Exploring the outdoors in winter can be a wonderful experience for you and your dog! The crisp air, the silence that comes with the cold weather.
But you may have some big questions with cold temperatures hit. How do you know if it’s too cold for your dog? How long can your dog comfortably stay outside when it’s cold out?
Here we’ll take a look at everything you need to know how to keep your dog safe in winter and how cold is too cold.
How Cold is Too Cold?
Most dogs will handle weather well down to 45°F (7°C) with no issues. However, depending on their age, size, conditioning and external conditions, some dogs can handle much colder weather.
The only currently published guideline for assessing appropriate temperatures for dogs is the Tufts Animal Care and Condition* (TACC) scales for assessing body condition, weather and environmental safety, and physical care in dogs.
The original guideline is a bit complicated to decipher, so we translated it here to make it easy to follow.
The chart below shows how cold is too cold based on the temperature outside and your dog’s weight.
|Temperature||Small Dogs |
|Medium Dogs |
|Large Dogs |
|60°F (15°C)||(1) No risk||(1) No risk||(1) No risk|
|55°F (12°C)||(1) No risk||(1) No risk||(1) No risk|
|50°F (10°C)||(2) Low risk||(1) No risk||(1) No risk|
|45°F (7°C)||(2) Low risk||(2) Low risk||(1) No risk|
|40°F (4°C)||(3) Possible danger||(3) Possible danger||(2) Low risk|
|35°F (1°C)||(3) Possible danger||(3) Possible danger||(3) Possible danger|
|30°F (-1°C)||(3) Possible danger||(3) Possible danger||(3) Possible danger|
|25°F (-4°C )||(4) Dangerous||(4) Dangerous||(3) Possible danger|
|20°F (-7°C)||(5) Very dangerous||(4) Dangerous||(3) Possible danger|
|15°F (-10°C)||(5) Very dangerous||(4) Dangerous||(4) Dangerous|
|10°F (-12°C)||(5) Very dangerous||(5) Very dangerous||(5) Very dangerous|
|5°F (-15°C)||(5) Very dangerous||(5) Very dangerous||(5) Very dangerous|
|0°F (-17°C)||(5) Very dangerous||(5) Very dangerous||(5) Very dangerous|
We also made an easy-to-follow chart that makes it even easier to know if it’s too cold for your dog outside.
Levels of Cold for Dogs
When the temperature drops, several factors affect how well your dog can handle colder temperatures. The chart above shows levels 1-5 to represent the danger levels.
Level one being the least dangerous and level 5 being the most, as in way too cold for your dog.
Level 1: No Risk
For most dogs, 50°F means no risk of it being too cold for your dog.
Level 2: Low Risk
The low-risk level means that the risk of it being too cold for your dog is unlikely. Just evaluate the situation and make sure there is a proper shelter available if needed.
Level 3: Possible Danger
At level 3, there is potential for the cold weather to be too much and possibly dangerous for your dog.
It largely depends on your dog’s breed and conditions, how long your dog will be outside and if they are properly equipped to handle the lower temperatures.
Level 4: Dangerous
At level 4, the weather and temperature pose a very serious risk to your dog’s safety.
Your dog could become chilled, hypothermic and even risk frostbite.
This is when it’s usually advised to bring your dogs indoors or provide them with a good, warm shelter.
Level 5: Very Dangerous
At this level, it’s just too cold for dog’s to be outdoors.
Factors Effecting Your Dog’s Ability to Handle Cold Weather
Factors that effect your dog’s ability to tolerate cold weather includes:
- Dogs age and condition (Puppies and elderly dogs are more vulnerable to cold weather)
- Dogs breed
- Dogs size and weight
- If they’re accustomed to cold weather
- Weather conditions
- External factors (like gear and shelter)
Dogs Age and Cold Tolerance
Puppies under 6 months of age and older dog’s are more vulnerable to cold weather.
If you use the chart above, it’s recommended to add 1 point to the temperature chart if they fall under these ages.
That means a small dog, who is under 6 months of age, would be a 4, not a 3, at 35°F. This means that at 35°F could be too cold for this dog. This is the same for senior dogs as well.
Keep in mind dogs with medical conditions are even more at risk in colder weather.
Things like heart disease or kidney disease, or other health risks make your dog more vulnerable to the outdoor temperature.
Dog’s Breed and the Lower Temperatures
Some dog breeds handle cold weather much better than other dog breeds.
Toy breeds get colder much quicker than other dog breeds. If you are using the table above and have a toy breed dog, add 1 point to their scale.
Smaller breeds have thin coats and get colder faster.
If your dog is a “cold breed” dog, they’ll have an easier time in cold weather and will even find the cold more refreshing and full of adventure.
Their heavy thick coats provide natural warmth in cold conditions.
Again, if you look at the cold weather temperature chart, you can subtract 1 point if you have a cold breed dog.
Cold breed dogs include:
- Siberian huskies
- Alaskan Malamutes
- American Eskimo Dog
- Saint Bernard
- Bernese Mountain Dog
- Chow Chow
- German Shepherds
There are several others, but these are the more common ones.
Dog Size and Weight
You’re dog’s size plays a big part in their tolerance when temperatures drops.
Large dogs are simply able to handle colder weather better.
More meat and more body fat means better insulation.
Is Your Dog Accustomed to Cooler Temperatures?
If you live in a cold environment, there’s a good chance that your dog will naturally get used to being in colder conditions.
This is just like humans. You get used to the conditions around you, and so do dogs.
Another factor to consider, not all cold weather was created equally.
There is a big difference between 30° on a sunny day with no wind vs. 30° with rain or sleet and lots of gusty wind and wind chill.
If the weather is wet out, you can add 2 points to the chart above. Cold weather when it’s wet is much more dangerous for dogs than dry cold weather.
External Factors Affecting Dogs Ability to Handle Cold
When we say external factors, here were talking about dog coats, booties and created shelters.
If you’re taking a quick walk with your dog, you won’t have to worry so much about them getting too cold.
However, if you are doing out door activities, there are external factors to consider.
Dogs given a thick coat, warm bedding in an enclosed shelter and even warm water bottles will tolerate colder weather better than without.
Now that we have some of the varying factors covered, lets look at specific situations.
How Cold Is Too Cold to Walk a Dog?
As far as taking your dog for a walk, Id recommend sticking with the chart above.
For smaller dogs, stick above 30°F (-1°C) and for bigger dogs above 20°F (-7°C), and they should be fine, assuming they are in good health.
Just keep an eye on their body language and make sure they appear comfortable.
You shouldn’t need to do anything extra to keep your dog warm as long as you stay within the guidelines of the temperatures.
The one exception would be if it’s snowy out.
Long walks should be avoided and make sure to pay close attention to your dog’s paws after snowy walks.
Your dog may benefit from wearing dog shoes to prevent the snow from packing in between their toes.
This can turn into ice and cut off blood flow to their toes.
Make sure to check their paws after snowy walks to make sure everything looks good.
How Cold is Too Cold for Dog to Sleep Outside
If you’re wondering how cold is too cold for your dog to sleep outside, stay in the safer temperature zones.
This means for small dogs, temperatures above 45°F (7°C) should be fine. For larger dogs, keep them above 40°F (4°C).
Ensure they have a good shelter with warm bedding to sleep in, such as a dog house with a thick dog bed.
If you are planning on sleeping outdoors with your dog, then lower temperatures are considered safe since you will be able to keep an eye on them.
For example, if you are camping with your dog in cold weather, you can do plenty of things to keep your dog warm while camping.
Keeping Your Dog Safe in Cold Weather
There are several things you can do to keep your dog warm in cold weather, things like:
- Providing shelter
- Warm bedding
- A warm coat and dog boots (if snowing)
- Warm water bottles or rocks
- Keeping them active
A good shelter with warm, dry bedding can give your dog a warm place to preserve body heat during colder months.
A warm winter coat and booties can regulate your dog’s body temperature.
If you are outdoors and have trouble finding a good warm shelter, you can use hot water bottles or even rocks warmed in fire and wrapped in a blanket to help offer a warm place for your dog.
Keeping them active, like playing catch or going running, helps increase your dog’s blood flow and keep them warm.
Most importantly, if you are worried it’s too cold for your dog, you may be right. Using your common sense can go a long in low temperatures.
If you can use the cold weather chart above and factor in your dog’s circumstances and are still concerned, know the signs that your dog is too cold.
Signs that your dog is too cold include:
- Constant shivering
- Slowed breathing
- Slowed down heartbeat
- Hard to wake
- Or any signs of frostbite
Pay close attention to your dog, and if you notice any of the signs above, it means that your dog has been too cold for quite some time.
Make sure to get them warmed up immediately and take them to an emergency vet ASAP.
When in doubt, play it safe. If you are concerned, it’s time to bring your furry friend inside to warm up. And always avoid extreme temperatures.
Happy adventuring my friends.