take them to a vet for a checkup. They might have a health issue that should be treated quickly. Remember not to feed your pooch with medications without prescription.
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 them 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.
- 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:
Stay Cozy with Your Pooch!
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! Remember to leave them with a warm blanket, food, and keep them hydrated.
As always, consult a veterinarian when you notice suspicious symptoms of hypothermia, frostbite, or flu. They always know what’s the best treatment for your little ball of fur!