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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:

  • Elderly and arthritic pets may have more difficulty walking on snow and ice
  • Dogs with heart disease, kidney disease, or endocrine disorders may have a harder time regulating their body temperature
  • Very young puppies are extra-vulnerable to cold temperatures (and they’re also lower to the snowy ground)

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:

  • Shivers or trembles
  • Slows down or stops moving on a walk
  • Holds their paws up
  • Tucks their tail between their legs
  • Holds their paws up, or refuses to walk
  • Ears and nose feel extremely cold to the touch

In addition to signs of general coldness, it’s important to watch for signs of hypothermia. When a dog’s temperature falls dangerously low, they’ll start shivering uncontrollably, become lethargic, and—if left untreated—develop more severe symptoms (source: petMD).

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:

  • Keep walks and potty breaks short on especially cold days
  • Outfit your pup in sweaters, coats, and/or booties to keep them warm and comfortable
  • Make sure your dog (and their clothing) stays dry. A damp coat can actually make them more cold
  • For some bonus warmth and cuddle time, just before you go outside, put a towel in the dryer on a low setting, and wrap up your dog in the towel as soon as you get home
  • Consider a pet heating pad for indoor cozy time

Check out these posts for additional tips on how to keep your dog warm this winter:

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