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Do Dogs Get Cold? What To Look Out For

Your dog might not want to leave every time you’ve ventured to the dog park even though it’s freezing outside.

Or you have the kind of dog whose heart is filled with terror as soon as there’s a cold breeze outside.

But how can you actually spot signs of your dog being too cold and what’s an acceptable temperature?

As you might have guessed, breed plays a big role in determining whether or not your dog can withstand freezing temperatures.

Let’s dive right in so you’re prepared for any cold or even snowy winter day.

How Cold is Too Cold for Dogs?

There is definitely a thing such as too cold for dogs, especially smaller breeds, breeds without a thick coat, and those who are not properly fed and cared for such as stray dogs.

Each winter in the United States alone countless animals will freeze to death, mostly out of simple exposure.

Stray dogs often can’t find adequate shelter and may have been pets who have recklessly been left outside during a snowstorm.

While some owners underestimate the effect the cold has on dogs, others are getting hysteric and whip out the super warm and cozy winter coat (which your dog might actually not like – more on that later).

Normally, 40-50 degrees Fahrenheit (5-10 C) temperatures are acceptable for healthy dogs.

Temperatures falling to 30-40 (32=freezing) degrees Fahrenheit (<0-5 C) are too cold or potentially dangerous, depending on the breed.

Small dog in wintercoat.
Photo by BushAlex on Shutterstock

Why does this depend on the breed?

As you may know, there are lots of breeds we’ve created to endure cold seasons such as the Alaskan Malamute, Siberian Husky, and Tibetan Mastiff.

However, they’re not the only ones suitable for colder climates.

Generally, sturdy breeds and especially larger breeds with a double coat will have no problem with temperatures hovering around the freezing point or even below that.

A few considerations that might help you:

  • In what area of the world did your dog’s breed originate? What was the breed used for?
  • Does your dog have a longer coat or shorter coat, thick double coat, or soft single coat? Short-coated breeds like the African Basenji or Egyptian Saluki prefer much warmer climates.
  • Smaller breeds with a lower body mass don’t usually endure cold temperatures well for long.
  • Older dogs and puppies tend to have greater difficulty regulating body temperatures and can become colder quickly. Never leave an aging (ex. 8+, varies based on breed) dog outside in the cold for long, since their ability to tolerate these temperatures is diminished.

Areas furthest from the heart are more susceptible to frostbite (tissue freezes and dies), even in those northern dogs above (i.e. nose, paws, tip of the tail).

Now think of the Siberian Husky, Alaskan Malamute, or Samoyed.

These three working breeds descended from dogs originally bred by northern tribes native to their respective areas hundreds or sometimes thousands of years ago, and each enduring sub-zero temperatures regularly. 

The Samoyed peoples of Northwestern Siberia relied on their thick-coated dogs for their very survival, simply keeping them warm during frigid nights when not helping hunt or haul supplies.

It rarely gets too cold for dogs like these in most places of the world, but even they can succumb to too much exposure (wind, water). 

These are only three northern breeds and an example of extreme tolerance.

If you look at the opposite side of the spectrum, a Peruvian Hairless (Inca Orchid) or Chinese Crested wouldn’t survive very long in temperatures just below freezing, let alone extremes.

Even northern breeds, like the three mentioned above, could be susceptible to frostbite if exposed to extreme wind for too long.

Not even these dogs are immune to frostbite or hypothermia (significant/dangerous drop in body temperature).

How Can I Tell If My Dog Is Cold?

Your dog will probably let you know if he or she is too cold. You can pay attention to the signals below:

  • Shivering
  • Trembling
  • Whining
  • Lethargy/slow movement
  • Seeking warm places
  • Refusing to move further outdoors
  • Attempts to hold up paws (avoid contact with ground)
  • Walks strangely, like wearing booties for the first time

In some cases, a puppy can be having so much fun playing outdoors in the snow, he won’t realize the potential danger he could be in.

Small dogs with a lower body mass are more susceptible to the cold and elements.

Sometimes, it comes down to simple common sense for your dog’s breed, size, and age. Is the weather appropriate for your dog?

Don’t shave or cut the top coat of a double-coated breed, either during the winter or summer (especially popular among Poodle owners).

The top coat doesn’t shed the same as the undercoat and may not grow back evenly for the upcoming winter.

Knowing your dog and learning how to read the signs will help a great deal with determining whether or not it’s too cold for your pooch.

How to Keep a Dog Warm at Night

Allow your dog to sleep indoors. If your home is around 60 degrees F (16 C) or above at night, which most homes are, your dog should definitely be fine.

You can place a blanket in your dog’s bed or crate or lift it above the ground if your floor is especially cold.

During the night, the ground cools down even further in addition to any warm air rising.

A heated blanket can also do the trick but shouldn’t be necessary for most homes with a healthy dog.

Do Dogs Get Colds?

Dogs get colds and are able to become sick just like humans can, though different viruses might cause colds in dogs that humans won’t become sick from.

In fact, there is no ‘vertebrate’ animal on Earth that is immune to all colds. Everything can become sick from something.

Due to artificial selection and hundreds of years of human selective breeding, some dog breeds are more susceptible to colds than others.

Brachycephalic (short-nosed, flat-faced) breeds are more susceptible to airway problems and might not be able to handle cold climates as well.

These breeds include:

  • Mastiff
  • Dogue de Bordeaux
  • Boxer
  • Pug
  • French Bulldog
  • Boston Terrier
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
  • Shih Tzu
  • Pekingnese
  • Affenpinscher
  • Brussels Griffon
  • Japanese Chin
  • Lhasa Apso
  • Fila Brasileiro

How Do You Know if Your Dog has a Cold?

Is your dog sneezing or coughing? Have you noticed a runny nose or more mucus around the nose and eyes than normal?

Do your dog’s eyes seem to water more than normal? Is the furry one hesitant to drink or eat?

Have you noticed an overwhelming lack of energy or enthusiasm in your pet? What about any vomiting or diarrhea?

A vet will probably take our dog’s temperature with a rectal thermometer (follow directions provided).

A normal dog’s body temperature will run a little bit warmer, between 101 and 102.5 F.

Over 103 F is considered a fever, while anything around or above 106 F can become fatal and will require immediate veterinary intervention.

How Do You Treat a Dog with a Cold?

Treating a dog with a cold is usually pretty close to treating a human with a cold. 

Make sure your dog stays as warm and as dry as possible. Immune responses decrease when a dog becomes cold.

If they seem to be shivering or have the chills inside, try offering a heating pad or heated blanket for them to lie on.

Keep your dog inside the house, apart from letting him outside on potty breaks. Avoid walks in the cold outdoors while your dog is recovering.

If it’s cold or wet outside, providing your dog with a doggy coat and booties might be helpful.

Make sure your sick dog is both eating and drinking regularly.

Offer something like boiled chicken, broth, or rice if your dog needs enticement, as long as you watch the sodium content.

Provide fresh, cool water 24 hours a day. Fluids are important.

Humidifiers can help with congestion if you notice any extra discharge around the eyes or nose.

Try to limit (or avoid altogether) your dog’s contact with other animals during the duration of the cold.

Don’t offer any human medications without the consent of a veterinarian.

Dogs can respond poorly to certain over-the-counter medications we wouldn’t think twice about and should not be given things like Tylenol, Advil, Aspirin, etc.

In the end, treatment can depend on the type of cold and what caused your dog to become sick.

These are general treatments listed above, but certain sicknesses beyond a common cold will need to be evaluated by a veterinarian.

If the cold was caused by a bacterial infection and not a virus, you’ll need to get antibiotics prescribed by your veterinarian. 

Can Dogs Get Colds from Humans?

Most of the time, dogs aren’t susceptible to human viruses and humans aren’t usually able to contract illnesses from dogs.

If by cold we mean respiratory tract infection, it really depends on what caused it.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the common cold we think of is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract.

So when people talk about the common cold, they are really talking about any number of viruses causing similar symptoms.

We lump all of these similar symptoms into the all-encompassing cold.

Viruses able to pass from human to animal, and vice versa, fall into specific categories called zoonotic viruses.

The common cold we usually think of can be caused by several various viruses (around 200), the most common being Respiratory Syncytial Virus, Rhinoviruses, and the Parainfluenza virus.

Dogs have their own forms of these viruses and aren’t likely going to catch something like Human Parainfluenza.

Dogs aren’t susceptible to human rhinovirus or influenza virus, both cause many respiratory tract infections (colds) in humans.

It’s entirely possible that your dog infects you (albeit there’s not too much research done in a reliable environment that rules out other factors).

It is much more likely your dog will catch a cold from another sick dog he was around.

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Disclaimer: This blog post does not substitute veterinary attention and does not intend to do so. I am not a veterinarian or pet nutritionist. If your dog shows any sign of illness, call your vet.

About Danielle

Equipped with 5+ years of expertise as a Rottweiler owner, I partner with licensed veterinarians and trainers to share research-backed and actionable advice for you and your furry friend.