Regular readers of this blog may recall that, a few months ago, we discussed keeping dogs outside in hot weather. More specifically, we talked about how to tell when it’s too hot for your dog to be outside.

It’s wintertime now, so hot weather really isn’t an issue at the moment. However, many of the same folks who were concerned about it being too hot for their dogs to be outside are now wondering if it’s too cold for their dogs to be outside.

dog in snow

And that’s a valid question, as well! Before you decide if the weather should prevent Bella from playing in the yard all afternoon, here are some things to consider:

All Dogs are Different

Just as some dogs are more tolerant of hot weather than others, some dogs are more vulnerable to cold weather than others. Factors that can affect your dog’s ability to stay warm include their age, weight, coat color, and coat type. Simply put, a young, plump, dark-colored, long-haired dog will fare much better in adverse weather conditions than an elderly, thin, light-colored, short-haired pooch! Do not make the mistake of assuming that your neighbor’s dogs being perfectly content in cold weather means that your dogs will be totally fine, as well.

Generally speaking, dogs will be okay until the temperature drops to below 45°F. At that point, they may start to “feel” cold (and might seek out shelter or a way to stay warm). At 32°F, small dogs, elderly dogs, and dogs with preexisting health conditions should probably stay indoors. And at 20°F or colder, your dog—regardless of its breed, age, or overall health—should not be outside for more than a few minutes at a time because the risk of hypothermia or frostbite is too high.

Not All Cold is Created Equal

When determining whether or not your dog should be outside, don’t just look at the thermometer and make an assessment based on the number it displays. Also take into account wind chill, precipitation (including fog and general dampness), and whether it’s a sunny day or an overcast one. All of these can make a cold day seem even colder and strongly limit your dog’s ability to stay warm. A dog’s energy/activity level should also be taken into consideration; if your pooch loves to zoom around the yard so fast that you can hardly keep up with her, she can probably get her blood pumping much more easily than an inactive dog who prefers to stay in one place.

Acclimation Matters

Consider the following: in the “dog days” of summer, when temperatures in Texas regularly reach above 95°F, a sudden cold front bringing the temperature down to 70°F may have you putting on long pants and grabbing a windbreaker before you head outside. But in the dead of winter, when the thermometer often dips below 40°F, a 70-degree day may drive you to put on short sleeves and sandals! Simply put, if you’re used to hot weather, mild temperatures seem colder by comparison, and if you’re used to cold weather, mild temperatures seem warmer by comparison.

Dogs are pretty similar to humans in this regard. There’s a whole world of difference between getting slowly acclimated to cold and suddenly being dumped in freezing conditions with no preparation. In other words, even though your Samoyed’s ancestors hailed from Siberia (and thus, she “should” be able to endure frigid temperatures), if she’s lived her whole life in Texas, she might still be miserable on a Christmas vacation to Michigan. Meanwhile, even though your Australian cattle dog thrives in warm weather, he’ll probably be okay if he experiences the temperature dropping gradually throughout November and December.

Amenities and Unwanted Guests

Dogs who have outdoor houses, beds, and blankets tend to have an easier time dealing with cold weather than dogs who are outside with nothing. If you have absolutely no choice but to leave your dog outside when it’s only 39°F, giving him some kind of shelter will help him stay comfortable for at least a little while. An insulted doghouse is nowhere near as comfortable as a climate-controlled human house, of course, and it’s probably not even as comfortable as being inside the garage with a towel or pillow. But really, any sort of luxury you can provide is usually better than leaving Muffin to fend for himself in the backyard!

That said, we’d be remiss not to warn you that amenities designed for dogs tend to attract non-canine visitors. When it’s cold outside, wild animals can become emboldened in their quest to find shelter. It’s entirely possible that your dog may try to take refuge in his doghouse one afternoon only to find that it’s currently occupied by a raccoon or opossum! Fights between dogs and wild animals can turn ugly very quickly, so if you notice that a squatter has muscled in on your dog’s “turf,” then the invader should be evicted immediately. 

What an Emergency Looks Like

Even if you take wonderful care of your dog, accidents can still happen. Here are the signs and symptoms of hypothermia in canines:

  • Frequent shivering.
  • Weakness and listlessness.
  • Disorientation or lack of alertness.
  • Slow, shallow breathing.
  • Slow or nearly inaudible heartbeat.
  • Frostbite on the ears, nose, scrotum (in unneutered males), paw pads, or tail tip.

If your dog shows any of the above symptoms, get them inside! First aid in this situation means wrapping him in warm blankets and towels to help raise his body temperature (which, for dogs, should normally be about 101-102.5°F). If, at any point, his internal body temperature drops to below 98°F, seek emergency veterinary treatment as soon as possible. It also wouldn’t be a bad idea to take Ranger to the vet once he’s feeling better, just to make sure that there isn’t any lasting damage.


Some dogs love frigid conditions, and some dogs would rather spend the entire winter season curled up under a blanket. No two dogs are exactly alike, so there’s no one-size-fits-all policy when it comes to cold weather. So know your dog, know the risks, and use your best judgment. Remember: our dogs rely on us to make good decisions for them. So when “the weather outside is frightful,” do what you can to keep your dog warm and happy!