Is It Too Cold To Walk My Dog?
January 26th, 2020. Last Updated December 15th, 2020
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I adopted my Yuna in October 2018. This meant two things: one, I became a first-time happy dog owner, and second, we were immediately headed for colder, wetter temperatures up in the Pacific Northwest.
Throughout the winter months, I constantly wondered whether it was too cold to walk Yuna outside.
Sure, she is covered in a coat of fur, but…after all, she’s still technically naked. That has to be cold for her, right?
Today, we’ll explore the question many dog owners have when it gets chilly out. Is it too cold to walk my dog today?
“If It’s Too Cold For You, It’s Too Cold For Your Dog”
You may have heard the phrase, “if it’s too cold for you, it’s too cold for your dog.” How true is this?
Well, it does have its merits. Especially as a quick gauge as to whether you should take extra precautionary steps when taking your dog out in the winter.
Indeed, if we are cold ourselves, we tend to worry about our dogs being cold too.
But our dogs are built differently. They have big furry coats which act as natural cold protection armor.
Of course, there’s a lot of nuance here. Dogs have different fur lengths, and come in different shapes and sizes. All these factors affect how they regulate warmth in their bodies.
So while this saying can point us in the right direction, it seems more discussion is required!
By the end of this article, you’ll develop a much better sense of whether it’s too cold out for your dog. We even have a handy little chart for you, so keep reading.
Factors That Affect Your Dog’s Ability To Keep Warm
Let’s first discuss how your dog and the weather impact their ability to stay warm.
Multiple factors, including dog’s coat length, size, age & condition, the weather, and the amount of time spent outdoors can greatly impact this.
Now, it’s pretty obvious how each one affects your dog’s ability to keep warm, but we’ll still briefly go over each one because there are some special cases.
Simply put, the longer the coat, the easier it is to retain warmth.
Just as how we typically classify dogs into three main “size groups” (small ~20lbs and under, medium ~20-60lbs, large 60lbs+), we can do the same for coat length.
A great example of a short coat dog would be the Pointer. Their coats are short, dense, and stick tight to their bodies.
One example of a medium coat dog would be the Golden Retriever.
And finally, an example of a long coat dog would be the Bearded Collie.
Your dog may not fit perfectly into either of these three bins; that’s totally fine. Just knowing about where they fit on the spectrum will help you predict their cold tolerance.
Speaking of cold tolerance, your dog gets bonus points if they have a double coat!
Dogs with double coats have a dense undercoat of short hairs under a top coat of longer hairs (called “guard hairs”).
Though double coats can drive owners crazy when it comes to shedding, it does well to regulate both hot and cold temperatures.
Some examples of dogs with double coats include the Shiba Inu, Siberian Husky, and Labrador Retriever.
Last but not least, we have some special coat varieties. These include wire-coated dogs, like the Jack Russell Terrier, and curly-coated coats, such as the Poodle.
By themselves, both wire-coated and curly-coated dogs can tolerate cold pretty well; they are probably as effective as a medium-length coat.
Again, the keyword there was “by themselves!” For example, both the Poodle and the Curly Coated Retriever have what we consider curly-coats. But the Curly Coated Retriever can withstand cold much better than a Poodle can because of other factors.
I think this graph is a great one to quickly observe if weather conditions are dangerous. It’s also included in nearly every other article I consulted in writing this post, which speaks to its reliability.
That being said, I think we can make some improvements to this graph. We’ll make our own version of it later in the article, based on the factors we’re discussing here. So read on!
Age & Condition
Puppies and senior dogs are more sensitive to cold. It’s just harder for them to regulate their body temperature.
For puppies, this is because they’re just smaller and underdeveloped. Elder dogs may have conditions that make them more sensitive to the cold.
Such conditions include arthritis or hip dysplasia. These only get aggravated by cold weather.
In addition, dogs with diabetes, heart disease, kidney’s disease, or Cushing’s disease can have a harder time regulating body temperature.
On the other hand, your dog may be well conditioned to the cold, having lived in a cold climate their entire life. It definitely is possible for dogs to develop additional cold tolerance over time.
When it comes to weather, the most obvious measure is temperature. But it’s important to note that not all temperatures are created equal!
For example, make sure you factor in wind chill. Harsh winds can cut through even the most resilient of double coats. Be careful!
In addition, be careful if the weather is wet. We humans are warned against wearing non-waterproof clothes in the snow, because the moment they get wet, it’s very difficult to keep warm.
A similar concept applies for dogs–if their coat gets wet, it can be more difficult to retain warmth even when the temperature isn’t that low.
On the other hand, your dog might be fine on a cold day if it’s sunny out (they may even require sunscreen).
Amount of Time Spent Outdoors
Consider what you’ll be doing outside.
A snowy fast-paced game of fetch in the backyard? A calm walk in below freezing temperatures? Or a five-mile snowshoe trip around a snowy lake?
Each of these can require different cold preparation for the same dog–for example, for a somewhat cold-resistant breed, the first scenario probably won’t require snow protection. The second will require a sweater. And the third scenario might call for a sweater, depending on your specific dog and the weather conditions.
So be sure to consider both the amount of time spent outdoors and the quality of that time.
If your dog is going to be outside for a while and will be mostly active during that time, they may be okay in colder temperatures just because of all that extra body heat.
Brisk walking is enough to be considered “mostly active” here for most dogs.
The Ultimate Chart - Is It Too Cold To Walk My Dog Today?
Now, let’s generate our ultimate chart! This will improve on PetPlan’s chart which we introduced earlier.
So what kind of improvements can we make?
First, we’ll include a scale slightly different from PetPlan’s five-tier chart. We’ll have more incremental tiers which will detail when to introduce a dog sweater, versus when to avoid going outside altogether.
Also, we can consider more special conditions as “other factors” on top of PetPlan’s chart that can impact a dog’s cold tolerance. These will be directly related to the factors we just discussed earlier in the article.
Noting that the temperatures should factor in wind chill, here’s our chart!
Simply find the temperature and the approximate size of your dog, take into account any of the “Other Factors” that apply to your dog, and find the tier that your dog fits under.
Note that this should be taken merely as a suggestion. You know your dog best–they may need more cold protection based on their individual needs.
So, we have six distinct tiers here, which we’ll discuss in more detail:
- Tier 1: Your dog should be fine in these conditions, with no extra cold precautions necessary.
- Tier 2: Temperatures are dropping, and it’s time to keep an eye on your dog for any discomfort from the cold. Some dogs may require extra attention.
- Tier 3: Conditions are cold enough to warrant a sweater, so bring one along in case your dog begins to feel cold. Your dog may still be fine under these conditions, but better to be prepared.
- Tier 4: Most dogs should have a sweater on if outside.
- Tier 5: Conditions are getting pretty serious. Your dog should definitely have a sweater on, and limit their time outside. Bring your dog inside immediately if they’re feeling cold.
- Tier 6: These are serious conditions. For most dogs, they should only be outside for very short trips to eliminate. In fact, some dogs should avoid going outside altogether.
The following conditions should push your dog UP one tier (i.e. having any one of these conditions makes your dog MORE at risk to the cold):
- The weather is wet (snow, rain, sleet, hail, etc).
- Your dog is a puppy or a senior dog.
- Your dog has a condition (such as arthritis, hip dysplasia, diabetes, Cushing’s disease, etc.) that can be aggravated by the cold.
The following conditions should push your dog DOWN one tier (i.e. having any one of these conditions makes your dog LESS at risk to the cold):
- Your dog has a thick coat or a double coat.
- Your dog will be mostly active the entire time they are outside.
- Your dog is acclimated to the cold.
Let us know what you think of our chart!
So to start off, we’ve discussed factors that impact your dog’s ability to keep warm. We then applied this to create a detailed chart, based on help from PetPlan’s existing chart, to help us determine when it’s too cold to walk your dog.
Our chart, like PetPlan’s, is useful to get a quick idea of when it might be too cold for your dog.
But ultimately, every dog is different and your dog may not fit this chart perfectly.
To reiterate, our chart is merely a suggestion. Our best advice for you is to watch your dog for signs of shivering and cold, and adjust accordingly. It also helps immensely to really know your dog’s medical history.