Table of Contents
Reviewed for accuracy on April 6, 2022 by Cathy Barnette, DVM
- Dogs can get hypothermia or frostbite at temperatures lower than 32°F.
- In cold weather, make sure that dogs have adequate outdoor shelters and plenty of food and water.
- High humidity can contribute to heatstroke in dogs.
- Some breeds of dogs are more tolerant of hot and cold temperatures than others.
- Know the early warning signs of hypothermia, heatstroke, and dehydration to protect your dog during extreme weather.
While it seems like dogs might react differently to the weather than humans (they have different biology after all), in some cases they can actually be more susceptible to weather extremes. As a general rule of thumb, if the outdoor temperature is too hot or cold for you, it’s probably too severe for your dog. Hot temperatures, combined with humidity, can cause dehydration and heatstroke. Temperatures lower than 32°F can cause hypothermia or frostbite.
Winter Weather Concerns
How cold is too cold for a dog to be outside? Unfortunately, the answer isn’t quite straightforward because each dog is unique. Factors that affect temperature tolerance include:
- Coat type: It goes without saying that dogs with thicker, fluffier coats and those with double coats can withstand colder temperatures than those with thin, single coats of fur.
- Size: Small dogs can get colder much more quickly than larger dogs.
- Weight: Body fat can help insulate from cold temperatures, so a dog with less body fat will suffer from cold temperatures more quickly. However, it’s important to keep your dog at a healthy body weight because the risks that come with being overweight are certainly not worth forgoing the purchase of a sweater for your pup.
- Age: Older dogs and those with compromised health can be more susceptible to cold temperatures than their younger, healthier counterparts.
As a rule of thumb, small dogs with short coats, such as Chihuahuas, get cold faster than other breeds. Provide your dog with a sweater during winter walks and keep his outdoor time short. Other breeds, such as poodles, are susceptible to cold if their coats are groomed short.
What cold temperatures are safe for dogs?
In general, most dogs are okay until the temperature drops to below 45°F, according to PetMD. Below that, some dogs may begin to feel uncomfortable. Below freezing, 32°F, dogs in sensitive categories, such as older dogs and those with thin coats will need extra help, such as shelter (staying inside) or a jacket or sweater. Temperatures below 20°F are not safe for any dog to spend significant amounts of time outside, due to the risks of hypothermia and frostbite.
Playing outside in the cold
Some dogs prefer to play and enjoy the outdoors, regardless of the weather. If you leave your dog outside when it’s cold, provide him with shelter to protect him from severe weather. A dog house that has a solid, raised floor with straw or bedding for insulation will help keep him warm. Cover the entrance with a flap to keep drafts out.
Dogs in cold temperatures need plenty of food; staying warm uses up extra energy. Make sure that water is available and that it’s not frozen.
During cold winter months, walk your dog during the warmest hours of the day. Make sure that his paws are protected from ice, which can cause frostbite and cut the pads. Even breeds that are more tolerant to cold should not be left outdoors for long periods of time in below-freezing temperatures.
Summer Weather Concerns
Safe summer temperatures vary depending on humidity levels. For instance, a dog left outdoors in an arid climate may be fine in temperatures of 85°F, provided he has access to shade and water. However, a dog in a high-humidity climate at the same temperature might be in danger for heatstroke.
Allow your dog to play outdoors as long as you can join him comfortably. Make sure he has plenty of cold, fresh water and access to shade. On extreme heat days, walk your dog in the early morning or late evening, when temperatures cool off. Place your hand on the sidewalk first to ensure that it’s not hot enough to burn the sensitive pads on your dog’s feet.
Never leave your dog in the car during warm weather. The Humane Society notes that on an 85°F day, a car with its windows partially rolled down reaches 102°F in only 10 minutes.
Breed-specific hot temperature concerns
While most dogs will be comfortable in the same temperatures as their humans, some breeds are more susceptible than others.
Dogs with short snouts, such as pugs and bulldogs, are at a higher risk of heatstroke than dogs with longer snouts. Dogs with thick coats, such as huskies, overheat more easily than those with short coats, especially if they haven’t acclimated to a warm climate.
Keep a close eye on your dog during very hot or very cold weather. Seek veterinary treatment if his symptoms indicate a weather-related condition.
In cold weather, watch for symptoms of hypothermia:
- Slow breathing
- Fixed pupils
- Muscle stiffness
Hypothermia can cause death. If you suspect your dog is suffering from this condition, move him out of the cold and seek immediate veterinary attention.
In hot weather, watch for symptoms of dehydration and heatstroke:
- Rapid heart rate
- Vomiting blood
- Muscle tremors
If you suspect your dog is suffering from heatstroke, spray him with water or cover him in water-soaked towels to cool him off. Provide him cool water and encourage, but don’t force him, to drink. Move him indoors or to a shady area. Seek veterinary care immediately.
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