We’re well into winter, and depending on where you live, chances are you’re bundling up to go outside. But what about your dog? How cold does it have to be for your dog to wear a jacket outside, or even to stay indoors on a winter day?
Just like humans, dogs’ cold-weather tolerance varies depending on their physical make-up, activity level, and health. Read on to learn how to tell if your your dog is warm enough, and for tips on how to keep your dog comfortable all winter long.
Consider your dog’s breed (and built-in coat)
Some dogs are built to withstand colder temperatures. Consider huskies: these double-coated sled dogs were bred to withstand serious snow. In general, thick-coated or long-haired dogs can handle handle colder temperatures. In addition, dogs with a little extra body fat may not get cold as quickly as thinner dogs. After all, fat is an effective insulator.
On the other hand, dogs with thinner coats and leaner frames need extra protection in winter. Greyhounds, for example, should always wear sweaters or coats in cold weather because their thin fur and low body fat make it difficult for them to regulate body temperature.
Believe it or not, height also plays a role in how your dog regulates temperature. Short-legged breeds like bassett hounds and corgis may get colder faster because their bodies are lower to the ground, and more likely to come in contact with the snow.
Age and health matter, too
In addition to breed and body composition, life stage and overall health make a difference in your dog’s winter warmth. Just like humans, very young and very old dogs have a harder time regulating body temperature than healthy dogs in the prime of their lives.
Some dog health- and age-related issues to consider in cold weather include:
In cold winter weather, it’s best to limit outside time for old dogs, young puppies, and sick dogs. That doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy a quick romp in the snow! Just dress your dog in a coat and/or booties if needed, watch them carefully for signs of discomfort, and be ready to head indoors when it’s time for a warming break.
Check the weather
Protecting your dog from winter weather isn’t only about bundling up, but also knowing how to gauge outside conditions. If it’s so cold that you feel uncomfortable staying outside for more than a few minutes, it’s probably too cold for your dog, too.
Dogs may start to get chilly when the temperature dips below 50°F. Once temperatures drop to 32°F or lower, if your dogs is small, has a thin coat, and/or is very young, old, or ill, they should probably wear a coat. When it gets really cold, below 20°F, all dog owners should watch their dogs carefully, and perhaps limit outdoor time.
Of course, temperature isn’t the only indicator of weather conditions. When preparing your dog for winter weather, consider wind chill, dampness, and whether or not the sun is out. In addition, remember that physical activity can generate extra body heat. Active dogs may tolerate cold temperatures for longer than less-active dogs.
How to tell if your dog is too cold
Dogs can’t talk, so we don’t always know how they’re feeling. However, their body language and behavior typically lets us know if they feel cold. That’s why you should watch your dog closely when spending time outdoors during winter.
These are signs that your dog isn’t warm enough:
How to keep your dog warm through the winter
If you live in an area with extreme temperatures, chances are you have the experience and common sense needed to handle cold weather. If it’s too cold out for you, it’s likely too cold out for your dog unless they’re one of the hardy northern breeds.
The majority of dog winter safety comes down to common sense. Here are some additional tips for how to make sure your dog stays warm enough this winter:
A breath of fresh air can do wonders for both you and your pet. Outdoor activities not only provide exercise and mental stimulation, but also help curb bad behaviors by giving your furry friend a chance to release excess energy. So set aside the remote, step outside with your pet, and have some fun al fresco style - we've got plenty of ideas to get you started!
Organize a Play DatePlay dates are a great way for dogs to keep their socialization skills sharp. Find a dog park in your area to meet and greet with other pups, or if you have your own fenced-in yard, invite friends or family members over with their pets for an afternoon of backyard fun. Make sure to have plenty of water on hand along with bags to clean up after any messes, and keep a close eye on the group to make sure everyone plays nice. Social networking sites such as Facebook and Ning can also be a great resource for finding a doggie meet-up in your area, even ones based on specific breeds.
Get Active With an ActivityWhether it's in your own back yard or at a local dog park, you can up the outdoor ante with a game of Frisbee or fetch. Most dogs love to hunt and retrieve, and you can also use these types of games for training opportunities as well. If you don't have access to a confined space, consider biking with your pup. There are a number of leashes made specifically to attach safely to a bicycle - never try this by holding the leash in your hands while steering, as this practice is an accident waiting to happen. Start slowly and teach your dog to keep pace with a steady trot, and build up the distance gradually as well. You can also search for canine biking classes in your area.
Take a HikeEven if you take your dog on regular walks in your neighborhood, hitting the hiking trail can provide a challenging, refreshing change of scenery. You can vary between a leisurely or more intense pace and even mix up the length of your outings, from short stints to an all-day excursion. Before you head out, make sure your pup has adequate protection from ticks and fleas, pack enough water for both of you, and don't forget a collapsible bowl and a few treats for your pup. Need tips on tracking down a trail? Check out Hike With Your Dog for the most dog-friendly locations in the U.S. and Canada.
Visit an Outdoor CaféPet-friendly dining is becoming more and more popular with establishments that offer outdoor seating, from coffeehouses to full-fledged restaurants. If you have a well-behaved pooch, it can be a great opportunity to relax and bond. Make sure your dog relieves itself before settling in, and keep extra bags on hand just in case. Keep your pup out of the way of other diners and the wait staff, and attach the lease to your chair, not the table - your weight makes a much better anchor than plates can provide. Speaking of plates, feeding your pooch from your own is a big no-no - keep treats on hand instead. Dog Friendly provides a list of restaurants across the U.S. that welcome four-legged friends, but it's always a good idea to call ahead first and double check.
Test the WatersWater sports can be a great way to cool off your pup on a hot day. Though many dogs are natural swimmers, getting a Coast Guard-approved pet life preserver is worth the investment to play it safe, whether you're in your own pool or a nearby lake or stream. There are a number of waterproof, buoyant toys available as well that can make splish-splash time even more enjoyable. If you live near a beach and you're an experienced surfer, why not take your dog along for the ride? Make sure your pup is comfortable in not just calm waters but waves as well, and consider a foam surfboard for starters, as this will provide an adequate amount of standing room and grip. Also consider taking your furry friend along for a canoe or kayak ride, but make sure you're both outfitted in the necessary safety gear.
Here, Kitty KittyContrary to popular belief, outdoor fun isn't just for dogs. With the right preparation, cats can get in on the action, too, even if you have a cat that primarily spends time indoors. If you have a yard with a high fence, you can take your kitty out for some supervised exploring. Also, fence-type, portable kennels made for dogs work just as well for cats, and many offer adjustable shelves and ramps to enhance playtime. While most cats don't take to a leash naturally, some will with a bit of training, or you can explore the stroller option, which gives kitty a moving but safe view of outside sights and sounds.