How Cold is Too Cold?

Winter is upon us and while we are all layering up to step outside and brave the cold, many people are left wondering how to keep their dogs safe in these conditions as well. Often, simply implementing the same safety measures you make for yourself will also help keep your pet healthy, warm, and protected. Below you will find temperature guidelines and quick tips to help you keep your dogs safe for their cold-weather adventures. 

Tufts Animal Condition and Care (TACC) system Cold Weather Diagram:

The Tufts Animal Condition and Care (TACC) system provides guidance on body conditions, environmental conditions, and weather safety protocols. These scales were originally “designed by Gary Patronek, VMD, to help animal control officers, cruelty investigators, veterinarians, and others more accurately determine the condition of a potentially neglected dog.” Dr. Kim Smyth adapted the weather-related information from the TACC scales into the simple infographic below that breaks down general cold weather temperature guidelines for dogs. 

When you utilize this chart to make decisions regarding outside time for your pup, make sure to account for other factors such as “real feel temperature,” wind chill, rain/ice/snow present, as well as how well adapted your particular dog is to cold conditions. Some dogs may thrive in much colder conditions than others if they are acclimated to it. Always monitor your dog’s behavior and responses to the cold conditions, even if they are well adjusted to winter conditions. Adjust time spent out in the elements accordingly. If they start to exhibit signs and symptoms of hypothermia or frostbite, take action immediately.  

Other cold-weather tips to consider are as follows:

  • Try to limit baths for your pets during the winter because this will strip them of their natural oils that keep their skin conditioned.
  • Take your pup on shorter walks, more frequently to allow them the same amount of outside exercise they typically get, without lengthy exposure to the elements. Limit yard playtime, and if they are out there alone, check on them often to monitor health. 
  • Dress your pups in well-fitting winter sweaters and jackets while outside. If the jackets get wet, make sure to remove them once inside and dry them completely before putting them back on for their next outing. It’s a good idea to have a few different outfits to rotate out. This ensures they always have a dry, warm option to wear.
  • Always towel dry your pets if they get damp from a wintery walk and don’t forget to dry between their toes.
  • Do not shave your dog down to the skin during the colder months because longer and thicker fur will help keep them insulated. 
  • Young, elderly, ill, arthritic, or diseased dogs typically have a harder time self – regulating their body temperatures and maybe more drastically affected by extreme temperatures, so be mindful of their exposure to the elements and consult your veterinarian for advice if need be.
  • No pet should be left outside for long periods of time in freezing weather. Make sure they have an insulated indoor area to live in over the winter. Dr. Ernie Ward, VMD, conducted an informative demonstration of just how cold it can get in an uninsulated dog house outdoors in below-freezing temperatures. Don’t let your dogs suffer in these conditions.
  • If your dog does have to spend extended amounts of time outdoors in the cold, you need to provide them with a properly outfitted dog house for protection from the elements. The floor should be raised several inches off the ground and sprinkled with cedar shavings or straw for insulation. Keep the doorway covered with waterproof plastic and position the door away from the direction of the oncoming wind. Give your dog plenty of food, and check water bowls frequently to make sure they haven’t frozen over. 
  • Avoid allowing your dog to walk out onto frozen bodies of water because if the ice breaks under them and they drop into the freezing water, it becomes an immediate life-threatening situation for them, and also for you should you try to save them.
  • Do not leave pets in vehicles for prolonged periods of time in cold weather. The interior of the car will cool down to frigid temperatures and can quickly chill your pets putting them at risk for cold-related emergencies. Similar to how you wouldn’t want to leave your animal in the heat, the other extreme could be just as bad.
  • Check your dog’s paws frequently for cracking or bleeding. Salt and other chemical de-icers used by cities for ice control can be caustic to pet’s paws and can cause illness if they lick and ingest them. Therefore, it’s always a good idea to wash and dry off your dog’s paws after each walk. Other options to prevent exposure to these chemicals, are to have your dog wear properly fitted booties or to rub petroleum jelly on their pads before heading out to act as a protective liner against the chemicals. Remember to wash the petroleum off their paws when you return so they don’t lick it off.

Colder weather doesn’t have to mean major sacrifices for your pets, it just calls for some small adjustments to make sure they stay healthy, warm, and safe. Implementing these minor accommodations for your pets this winter during outside activities, and using the TACC temperature guidelines to help make your pet’s activity decisions will help you to do just that. Happy holidays from all of us here at YHPC, and stay warm out there!


Credit: Robin Laclede