Can Dogs Live in the Snow?

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Introduction

Dogs like Samoyeds, Huskies, and Malamutes are known for their ability to live in very cold temperatures and hold up very well during the snowy, harsh, and cold weather months. You probably even know some people that had outdoor dogs growing up who would still spend their time outside in the winter, in the snow as well. Although this was popular years ago, it is much less popular now, as dogs are viewed as a part of the family and not just as animals anymore. 

Whether or not you agree with keeping your dog outside during the winter and in the snow, you may have wondered whether a dog can live outside in the snow. Overall, dogs should never live outside in the cold winter months, especially when there is a lot of snow on the ground. Read on to find out why!

Signs of a Dog Being Too Cold Outside

Just because dogs have fur that covers their whole body and can keep them warm, that does not mean they should live outside in the winter and the snow! When it is very cold outside, even in temperatures that are above freezing, your dog is at risk if they spend too much time outdoors in the snow. 

Your dog can get too cold and the snow outside can ball up on their feet and legs and cause them a lot of pain. Here are some signs you need to watch for in order to tell if your dog is getting too cold outside in the winter weather and if the snow is hurting them.

If you see your dog shiver or tremble after being outside in the cold and snow for too long, take this as a sign they are freezing and should come inside to warm up. You want to avoid them getting frostbite because frostbite is extremely dangerous and can lead to amputation of limbs and other body parts if it is bad enough. 

If you notice your dog is sleeping more than they should and they have been outside for too long, they may be in the beginning phases of hypothermia. Similarly, lethargy and weak and tired muscles can be a sign your dog is too cold and not handling the weather well.

If you see your dog is curled up in a ball, this is a sign they are too cold as well. Curling into a ball shows that your dog is attempting to use their own body heat to warm themselves up.  Trying to hide away someplace or seek shelter from the elements outside should also let you know that your dog is much too cold. 

Since there is snow on the ground, you'll want to examine their paws, legs, butt, and belly, too. If snow is balling up and clumping on their fur, this is unsafe and uncomfortable for your dog. Balling snow should never cover your dog's fur and is a reason they should not live out in the snow. 

Body Language

These are some signs your may notice if your dog is too cold in the snow:

  • Shaking
  • Cowering
  • Weakness
  • Low tail carriage
  • Dropped Ears
  • Tail tucking
  • Sleepiness

Other Signs

Here are some other signs you might notice if your dog is too cold in the snow:
  • Snow clumping on their fur
  • Cold body and restlessness
  • Signs of frostbite
  • Very dry and itchy skin

History of Dogs Living Outside in the Snow

Wolves and undomesticated dogs would live outside during all seasons, which include the very cold wintertime and in the snow as well. We see often dog owners justify their dog's ability to live in the snow and the cold because dogs were able to do so in the wild. However, this comparison does not have much influence because we know more details about how dogs developed and how different they are today.

Many thousands of years ago, wolves and undomesticated dogs had the ability to live outside because they had very thick fur coats and tough paw pads to shield them from the cold. Wolves would take a few months to prepare themselves for the cold months by consuming more food so they could carry around extra weight in the snow to keep them warm. Wolves sleep close to the other wolves in their pack to stay warm with body heat so they do not freeze or become overly cold. 

Today, most dogs have shorter and less dense coats, unless the breed is long-haired and double coated like a Samoyed. However, just because a dog may have thick, double coats, it does not mean they are equipt to spend their whole time outside in the snow or cold, particularly if they are not bred to handle those conditions. 

Furthermore, dog owners will not try and bulk up the dog's weight before entering the winter season - this means the dog does not have extra insulation to keep them warmer. It is also likely the dog is not able to sleep with a large pack of other dogs outside, so they also do not have the body heat for warmth when they are sleeping. 

Science Behind Why Dogs Should Not Live Outside in the Snow

Family dogs are not meant to live outside in the snow and in the cold winter months. Their bodies are not used to being in freezing temperatures for extended periods of time and there is no reason a dog should be living outside during any season. 

Dogs are social creatures and they need human attention and interaction on a regular basis. If you keep your dog outside and don't love them like you should, this will set them up for a lifetime of frustration, anger, and destruction. Your dog will be very lonely, cold, and unhappy. 

Even though dogs have fur coats, it doesn't mean they are immune to the cold weather and that cold weather cannot be very dangerous for them. As a general rule of thumb, if it is too cold outside for you and you get too cold after a certain period of time, then it is too cold outside for your dog as well. Time outside should be limited to only short walks and potty trips, especially when there is a lot of snow on the ground. Snow can ball up on their paw pads and cause them a lot of pain and discomfort when they are walking. 

Keeping Your Dog Safe in the Snow

Do not make your dog live in the snow during the winter, first and foremost. A dog house and blankets will not keep them warm enough. Even a heater will not fix their loneliness and lack of human interaction if they live outside. 

Thick and longhaired dogs are going to do better in the cold and snow than if you have a short-haired dog or smaller dog, but this also does not mean they can handle the cold for hours and days. 

You also want to be careful if you take your dog on walks when there is snow on the ground. If you walk your dog in the winter, make your walks short and do them during the warmest part of the day if you can, especially if the sun is shining. If it is below 32 degrees, make your walks only 15 minutes so your dog is protected from the cold and from frostbite. 

If your dog has a short fur coat, having them wear a puppy jacket to keep them warmer when they are going to the bathroom or if you take them on a walk is always the best idea. It will provide an extra layer of warmth that will allow them to brave the cold better. Doggy boots are also a great idea because they keep your dog's feet warm, dry, and snow will not ball up on their foot fur. Boots will also prevent your dog's paw pads from cracking and becoming too dry. This is particularly important if you take your dogs for short walks in the cold. You can also buy your dog a paw protector, which will keep your dog's paws hydrated so they do not crack, as well.  

How to React if Your Dog is Too Cold:

  • Bring them inside immediately.
  • Warm them up with cuddles and blankets.
  • Give them fresh water.
  • Call your vet if it is severe.

Safety Tips for Taking Your Dog Outside in the Snow:

  • Don't make them live outside in the snow.
  • Limit walks to 15 minutes or less.
  • Put a doggy coat on your pooch.
  • Limit potty breaktimes outside.

We Want to Hear About Your Dog Being Outside in the Snow!