How Cold Is Too Cold For Your Dog Outside?

As we move into autumn, we begin to feel the temperatures cooling, which means it’s only a matter of time before autumn gives way to winter. Any pet owner knows that this is also the time of year when we start to think to ourselves, “How cold is too cold for a dog?”

Dogs are furry little intrepid creatures that we call our companions. But because they have their own natural fur coat, sometimes we forget that the decrease in temperature can affect them too. But thankfully, the people over at Tufts University have already developed a system, which is used as a reference for animal welfare officers – and now the guide is something we can use to make sure that we are keeping our pets nice and warm in these coming chilly months.

The Tufts Animal Condition and Care (TACC) system (PDF) contains many parts to it – it ranges in topics from concerns about body condition and environmental health, all the way to weather safety. The scores in the guide are utilized by animal health employees as a screening tool in order to determine if negligence has occurred. The information has been adapted into an easy to read chart, which can help people locate the outdoor temperature, then compare that by the size of your dog and there you go. It is color-coded to help determine whether or not it’s safe for your dog outside or not by factoring in outdoor temperature and other variables in a simple system.

Granted, there are some stipulations or limitations regarding cold-weather safety. Those are on the right-hand side of the chart. Both wet weather and breed of dog can tip the scale one or more points in either direction. Another important factor to consider is also acclimation to the cold. For example, dogs who are specifically trained for the Iditarod in Alaska will likely have less of an issue being in the cold seeing as they’ve been conditioned to it over longer periods of time. However, that doesn’t mean that just because you have a Husky or another cold-weather dog that you’re automatically in the clear. If you took the average St. Bernard and dumped him off in the middle of an Alaskan snowstorm he probably wouldn’t make it. But if you happen to have a dog that is acclimated to the cold weather, like many hunting or working dogs tend to be, then their TACC scale number would be much different to another dog who is used to staying indoors by the fire all winter long.

But sometimes it just helps a lot to remember that there are times that it’s just too cold for pets to stay outside, regardless of their breed or acclimation to the cold – like last winter’s polar vortex, not exactly dog-friendly weather. Prolonged exposure to extremely cold temperatures can put your dog in elevated danger of frostbite and hypothermia – both of which occur when their bodies can no longer sustain a normal body temperature. Signs or symptoms of hypothermia in dogs range from subtle ones such as weakness and shivering, to more pronounced signs such as an inaudible heartbeat or trouble breathing. It all depends of the severity of the hypothermia.

Should your dog begin to experience signs of hypothermia, immediately call your vet as well as move them into a warmer area? Cover your pet with warm blankets, towels, and hot water bottles. Avoid using heating pads as they can burn your pet. If you do have to use an electric heat source be sure to put several layers in between it and your dog. Then, obviously, transport your dog to the vet as soon as possible.

Basically, the key is to use common sense and trust your gut. Even if it’s a light orange kind of day outside, but you still feel like your dog will be too cold then just keep them inside. Keep in mind that you’re basically your pet’s parent, you know them best, so if you have any doubts just go with your gut.

When the temperatures dip and the world becomes icy, winter can get to be a very dangerous time for pets. If you do need to take them to the vet in order to get treated for hypothermia, frostbite, or any other reason, then you may want to consider getting them onto a pet insurance plan. It gives you peace of mind and helps with the unexpected vet bills that might arise.

But most importantly of all, just be mindful of your pet.

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Anastasia is an American ex-pat living in Ireland. When she's not writing she can be found wandering the Irish countryside in search of inspiration. You can follow her writing adventures on Twitter @AnastasiaArell5 or Instagram @writeranastasia26
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