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cold dog in snow

How Cold is Too Cold for a Dog? What Are the Risks?

Exposing your dog to overly cold temperatures can lead to dire consequences. We look at what temperatures are safe for dogs.

Dogs can withstand a broad range of temperatures, especially if they have working dog genes. But even the hardiest dogs are not capable of handling extreme temperatures safely. So, how cold is too cold for a dog?

Most dogs can stand 32ºF (0ºC) for around 30 minutes, and longer if they have a thicker coat. Lean dogs and small dogs will have more difficulty maintaining a safe body temperature. When temperatures get down to 20ºF, many dogs become at risk of getting frostbite or hypothermia.

We’ll look at the various signs your dog is too cold and consider what temperatures are safe for your type of dog. We’ll look at strategies for keeping your dog warm as well as some tips for spotting cold-related illnesses.

Signs of a Cold Dog

You can look for specific signs to gauge your dog’s temperature and determine if they are too cold.

Dogs will use any warmth of their body to protect the more sensitive and vulnerable parts. They will prioritize protecting their limbs, nose, and ears when they start to feel cold, often resulting in a curled-up position and tucking of the head.

Cold Face

The first check is to feel their face; your dog is likely cold if their face feels cold to you.

Cold Ears

The ears are often the first part of the dog to get cold. Because the ears are positioned away from the body, they can have greater exposure to cold temperatures than more protected parts. This is even more so in the case of breeds that have constantly upright ears.

Each ear has slight folds and curves that significantly increase the surface area. This high surface area of the ears as well as their 3D profile means ears have multiple surfaces exposed to the cold. 

cold dachshund in snow


Just like people, dogs shake and shiver when they are cold. While many dogs shiver for other reasons such as excitement or nervousness, if your dog is in, or has recently been in, cold temperatures, there’s a good chance that they are cold.

Whining and/or Barking

Dogs that are uncomfortable because of cold temperatures often whine or bark to express their discomfort.

Hunched Over with Tail Between Legs

Cold dogs will often take a hunched posture and tuck their tail between their legs. It should be obvious that they are in discomfort.

Reluctance to Keep Walking

If you notice your dog stopping on a walk and resisting walking, it may be because your dog is too cold. Likewise, if your dog tries to turn around to go back home, this is often a likely indication of an overly cold dog.

Lifting Paws

Sometimes when a dog is too cold, they will lift a paw or paws off the ground. This behavior can be because the ground is too cold to the touch, their paws are too cold and painful as a result, or they are trying to communicate their discomfort to you. Any of these can mean they have passed their threshold for cold temperatures and seek relief.

Will My Dog Get Sick From Being Too Cold?

Cold Can Affect Existing Health Conditions

Getting too cold can exacerbate the effects of other illnesses. Circulatory issues are often just the symptoms of other more severe diseases, and cold weather will impact a dog with poor circulation even more.

If a dog’s health starts declining in the colder months, this may also point to anemia, heart defects, or a wide range of other issues. Internally bleeding tumors will present similarly to circulatory issues. Any of these conditions can prevent your dog from surviving in overly cold weather.

Dogs will recover from a variety of diseases and illnesses with no issues. However, the fever used by the body to fight off routine infections often manifests in body temperature changes. Therefore, ensure a dog that has been ill gets proper rest and is not exposed to overly cold temperatures while going through the recovery process.

Health Issues Caused by Overly Cold Temperatures

Hypothermia and frostbite are the result of exposure to extreme cold. If you notice very bright, pink skin coloration after prolonged exposure to cold, it is time for a trip to the vet to get it treated.

Dogs will undergo rapid temperature changes when they get wet. Specific dog breeds will have more water resistance because of their coats, but try your best to keep your dog from getting wet in the cold and if they do, be sure to dry them. Prolonged exposure to overly cold temperatures can produce the same hypothermia in dogs as it does in people.

cold dog in snow

What Dog Breeds Are Good in the Cold?

Of course, dogs with thick coats are going to do best in the cold. These breeds are naturally built for surviving in cold climates and will be able to maintain their core temperature much better than those with light coats that are more common with smaller breeds.

Huskies and other snow dogs can survive down to -75 degrees Fahrenheit (-60 degrees Celsius) with their coat preventing frostbite and other cold-weather issues. This means these dogs can comfortably be outside at 32ºF (0ºC), usually for 30 minutes to an hour.

This 32ºF (0ºC) figure is conservatively offered by the American Kennel Club, a prominent dog organization.

An acclimated dog can have almost unlimited time outside at these lower temperatures. However, medium-sized dogs without these coats shouldn’t take the risk of staying outside in the above-referenced AKC temperatures for any longer than an hour.

Dog that can withstand these temperatures all have a double coat consisting of a thick, harsher outer coat and a much softer, wooly inner insulating coat. 

Interestingly, the blood vessels in these dogs are configured differently, bringing warmth to the dog.

 As a result, you can often actually feel the warmer temperatures of these dogs when you put your hand under their fur.

Thickened paws and paw pads containing lots of fatty tissue are other features of snow dogs. Body fat is a vital shield against cold, so thin, lean dogs, including racing dogs and miniature dogs, will not be able to deal with the cold as well.

Final Thoughts

There is a wide tolerance range for cold temperatures depending on the dog’s physical characteristics. Obviously, a husky is going to tolerate colder temperatures than a chihuahua. But with any dog, you should be vigilant and ensure that they are not exposed to temperatures cold enough to put their health at risk.

Superb Dog Editor

Superb Dog Editor