How Cold is ‘Cold’ for a Dog?

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Photo: Jaromir Chalabala (Shutterstock)

Winter may not be everyone’s favorite season, but it does produce some of the best (or at least cutest) content on the internet: Videos of puppies playing in the snow. But a quick romp in fresh powder is one thing—what about staying outside or longer periods of time?

In short, the amount of time a dog can spend outdoors in cold temperatures depends on a number of factors, including their breed, size, age, health and coat. Here’s what to know.

How long can dogs stay outside in the winter?

When it comes to how long dogs can safely stay outside on days with colder temperatures, there’s no one-size-fits-all rule, according to the American Kennel Club (AKC). But generally speaking, larger dogs with thicker coats are able to stay outside in cold weather longer than smaller single-coated or hairless dogs, which can spend more time outside on hot days, but aren’t equipped to handle the cold.

In addition to their size and breed, you also need to take factors like your dog’s age, overall health, and length of their coat into consideration when determining how long it’s safe for them to be outside in the winter, but veterinarian Dr. Sarah Wooten shared these guidelines with the AKC:

  • Puppies fewer than 8 weeks old: Keep indoors during cold weather
  • Toy breeds: Keep indoors during cold weather
  • Brachycephalic breeds (i.e. dogs with short noses, like pugs and French bulldogs): Keep indoors (especially when exercising)
  • Smaller breeds: Limit outings in temperatures below 32ºF to 10-15 minutes
  • Larger breeds: Limit outings in temperatures below 32ºF to 30-60 minutes
  • Arctic breeds: Can stay outside in the cold indefinitely, as long as they are acclimated

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has an even simpler recommendation: “If it’s too cold for you, it’s probably too cold for your pet, so keep your animals inside.”

Signs of hypothermia in dogs

If a dog stays outside in cold weather for too long, they run the risk of developing hypothermia—which sets in when their body temperature dips below 99°F. In addition to shivering and curling up for warmth, other signs of hypothermia in dogs include dilated pupils, increased heart rate followed by slower heart rate, sluggishness, and delayed reflexes, according to the AKC.

For more information on keeping dogs safe in cold temperatures, check out some of the resources provided by the AKC, ASPCA, and Red Cross.