How Can You Tell If a Dog is Cold?

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Many of us spend the winter months cuddled on warm couches, surrounded by blankets, without much care to go outside until spring. But our best friends still need to get out of the house for exercise and mental stimulation.

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Plus, have you seen these cute photos of dogs playing in the snow? Adorable viral content isn't going to make itself, people.

So how do you know when your dog is cold? More importantly, how can you keep your lovable pooch warm in cold weather?

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Do dogs get cold?

It surprises most pet parents to hear that dogs are more sensitive to temperature changes than humans. Many think that with their furry coats, dogs wouldn't get cold easily.

Yet, according to the "Merck Veterinary Manual" (Merck 2021), your dog's body temperature is higher than yours.

Ranging between 100 - 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit, most dogs will feel subtle changes in temperature that humans miss.

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How to tell if a dog is cold

Thankfully, unlike cats who may hide symptoms, it's not quite as challenging to know when a dog is cold. Canines respond similarly to humans when their body temperatures drop.

As specified in "Veterinary Science: A Very Short Introduction" (Yeates, 2018), ​signs a dog is cold include trembling, shivering, and seeking warmth.

Many dogs will also hold up a paw when the ground is too cold during a walk. This, too, is a reliable sign that your dog is cold.

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  • trembling
  • shivering
  • seeking warmth
  • holding up a paw

So follow a commonsense approach when determining if your dog is cold. If their ears, tail, or paws are cool to the touch, then chances are it's time to get your pup indoors to warm up with a blanket and a snuggle.

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Do some dogs get colder than others

All dogs will experience cold differently and have their own thresholds for when it's too cold. This is mainly due to differences in breed, coat, age, and conditioning.

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Breed

Dogs bred for enduring winter weather can bear much colder temperatures than those who are not, as per "Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds" (Collie, 2015).

  • Akita
  • Alaskan Malamute
  • Chow Chow
  • Great Pyrenees
  • Keeshond
  • Newfoundland
  • Samoyed
  • Siberian husky

Additionally, the size and weight of your dog will also impact their cold tolerance.

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Smaller dog breeds such as Havanese, shih tzus, Pomeranians, and the terriers may get colder much quicker, and at warmer temperatures, than their larger, heavier cousins.

Coat

It's not just size and breed that determines how susceptible your dog is to cold weather, the thickness and length of coats will also influence how they react to lower temperatures (Collie, 2015).

As an example, with it's long, soft coat and thick under layer, the Pekingese may fair better in the cold than a short-haired boxer, three times its size.

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Furthermore, be sure to watch smaller dog breed with short or thin coats — we're looking at you, Chihuahuas, pugs and Boston terriers — for signs of cold when taking them on their walks. Consider putting them in a sweater when outside — the warmer and cuter, the better!

Age

Puppies and senior dogs are uniquely susceptible to the cold, despite breed or coat length (Merck, 2021).

Younger and older dogs have more difficulty regulating their core body temperatures and will experience the unfavorable effects from cold exposure more severely.

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Conditioning

While some dogs are technically bred to spend long periods of time outdoors in the cold, it doesn't mean that they are conditioned accordingly.

If your Akita mix was raised in the milder temperatures of a swanky L.A. condo, they may have a harder time transitioning from an Instagram influencer to their new life on the ski slopes.

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Your best way to keep a dog warm in cold weather

Dogs don't necessarily need clothing like coats or sweaters to retain body heat, but they can be beneficial to small dog breeds and those with thin coats.

Still, if your dog doesn't mind wearing clothing during the colder months, then there's nothing negative about providing them with an extra layer of warmth — clothing, blanket, or otherwise.

Your biggest concern when walking your dog in the winter is frostbite on their paws, and while it's rare, hypothermia.

Rather than exhibiting signs of frostbite immediately, once your dog is indoors and the afflicted area begins to thaw, you may notice skin inflammation and swelling of the tissue (Yeates, 2018).

Signs of hypothermia in dogs can include stiff muscles, lethargic behavior, weakness, and decreased mental awareness.

If your dog is sneezing or has a runny nose, this may be a sign that they are developing a cold (Merck, 2021).

If your dog displays any of these symptoms after prolonged exposure to cold temperature, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible.

In summary

If your dog loves going outside when it's cold, then let them. Your best friend needs to outdoor play, year-round, to stay healthy and happy.

Just be extra vigilant in colder weather for signs of cold. If you see the signs a dog is cold, then you'll never need to worry about frostbite or hypothermia.

Also, consider a piece of winter apparel for your dog as added protection against the elements.

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