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When Is It Too Cold to Walk My Dog? Winter Tips For Safe Exercise

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

when is it too cold to walk my dog

Dogs are excellent companions that can become a nuisance when their needs are unmet. One of their needs is getting enough exercise, even in the colder months. However, when the temperature drops, it can be challenging to determine whether taking your dog for a walk is safe. So, when is it too cold to walk your dog? The answer is that it depends.

Breeds, such as Huskies and Malamutes, are built for colder temperatures and can handle longer walks in the cold. However, smaller or short-haired breeds may also be unable to tolerate the icy weather. Additionally, pups with compromised immune systems may be more vulnerable to low temperatures and should be monitored closely.

It’s important to use your best judgment and prioritize your dog’s safety when deciding whether it’s too cold to walk them. Additionally, we have compiled knowledge from the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity to help understand the importance of physical activities for dogs.

When deciding if it’s too cold to go for a walk, make sure you see our article on how to tell if your dog is cold.

As much as our dogs need to be walked daily to ensure their well-being, some circumstances, like the weather, can be an obstacle. In one study by the NCBI, they state that among the 3153 dog guardians respondents, 42.8% were less likely to exercise their dogs in low temperatures.

It’s not just the air temperature that pet owners should consider when deciding whether it’s too chilly to walk their dogs. The temperature of the ground and pavement can also play a significant role.

If the ground is frozen or covered in snow, it can be uncomfortable or even painful for a dog to walk on. Additionally, salt and other ice-melting chemicals used on sidewalks and roads can irritate a dog’s paws and cause discomfort.

Understanding Your Dog’s Tolerance For Cold

Poodle dog in jacket for winter cold walks

We all want to ensure we and our dogs are comfortable and safe during their daily walks in extreme temperatures. While some breeds can handle colder temperatures, others may need extra protection.

Raising a young puppy comes with its own set of challenges, especially during the colder months. Being mindful of this, I made a conscious decision to only take my puppy, Arthur, for walks during the middle of the day in winter. This time was carefully chosen because the sun was at its highest, offering a bit more warmth compared to the chilly mornings and evenings. 

It’s a known fact that young puppies and senior dogs struggle to regulate their body temperature effectively. Therefore, avoiding the colder parts of the day was crucial in ensuring my puppy’s comfort and health. These midday walks became our routine, and I noticed how Arhur thrived in the slightly warmer weather, displaying more energy and enthusiasm during our strolls.

When deciding whether it’s freezing to walk your dog, several factors must be considered. These include your dog’s breed, age and health, and coat and size.

1. Breed, Coat, and Size of the Dog

Different breeds of dogs have varying levels of cold tolerance. Some breeds are bred for colder climates and have thick fur coats that keep them warm in even the most frigid temperatures.  Think of Huskies, Malamutes, Samoyeds and mountain dogs like the Great Pyrenees or Saint Bernard.

Most of these dogs are bigger, with dense double coats and they can thrive in sub-zero temperatures. For these dogs, there really is no temperature that is too cold to go for a walk in.

However, smaller dogs, like a chihuahua, are not built to handle the cold as well. Neither are most breeds with short coats. This is especially true for dogs that come from warm climates, like the Pharaoh Hound.

So, the thickness and length of your dog’s coat can affect their cold tolerance. Dogs with thicker, longer coats are better equipped to handle frigid temperatures than those with short, thin coats. Additionally, smaller dogs may have difficulty retaining body heat harder than larger dogs.

2. Ages and Health

Age is crucial when figuring out when it is too cold to walk a dog. Puppies under six months usually don’t have their adult coats yet. Puppies under 8 weeks also can’t regulate their own body temperature. On the other end of the scale, older dogs start losing their ability to cope with cold as their bodies and metabolism start to slow down.

Dogs in good health are generally better equipped to handle chilly weather. Underlying health issues, such as arthritis or thyroid problems, can make it more challenging for a dog to tolerate the cold. Arthritis can be painful and can also make your dog stumble when walking.

3. Acclimatization

Pups regularly exposed to colder temperatures may develop a higher tolerance over time. Dogs living in snowy climates are often more accustomed to chilly conditions. Moving a dog from a warm climate, like Texas, to a cold one, like Alaska, can make it harder for them to adapt to the cold.

4. Nutrition

Well-nourished pups are better able to generate and maintain body heat. Ensure your pup has a balanced diet with sufficient calories for their size and activity level.

5. Activity Level

Pups that are active and regularly exercised may generate more body heat, helping them stay warm in icy weather. It’s crucial for pup owners to understand their specific dog’s needs and provide appropriate physical and mental stimulation.

Regular exercise is essential for a dog’s overall well-being, helping to maintain a healthy weight, reduce behavioral issues, and prevent boredom.

6. Housing

Access to a warm and dry shelter is crucial. Outdoor dogs should have insulated dog houses, and indoor dogs should be provided with a warm place to rest.

7. Conditioning

If you plan on spending more time outdoors with your dog in the winter, gradually introduce them to snowy weather to allow their bodies to adjust.

8. Clothing

For dogs with short coats or those more sensitive to the cold, consider using sweaters or coats to provide extra insulation. This means booties for their paws as well as a jacket.

Using Breed Guidelines For When It’s Too Cold To Walk

Maltese mix dog in harness running in snow

To help you determine your dog’s specific needs, we’ve created a table outlining the general tolerance levels of different breeds based on their coats and sizes:

BreedCoatSizeTolerance to Cold
HuskyThick, DoubleLargeHigh
MalamuteThick, DoubleLargeHigh
Golden RetrieverThick, DoubleLargeMedium-High
Labrador RetrieverThick, DoubleLargeMedium-High
PoodleThick, SingleMediumMedium
BoxerShort, SingleMedium-LargeMedium
ChihuahuaThin, SingleSmallLow
GreyhoundThin, SingleLargeLow

How Will I Know If My Dog Is Too Cold?

Pooches communicate non-verbally, so keeping an eye on their behavior is essential to ensure you are getting all the information. If you suspect your dog is freezing, here are some other signs to look out for:

Shivering

Pooches shiver involuntarily to produce heat when they’re cold. If you notice your dog shivering when it is chilly, it indicates that they must come inside or wear a coat to keep warm.

Shivering could also indicate excitement, stress, anxiety, or a way of seeking attention. It could also show serious health issues such as kidney disease or poisoning.

Below is a video of a dog shivering because of low temperatures.

Slowing Down

If your dog is slowing down or seems to be dragging their feet during a walk, it could be a sign that they’re too frigid.

Monitor their behavior and consider shortening the walk or returning indoors if discomfort occurs.

Lifting Paws

Dogs often lift their paws, also known as the “cold dance,” when they encounter something uncomfortable, such as hot pavement or cold snow. If your dog is lifting their paws during a walk, it could be a sign that their paws are too cold and they need to come inside.

Cold Ears and Nose

A dog’s ears and nose are often the first parts of their body to get snowy. If your dog’s ears and nose are icy to the touch, they feel the cold and need to come inside or wear a coat.

By keeping an eye on your dog’s behavior and keeping them warm, you can ensure that you meet their needs appropriately when it’s chilly.

Symptoms Frostbite or Hypothermia

In severe cases, snowy temperatures may lead to temporal or permanent loss of blood supply to the bone or hypothermia. Signs include pale or gray gums, lethargy, muscle stiffness, difficulty breathing, and loss of consciousness. If you suspect these conditions, seek immediate veterinary care.

Safety Measures for Cold Weather Walks

Proper Dog Clothing

Dress them appropriately for the weather. Consider investing in a warm coat or sweater for your pup, especially if they have short hair. You can also protect their paws using booties or paw wax to prevent ice and snow from getting stuck between their toes.

Limiting Walk Time

While our dogs need to get exercise, avoiding overexerting them in the snowy weather is equally important. Shorten their walks and keep them moving to avoid standing in one spot too long.

Keep an eye on your dog’s behavior; if they show signs of discomfort, it’s time to head back indoors.

Indoor Exercise Alternatives

If it’s too chilly for a walk, there are plenty of indoor exercise alternativ-e-archives to keep your dog active and healthy. Play tug of war in a hallway or toss a toy up and down the stairs.

These activities are not only fun for your dog, but they also provide essential mental stimulation and mental wellness.

When to Consult a Vet

If you notice your dog shivering, lethargic, or showing signs of discomfort during walks in frigid weather, it may be time to consult a veterinarian. These symptoms could be a sign of hypothermia, frostbite, or other cold-related health issues.

It’s important to remember that dogs with certain health conditions, such as arthritis or respiratory problems, may be more sensitive to icy temperatures. In these cases, it’s best to consult with a vet to determine if it’s safe for your dog to be outside when it is chilly.

Keep in mind that delaying treatment could result in more severe health issues.

What Temperature Is Too Cold For A Dog To Sleep Outside?

The answer depends on several factors, such as your dog’s breed, age, and health. Generally, dogs can tolerate temperatures between 45°F and 85°F, but anything below 32°F can be dangerous, especially for smaller breeds and those with short hair.

It’s also important to note that wind chill can make temperatures feel much colder than they are. For example, if the temperature is 40°F, but the wind chill makes it feel like 20°F, your dog may be at risk of hypothermia.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What temperature is too hot for dogs to walk?

Dogs are susceptible to heatstroke, and keeping them safe in hot weather is essential. Generally, if the temperature is above 90°F, it’s too hot for dogs to walk. However, this can vary depending on humidity and the dog’s breed.

Constantly monitor your dog for signs of overheating, such as excessive panting or drooling, and seek veterinary attention if necessary.

At what temperature should I consider using dog booties?

Dog booties can protect your dog’s paws from hot pavement, icy snow, and other hazards. If the temperature is below freezing (32°F), it’s a good idea to use dog booties. However, some dogs may not tolerate booties, so it’s essential to introduce them slowly and make sure they fit correctly.

How do I know if my dog’s ground is too cold?

You can check the ground temperature by touching it with your hand or monitor them for signs of discomfort, such as lifting their paws or shivering. Dogs can develop frostbite and hypothermia if they spend too much time on frigid ground. If the temperature is below freezing (32°F), limiting your dog’s time outside is best. 

Is it safe to walk my dog in poor air quality?

Poor air quality can be harmful to both humans and dogs. If there is a wildfire, pollution, or other environmental hazard, it’s best to keep your dog indoors. You can check your area’s air quality index (AQI) to determine if it’s safe to walk your dog outside.

Is it too cold to walk my dog in winter?

Some dogs with thick coats can tolerate cold temperatures like any other day. However, it’s essential to monitor them for signs of discomfort. If the temperature is below 20°F, it’s best to limit your dog’s time outside and consider using a dog coat. Low temperatures may affect dogs with short hair or thin coats more.

What temperature is too cold for a dog in the house?

Dogs can tolerate cooler temperatures in the house, but providing them with a warm, comfortable place to sleep is essential. If the temperature is below 60°F, consider providing your dog with a heated bed or blankets.

How cold is too cold for a dog in a car?

Temperatures below 32°F are too low for a dog. Even if the temperature is above freezing and below 60°F,  the car can quickly become too cold for your dog.  If you need to take your dog in the vehicle, ensure the temperature is comfortable and provide them with a blanket or coat.

Final Thoughts

Strolling with your dog in frigid weather can be safe and enjoyable if you take the necessary precautions. Remember to dress appropriately, keep your dog on a leash, and avoid icy or slippery areas.

We also recommend checking the weather forecast before heading out, as extreme frigid temperatures can be dangerous for you and your dog. If the temperature is too low, consider indoor exercise alternativ-e-archives such as playing fetch or using a treadmill.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe

Author

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.