Cold Temperatures and Your Pet

Playing outside with your dog year round is a lot of fun, especially in the winter when there is snow on the ground. However, the cold weather we’ve been experiencing lately can be problematic for your pets.

Not all dogs can withstand cold temperatures and, contrary to popular belief, even northern breeds (like Huskies, Malamutes, Great Pyrenees, etc.) can suffer from health problems at temperatures that drop below freezing.

What are the risks of cold weather?

Dogs, just like people, can develop hypothermia in cold temperatures. Small, short-coated, short-legged and toy breeds are at highest risk for hypothermia and problems can become apparent at temperatures below 4 degrees Celsius. Other groups of dogs including puppies, elderly dogs, or those with health conditions (such as heart disease, diabetes or kidney disease) are also at high risk for hypothermia. Frostbite is another concern and is most common on the ears, tails and paws of dogs. Keep in mind that extreme weather conditions including wind, sleet, snow and freezing rain can increase the risks of hypothermia and frostbite developing regardless of the temperature reading on the thermometer outside.

What are the signs/symptoms to watch for?

Signs of discomfort in a cold dog include whining, barking, shivering, and anxiety. These dogs should be brought indoors immediately.

How can you make it safe for your dog to be outside in the cold?

When it is cold outside, avoid leaving your dog unattended. It is important to stay with your dog, especially small dogs when temperatures drop to freezing or below, and limit time outdoors. After your dog has relieved themselves, bring them back inside where it is warm. If you plan to have your dog outside for longer periods of time, consider getting booties for their feet to prevent frostbite and snow buildup between the toes. Jackets are also a great way to keep your dog warm outside. For large, northern breeds that stay out in cooler temperatures for longer periods of time, provide shelter where they can get out of the elements and be protected from the wind, sleet, etc. It is also important to provide a water source that will not freeze, such as an electric heated water bowl, for dogs that will be outside for extended periods of time. A dog without access to water can suffer from dehydration very quickly.


Written by Dr. Alex Muzzin