How Cold Is Too Cold for Your Pet?December 13, 2018
Most of us are aware of the dangers extreme heat poses to our pets, yet not enough is said about the dangers our four-legged friends face in the cold. Many assume that having fur insulates most pets against the cold. While this is true in a broad sense, many pets get hypothermic too. So how cold is too cold for your pet? The folks at Tufts University have designed a handy system to help you figure it out.
So, when is it too cold for our pets to step outside? Down till 7 °C, breeds of all sizes can handle it—barring any existing medical condition that increases risk, of course. In fact, 7 °C is around the temperature at which the typical person would put on a sweater. Trouble begins below 4 °C, when conditions could be unsafe depending on the kind of pet you own. Small and medium-sized dogs can struggle at 4 °C, depending on their breed. Yet, you can still take them out for a walk, as long as you adhere to these common sense winter safety tips and get them some added layers. At sub-zero temperatures, it does get too cold for most pets. Unless you have a northern breed of dog, like a Husky with a heavy coat, it’s best not to risk your pet’s health—stay home while the cold snap reigns supreme and play indoors with your pet to exercise it.
How Do I Know If My Pet Is Cold?
Each pet is unique and exhibits clear signs when cold, as we do. Keep an eye out for behaviours like shivering, incessant whining, anxiety, slowing down, etc. Your pet may also start looking for a warm place to lie down—a clear sign if there ever was one. Head inside if you see any signs pointing to distress due to the cold and help it warm up. Don’t use heating pads though! They get too hot, too fast, and are known to cause burns. If you must, layer up your pet well before using the pads.
As a precaution, always bring sweaters, jackets, or booties with you during walks in case you see any signs of your pet getting cold. As discussed earlier, temperatures above 4 °C are generally safe for our furry friends, but protective gear can help ensure your pets can play or frolic in the snow safely.
How Will My Pet Respond to Cold?
Every pet responds differently to cold. The same temperature might be stuffy for one pet, while frigid for another. Let’s take a look at the factors that play a major role in how pets respond to cold:
Acclimation: Think about how we start feeling chilly in October at a mere 15 °C. On the other hand, after a long and hard winter, we break out the shorts and tees at 15 °C! Well, we’re not the only ones—pets acclimate to temperatures as well. This means that pets that spend more time outdoors and live in cold habitats will handle the cold a lot more easily.
Size: The smaller the size, the more likely your pet is to lose heat and therefore feel cold. Larger dogs have a higher volume to surface area ratio and can handle the cold better.
Type of Coat: Northern breeds like Siberian Huskies, Samoyeds, or Newfoundlands are typically the most cold-tolerant, seeing as they are generally bred in Northern climates. The type of coat in these breeds is thick and lush, which allows them to operate unhindered during winters.
Watch Out for Extra Winter Weight
Your pet’s performance and health can become volatile during winter if care is not taken in terms of diet. Like us, pets can become sedentary in winters, cooped up in the house when the temperature falls below the safety threshold. This may lead to weight gain. Many pet owners think that’s a good thing, presuming that the extra layer of fat would provide added insulation against the cold. What they don’t realize is that it also increases health risks dramatically. If you have an outdoor pet, its nutritional requirements will escalate in the winter, but you need to make sure it doesn’t put on extra weight. Look for pet food with completely natural ingredients and high protein value. Those will keep the calories in check while meeting the pet’s nutritional needs.
Now you know exactly how cold is too cold for your pet. What measures can you take though? Simple. Make sure you’re following common winter safety tips, and don’t be afraid to get your pet a jacket. If the weather outside feels cold enough for a winter jacket, chances are your pet would appreciate some extra padding as well. And focus on what you’re feeding the pet: they are susceptible to colds in winter, so food with antioxidants is a good idea to strengthen their immune system.