It is that time of the year once again when we ask ourselves the question: how cold is too cold for my dog? First and foremost, we need to understand that dogs are individuals. An outdoor temperature that feels just right to one dog might send another in search of a shelter, and so, in order to properly answer this question, we will look at many factors we should carefully take in consideration.
Size: mathematically speaking, smaller dogs have a larger skin area to volume ratio, meaning, they have more skin in relation to their ‘insides’, making it ‘easier’ for them to lose heat. Therefore, small dogs get colder more rapidly then do large dogs.
Weight: thinner dogs tend to get colder quicker than do their heftier counterparts, as body fat is considerate a ‘good insulator’. But be wise about it, don’t use winter as an excuse to fatten up your fur baby. The risks of being overweight far outweigh any benefits that extra layer of fat may bring during the cold season.
Coat type: dogs such as Newfoundlands, Siberian Huskies have thick, double- layered coats tend to be the most cold-tolerant types of dogs. On the other hand, dogs who have exceptionally thin coats, such as Greyhounds, suffer the most in the cold weather.
Coat color: dogs with black, brown, or other dark-coated color can absorb significant amounts of heat from sunlight, keeping them warmer in comparison to their light-coated brethren.
Age and Health: healthy dogs in the prime of their lives are able to regulate their body temperatures with much precision than dogs that are either very young, very old, or sick, who need greater protection from the cold.
Another set of factors to taking in consideration is how the environment affects how dogs feel the cold, keeping in mind that the temperature registered on a thermometer is not all there is to be considered.
Cloud cover: cloudy days tend to feel colder than do sunny days since dogs can’t soak up the sun and warm themselves.
Wind chill: a brisk breeze can quickly cut through a dog’s coat and greatly decreases its ability to insulate and protect against cold temperatures.
Dampness: rain, wet snow, heavy fog, any form of dampness that soaks through the fur can quickly chill a dog even if the air temperature is not that cold.
This can be a bit complicated, I get it, but thanks to Tufts University, we have a great chart we can just print it out and keep it around, in case we ever need a reminder. It is called The Tufts Animal Condition and Care (TACC) System (PDF). It has many parts, ranging from body condition and environmental health to weather safety.
Keep in mind that sometimes it is simply too cold for dogs to be outside, regardless of their breed. Prolonged exposure to dangerously cold temperatures can put pets in danger of frostbite and hypothermia, which occurs when the body is no longer able to sustain normal temperature. Symptoms of hypothermia in dogs range from weakness and shivering to inaudible heartbeat and trouble breathing, depending on severity.