How Cold Is Too Cold for Dogs?

How Cold Is Too Cold for Dogs?

Katelynn Sobus Katelynn Sobus
9 minute read

Do you know how cold is too cold for dogs? Did you know it varies based on breed, age, coat color, and more?

Most dogs are fine when temperatures are above 45°F, but sensitive dogs may get uncomfortable in lower temperatures. When it’s freezing outside, your dog can be at risk of hypothermia. Temperatures lower than 20°F put all dogs at risk.

Of course, there are so many other factors that can help you determine if it’s safe to go outside with your dog. A Husky can often enjoy extended periods in the snow as long as they have somewhere safe to warm up when they’re ready, while a Chihuahua may suffer even before the temperatures drop below freezing.

In this article, we’ll discuss what temperatures are safe for dogs, ways to keep your dog warm in the winter months, signs of hypothermia, and more.

Understanding Dog Breeds and Cold Tolerance

Cold tolerance in dogs varies by individual, and even more so by breed. We have dogs bred to tolerate harsh winters such as Siberian Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes. We also have short-coated breeds like BoxersDachshunds, or Frenchies who do poorly in cold climates.

Large breeds, dogs with dark coats, and dogs with double coats are better able to tolerate cold than others.

Even if you have a dog who tolerates the cold well, they still need access to an indoor, temperature-controlled space in the winter. You should also take precautions if you need to bring them outside in extreme cold.

how cold is too cold for dogs

Recognizing the Signs of Hypothermia in Dogs

Hypothermia is a medical emergency for dogs. When their body temperatures drop too low, they can face issues with vital organs such as the heart, brain, kidneys, and liver. Severe hypothermia can lead to death, especially if left untreated.

If your dog shows the following symptoms of hypothermia, please bring them to an emergency vet clinic immediately.

  • Shivering
  • Upright fur
  • Dilated pupils
  • Rapid breathing or slow, shallow breaths
  • Cold limbs, ears, nose, or tail as body heat is centralized
  • Peeing more than usual
  • Tiredness and reluctance to move
  • Stiff muscles
  • Disorientation
  • Pale gums
  • Pale ears, nose, and tail
  • Low body temperature
  • Loss of consciousness

As hypothermia progresses, your dog may stop shivering even though they’re still cold. They’ll progress from rapid breathing to shallow breaths.

Do keep in mind that some symptoms listed above aren’t necessarily dangerous on their own. If your dog is shivering and their fur is raised, bringing them indoors to warm up should be enough. But if they’re showing several symptoms, especially severe symptoms like disorientation or paleness, see a vet right away.

Factors Influencing a Dog’s Cold Tolerance

Aside from their breed, there are also other factors that effect a dog’s ability to tolerate cold weather. These include:

  • Age: Puppies and senior dogs will typically get cold more easily than young adults.
  • Coat color: Dark-colored fur absorbs more sunlight, keeping your dog warmer than a dog with a light-colored coat.
  • Weight: Small dogs tend to get cold more easily than large dogs. Even within the same breed, dogs with more body fat can keep themselves warmer than skinnier pups.
  • Health: Dogs in good health are better able to regulate their body temperature than dogs who are sick.
  • Conditioning and time of year: Like humans, dogs who live in cooler climates will be more adjusted to cold temperatures. Time of year also matters–we and our dogs often tolerate cool weather in the beginning of spring, coming out of winter, better than the same temperatures in the early fall.

It also matters what you’re doing with your dog while they’re in the cold. For instance, going on a run is going to get their blood pumping and they’ll feel the cold much less than a dog lying down in the backyard.

Protective Measures for Cold Weather

If temperatures are safe, but your dog gets cold easily, there are some measures you can take to keep them warmer. These include:

  • Buy a jacket and booties for them to wear outdoors. Practice wearing these items during training sessions, desensitizing your dog by giving them treats. Most dogs won’t automatically accept wearing them but will get used to them with patience. Booties will also protect your dog’s paws from burns if they walk on salt, which is often used to melt ice on streets and sidewalks.
  • Make sure they can come inside when they’re ready. Don’t leave your dog unattended in the backyard, but instead, stay nearby and let them inside immediately when they ask.
  • On walks, stay near your home or car and watch for signs that your dog needs to go inside to get warm.
  • Exercise indoors when possible or go outside for multiple brief bouts of exercise, rather than one long walk.
  • Thoroughly dry your dog after a bath, or keep them in a warm, indoor environment until they air dry. Going outside in the cold while wet can be dangerous!

If you’re trying to keep your dog warm indoors while you keep the heat turned down, or if your power is out, here are some extra tips:

  • Provide cozy, warm places to sleep. Blankets, dog beds, and human furniture are all warmer to sleep on than tile or a bare crate.
  • Be cautious with heating pads and other warming items. Many of these are fire hazards, and some (like fireplaces) can cause burns if your dog gets too close or they’re turned on too high.
  • Stay in a small part of the house with your dog. Close off cooler areas of the house. It’s much easier to keep a small space warm for you both (and the rest of the family!) than to try to heat the entire house during a power outage.
  • A blanket over the crate can trap heat. Just make sure at least one side is uncovered to allow for proper ventilation.
  • Consider feeding them more, and don’t restrict access to water. Animals need more calories in the cold to keep themselves warm.
  • Heavy blankets over windows or doorways can help to trap heat and block drafts.

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Safe Outdoor Activities in Cold Weather

You can typically do most of your normal activities in the cold unless temperatures drop to dangerous levels. You might have to shorten the activity, however, so you’re not outside too long.

Other adjustments can also be made, such as using booties to protect your dog’s feet from salt on the sidewalk during your daily runs or choosing easier hiking paths to lower the risk of either of you slipping and hurting yourself.

Some winter-specific activities you might enjoy with your dog include:

  • Playing fetch with snowballs - Just make sure not to toss them directly to your dog in case the snow breaks apart!
  • Tossing toys into the snow for your dog to find - This is great enrichment for any dog, especially those who love to sniff!
  • Skijoring or kick sledding - A combination of sled-pulling and skiing, these are excellent activities for active dogs and people. Your dog must be fully grown and weigh over 35 pounds to participate safely. Kicksledding may be easiest for those new to these types of sports!
  • Snowshoeing - If you enjoy snowshoeing, you can bring your dog along for the fun!

how cold is too cold for dogs

When to Keep Your Dog Indoors

Once temperatures drop below freezing, most dogs will be uncomfortable outdoors, especially without anything helping them to keep warm.

However, more sensitive dogs may feel discomfort at 45 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. And dogs who love the cold might want to spend hours in the snow.

Hypothermia is a risk for some dogs once temperatures drop below freezing, or 32°F. When temperatures drop below 20°F, all dogs are at risk, even those with thick coats.

Of course, temperatures aren’t the only risk factor. You’ll also want to consider the wind chill, whether the sun is out or it’s cloudy, and if it's wet or rainy outside.

In general, if you’re too cold, your dog likely is too. Of course, this doesn’t apply to everyone–I get cold easily, and my black Labrador Retriever absolutely loved the snow!–but it’s a good rule of thumb if you’re feeling unsure.

If you do need to keep your dog indoors this winter, make sure to provide them with plenty of indoor activities to prevent boredom, depression, or anxiety. Mental enrichment can go a long way on those days you can’t get outside to release their pent-up energy!


Knowing how to keep your dog safe in the winter is vital for dog guardians! We never want to see them suffering in the cold.

Remember to limit time outdoors for most dogs when temperatures drop below 32°F, and for all dogs once they’ve reached 20°F or lower.

Keep your dog warm with clothing, keep their bodies moving for added warmth, and always provide a safe indoor space for them to go when they’re ready. Don’t force a dog who wants to go inside to stay out in the cold, as ignoring their cues can be dangerous for them.

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