It’s a brisk winter’s night with temperatures ranging from zero to ten degrees; naturally, you’re inside and cozy, maybe curled up with a good book next to the crackling fire. But where is the dog? Is he outside in the doghouse, or is she nestled by your side? The answer to this varies based on several factors.
Age: Puppies under eight weeks should not be left in extreme cold. In an article by veterinarian Sophia Yin, it is noted that puppies cannot regulate their own temperature until they are two weeks of age. How puppies handle the cold will also depend on age; smaller breeds may have trouble adjusting to cold weather compared to larger breeds with thicker coats, especially ones bred for colder environments (huskies, malamutes, etc.). Older dogs may need supervision with the cold as well.
Overall health: Often health issues come with age, making some senior dogs more fragile with the cold. Usually the dog will let you know it doesn’t want to be outside with some body language. This includes shaking, shivering, and cowering. Picking up paws to get away from the cold ground is another indicator it is too cold outside.
Breed: Dogs with thick coats, especially undercoats or double coats, will be able to handle cold weather better than dogs with thin layers of fur. If your dog loves playing in the snow but has a thin coat, there are many dog jackets, sweaters, and vests available to keep them comfortable during cold weather. There are even boots for dogs on the market! Pit bulls, greyhounds, and boxers are just a few breeds that might be susceptible to getting too cold quickly.
Nutrition: Susan Whiton, veterinarian and sled dog racer, has this to say about nutritional needs for dogs being exposed to extreme cold:
The calories in most commercial dog foods come from carbohydrates. In very cold weather, the dogs do better with a higher amount of fat calories. A study indicated a sled dog racing the Iditarod required 10,000 calories a day to meet their metabolic needs. The only way to meet that high caloric need is with a diet high in fat calories. Most pet dogs do not need that many calories and may get very sick from a high fat diet.
If the dog sleeps outside, make sure that the pet house is well-insulated and warm enough to sleep in. Sled dogs often sleep in houses insulated with hay/straw. This will need to be changed regularly as it gets wet or damp. To keep your pup safe against chilly temperatures, use your best judgement by looking for warning signs of being too cold, and having a well-insulated dog house if they sleep outside.