Can Dogs Feel the Cold?

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Introduction

It may be hard to imagine whether your pooch can feel cold weather. Dogs are completely covered head to toe in soft, warm fur (way cozier than what us humans got stuck with), so it wouldn't be completely off basis to wonder whether dogs are capable of feeling cold. However, it is important to know that dogs can be sensitive to drops in temperature. 

As a general rule of thumb, small to medium-sized dogs begin to feel a bit chilly when the temperature falls below 50 ºF, while larger dogs tend to feel chilly once temperatures begin to drop below 40 ºF.

Signs Your Dog is Cold

Generally, colder temperatures should not be problematic for your pup's coat. However, temperatures below 40 degrees may begin to feel unpleasant depending on the type of dog you have. 

Although playing in the snow is plenty of fun, keep in mind that the cold can also be dangerous to your dog. It is important to understand that temperatures below 20 degrees can be unsafe, and owners should be alert to signs that your dog is feeling cold. Otherwise, your pup could develop a serious problem like hypothermia or frostbite. The best way to keep your pup safe is to watch your dog's behavior.

Body Language

Some behavioral signs that your pooch is cold include:
  • Barking
  • Whining
  • Dropped Ears
  • Paw raised
  • Freezing

Other Signs

Your dog may also exhibit:
  • Searching out warmer locations
  • Slowing down
  • Anxiousness
  • Shivering

The History Behind Dogs Being Cold

Dogs are descendants of wolves, and wolves seem to have no issues thriving in the snow. But what about our domesticated pups? 

Humans created dog breeds throughout the ages using selective breeding. Some dogs were bred to be excellent at pulling sleds through the snow - like Huskies or Malamutes. 

However, other breeds were bred to cuddle at home or exist in hotter climates. These breeds, like Chihuahuas, Shih Tzus, or even Great Danes generally have a harder time in colder climates, as their bodies are no longer built for chilly conditions. 

The Science Behind Dogs Being Cold

It is important to understand that there are certain breeds of dogs that are better suited for colder climates. If you live in a place that drops to freezing temperatures, it may be better to adopt a pup that can handle such severe climates. Some breeds include the Akita Inu, Bernese Mountain Dog, Siberian Husky, Tibetan Mastiff, Chow Chow, Bearded Collie, and the Shiba Inu, among many others. However, whether your dog can handle colder temperatures ultimately depends on certain factors.

  • Coat type – Thick, double-layered coats tend to be the most cold-tolerant (think Siberian Huskies). Usually, these dogs were bred in northern climates allowing them to live comfortably when it’s frigid. On the other hand, dogs who have thinner coats (like Greyhounds) suffer the most in colder temperatures.
  • Coat color – Dark colors like black or brown tend to absorb heat from sunlight better than lighter coats.
  • Size – Small dogs lose heat faster than larger dogs, so they tend to get colder more easily.
  • Weight – Skinnier breeds tend to get colder quicker than do larger, bulkier breeds. Less body fat = less insulation.
  • Conditioning – Understandably so, dogs who are used to living in colder temperatures handle them much better than dogs who don't.
  • Age and Health – Young pups, senior dogs, and sick dogs less suited at regulating body temperatures and require greater protection from the cold.

Additionally, other environmental factors will affect how cold your dog is.

  • Wind – Wind can quickly cut through a dog’s coat and affect your pup's ability to insulate and keep warm.
  • Dampness – Rain, snow, or swimming soaks through your pup's coat and can quickly get chilly.
  • Clouds – Cloudy days tend to feel colder since your pup won't be able to soak up any vitamin D.
  • Activity – Being active while outside may generate enough extra body heat to stay warm in colder temperatures.

Tips for Keeping Your Dog from Getting Cold

Exercise, activity, and stimulation are important for your pooch, and we all understand that going outdoors is essential to keeping your dog healthy. But what should you do when temperatures are too cold?

Although dogs have a natural coat, this is not always enough to survive severe drops in temperature. Young pups and more senior dogs should not be allowed outside during these cold temperatures. If it is impossible to avoid, make sure you provide plenty of warm blankets and pillows to sleep on and stay dry (it might even be helpful to invest in some dog booties and sweaters to protect your pup's paws and coat)! It would also be beneficial to avoid walking your pup on snow, slush, or cold water. 

Make sure your pup has plenty of clean water. Snowy conditions are not a substitute for water. It is also helpful to stay vigilant while in harsh temperatures, especially if your pup is small, has short hair, or was not bred to survive cold weather. However, long-haired coats can get matted and dirty quickly, which ultimately reduces the insulation of the coat. It is important to keep your dog's coat healthy, so try and groom your dog regularly.  

Dogs that tend to spend a lot of time outdoors in cold weather should be fed up to 10% more food than usual. Extra calories provide extra energy that helps keep your pup warm. However, make sure to consult with your veterinarian before making any changes in your pup's diet.

Safety Tips for Dogs in Cold Climates:

  • Salt and chemical de-icers can cause problems if your pup licks its paws clean after a walk, so make sure to clean all paws once you are home.
  • Dogs who spend time outside will need water that won’t freeze; you can find heaters available online!
  • If you must leave your pup outside, do so only if your pup is healthy and has a well-insulated shelter with bedding that you know your dog will use.
  • Most importantly, pay attention! If you think it’s too cold, just take your dog inside.