How Cold is Too Cold for your Pet?
By Dr. Al Townshend
Generally, if the outside temperature is 45°F (7.2°C) or above, cold weather protection is not a concern. Once the thermometer begins to drop and approaches freezing (32°F or 0°C), some considerations should be taken into account before going outside with a pet.
Cats in the north generally prefer being inside in the winter. A cat trained to use a litter box has little reason to go outside in severely cold weather. The typical house cat is not designed to spend time in weather below freezing.
Many dogs are well suited for winter conditions and enjoy their time outside. However, the more common breeds such as Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, and most smaller breeds can be at risk in severe weather.
How cold will it be?
In the far northern states and Canadian provinces, winter temperatures can go well below 0°F (17.7°C). Wind and wind chill should also be factored in. In the north temperatures can reach minus 40 degrees (-40°is where Fahrenheit and Centigrade temperatures come together), and with an added wind chill, taking a pet outside can be very dangerous for the pet and the Guardian.
How long should I stay outside?
The reason you are going out with your pet can determine how long the pet will be exposed to the weather. If it is just to go to the bathroom, only a few minutes. However, if there is a reason to stay out longer, that may require extra protection.
What breed is my dog?
Northern breeds like Huskies, Malamutes, and Samoyeds have evolved to withstand much colder weather than Labradors and German Shepherds.
How active will my dog be?
Staying active in cold weather helps the pet and Guardian stay warm. If temperatures are well below 0°F (17.7°C) and the will be heavy exercise like retrieving or pulling a sled, there is a risk of what is called, Cold Weather Asthma. Wheezing, coughing, and a loss of energy can be signs that there is a problem. Immediately stopping the exercise and getting back inside will usually allow the problem to resolve. If symptoms persist, the pet should be taken to the veterinarian immediately.
Hair and Coat
Dogs with thick, longer hair can withstand colder temperatures vs. dogs with thin short hair.
Some dogs have thick hair between the foot pads, which can be an advantage or disadvantage, depending on the weather.
Thick hair can protect the feet from the cold, but if there is fresh snow, or the pet will be out running for more extended periods of time, the snow can ball up in the hair and create some discomfort.
Protecting Your Pet While Outside
Dogs that are kept outside in the winter should have adequate housing to protect them from the weather. A warm, well insulated, solid shelter, with protection against wind is essential. Make sure the pet has unlimited access to fresh, non-frozen water (by changing the water frequently or using a pet-safe, heated water bowl). The floor of the shelter should be off of the ground (to minimize heat loss into the ground), and the bedding should be thick, dry and changed regularly to provide a warm, dry environment. The door to the shelter should be positioned away from prevailing winds.
During severe temperatures, be sure to watch the pet closely and when necessary, bring the pet in, and out of the weather.
Dogs with thin hair coats, smaller dogs, and older dogs may need added protection. Sweaters and coats, as well as booties, can shield a pet from severe weather and help retain body heat.
Pets that stay outside in the winter or spend longer periods of time in cold weather need more calories to keep warm. Feeding more of their regular diet in the winter, or switching to a higher calorie, higher protein and fat recipe will help to maintain their weight and keep them warm.
Watching Your Surroundings
The best way to monitor dogs when it’s cold is to keep a close eye on their behavior. If you notice your dog shivering, acting anxious, whining, slowing down, searching out warm locations, or holding up one or more paws, it’s time to head inside.
If your area experiences extreme cold, be sure and stop by your favorite Pet Planet Store and ask about cold weather protection.