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how cold is too cold for your dog?

  • Dr. Kim
  • Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on
    Staff Veterinarian and Pet Health Writer of Petplan

A common question this time of year is, “How cold is too cold for my dog?” The answer is a bit complicated, but thankfully, the good folks at Tufts University already developed a system for animal welfare officers to reference.

The Tufts Animal Condition and Care (TACC) system (PDF) has many parts, ranging from body condition and environmental health to weather safety, and the scores are used as a screening tool for animal health employees to determine if neglect is occurring. I adapted their information into an easy to understand chart—simply find the outdoor temperature (taking into account wind chill, or the temperature that it actually FEELS outside), look at the size of your dog, and voila! You know based on the color if it’s safe for your pup or not.

How cold is too cold for your dog? Use this chart from Petplan pet insurance to find out!

Much like the handy color coded chart that my son's teachers reference before making a decision regarding playground time in the winter, it factors in the outdoor temperature and other variables and lays the answers out in a simple system. Red for potentially life-threatening, orange for danger, yellow for caution and green for safe. Easy peasy! 

Of course, there are some caveats. You can see those in blue. Wet weather and breed of dog can tip the scale one or more points in either direction. Acclimation to the cold is an important factor, too. For instance, dogs who are training for the Iditarod in Alaska are conditioned to be in the cold over time. If you took an average Husky and dropped it off on an icy tundra, he would likely perish. If your dog is acclimated to cold weather, like many hunting and working dogs, his number on the TACC scale is different than if he’s used to lying in a warm bed all winter like my dog.

Cold weather and hypothermia in pets

Remember: Sometimes it’s simply too cold for pets to be outside, regardless of their breed. Prolonged exposure to dangerously cold temperatures can put pets in danger of hypothermia, which occurs when the body is no longer able to sustain normal temperature. Symptoms of hypothermia in pets range from weakness and shivering to inaudible heartbeat and trouble breathing, depending on severity. 

If you do come across a pet that appears to be suffering from hypothermia, call the vet and move the animal to a warm area, then cover the pet with warm water bottles, blankets or towels. Heating pads can burn your pet, so put several layers between your pet and an electric heat source. Transport the pet to medical care as soon as possible. 

As always, use common sense and go with your gut. If it’s a “lime green” kind of day, but you still feel like your pet will be too cold, keep him in! Remember, you are your pet’s best advocate—when in doubt, follow your heart.

Related reading: Why do dogs shiver and shake?

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Posted by Julie Wapp
on April 22 2017 11:28

My neighbors have their dogs out all day and all night it's getting down to about 30 degrees outside at night all they do is bark and cry I'm wondering if I should call and report this would any actions be taken

Posted by Phillip Gerald Hunt
on February 22 2017 01:50

I see a lot of post below asking how to print the chart, right click on the chart, then select copy, then paste it into PAINT and now you can print it.

Posted by Larry Crouch
on January 28 2017 23:44

Thank you for the chart. I was concerned about some neighbours pets out in the cold but your chart assured me everything is fine. For my pets I follow a much different rule of thumb. If it's cold enough for me to wear a jacket then it's too cold for my pets to stay outside.

Posted by Peter Greve
on January 17 2017 06:44

Can it get too cold on the dogs paws

Posted by Rachel Weber
on December 26 2016 22:56

Do you have a recommendation on cold temps for a dog in a car? I can't get my dog into a daycare and need to be out of the house for four or five hours (we live in Minnesota). She would be in the car (which would start out warm) in a kennel with a fur blanket and the kennel will be covered with another blanket. Is that safe?

Posted by Kimberly Kessinger DVM
on December 23 2016 03:07

Thank you for your article. I am working on a lobbey to create laws regarding dogs out inbitter cold or extensive heat. Like anything else, there are too many people who do not have common sense and need black and white parameters. Kind of like the speed limit. Kim

Posted by Anita Rotheram
on December 20 2016 18:10

I thought this article would have been more complete with a discussion of cold weather coats & boots for dogs. For active dogs, cold weather clothing including boots can keep them comfortable longer.

Posted by Michelle C
on December 19 2016 09:27

Reading the source PDF, it seems that the scale is meant for dogs who are outside for an extended period of time (ie. chained in a yard vs out for a brisk walk). It seems more dangerous to keep dogs inside in -5 degree weather than taking them out for a walk to keep them active & happy.

Posted by Janet Mae Diehl
on December 17 2016 10:22

The AVMA Animal Health newsletter had a link to a How Cold is Too Cold? article. When I had it printed to share with other 10 dog owners at Episcopal Homes in St. Paul, MN, the Chart did not print. Is there some way to print or obtain the Chart How Cold is Too Cold? Also, do you have a chart about the dangers of hot weather & high humidity and pets outside?

Posted by Danny Wilson
on December 16 2016 23:49

I have a Toy Poodle that rides with me on a motorcycle. He is fully exposed when we ride. 3 different Vets. have assured me that he is in no danger nor any discomfort in cold weather rides. This time of year we do several toy runs, last week it was 17F when we left home. After a 4 hour ride he did not want to stop, he was wanting to ride more. The coldest we have ridden in was 13F. If I had any idea that is was harmful to Mickey we would stop riding, but as I said the Docs. have assured me that he is fine to ride.

Posted by Deborah Wilson
on December 10 2016 08:31

Sharing chart for friends

Posted by Daniel Reynen
on December 04 2016 09:15

Fantastic chart! I'm going to share it.

Posted by James
on December 02 2016 06:44

Would love to see one for Cats as well. Thank you for this!

Posted by Ciarra Wickline
on November 14 2016 22:17

My neighbors have a Rottweiler pup that is still small and it's 35 degrees out and they leave her out for hours at a time. Is it too cold for her to be out there being as she is still a puppy?

Posted by Shannon Cameron
on February 22 2016 05:29

Very nice job on the guide you created!

Posted by Jerry Youmg
on January 23 2016 22:32

I have a small dog part pug n miniature pincher called a muggin I believe? She loves the snow n if it to cold I feel I put a sweater on her I figure when I start to get cold sheis to! Or she will let me no when to come in from the cold

Posted by Cort
on January 19 2016 16:16

This is great, thanks for sharing. I would like to see them explaim what might classify a dog as "small" vs "medium." Not sure which mine might be. I have an 18 lb Arctic breed and its 16 degrees out...looks were still stuck indoors though. It seems she is either a 4 or 5. I would love to see this chart being given out at shelters and vets offices! Can I recommend making a printable version? Stay warm!

Posted by Deborah Lunceford
on January 15 2016 16:59

This is great info, thank you! We have a 10# poodle mix with thin hair who really doesn't do well in the cold. We also have a 46# retriever mix who will lay down in the cold (and sometimes wet)grass and loves it!

Posted by Ginny Weddington
on January 12 2016 15:40

Thank you!

Posted by Lynne Collmann
on December 29 2015 18:23

Is this chart a reliable indicator of safe temperatures for dogs to live outside or just go outside to play for a while? I have a friend who thinks its ok for 2 Chihuahuas to spend the night outdoors in temps ranging from 35 to 45 degrees because they have sweaters and each other to keep warm. My small dog is obviously cold and shaking when temps are below 50. What do you think?

Posted by Janie Sheehan
on June 13 2015 18:54

Common sense should tell you: if the ground is to hot for you to walk barefoot, DON'T walk your dog on cement or bare sand/ground because their pads burn too. If it's freezing or snowy out, walk them (or let them out) to go to the bathroom. For most dogs, their fur gives about as much cold weather protection as a single layer of shirt & pants does you.

Posted by Jan Shaw
on February 26 2015 15:31

How amazing! I was just thinking about a guideline like this yesterday - surely a vet, somewhere, has come up with this!? Thank you for developing and publishing this guideline. I will share it with everyone and every shelter I know!

Posted by Rebecca Wilcox
on February 25 2015 23:02

This is helpful,even for me in Southern California. One of our dogs is little and it is clear it gets too cold for her. It would be super cool to have one for hot weather too. (Pretty please!)

Posted by Marcia Lee
on February 25 2015 21:40

A wonderful resouce my med service dog is from the Deep South we moved north and with this bad winter I never went out under 30. But this was helpful. Thank you!!

Posted by TC A
on February 25 2015 16:30

Well done graphic, we linked to your site and the graphic on our site. Hope you don't mind. Good work.

Posted by Lori Wise
on February 17 2015 18:25

I wonder, though, how much the fact that we have acclimated them to our temperatures make a differece,

Posted by Petplan
on February 17 2015 07:28

Hi Erin - sort of... we have one that explains how hot it can get in a parked car in certain temperatures here: http://www.gopetplan.com/driven-to-bark but we will look to do a similar chart like the one above when the weather heats up. Thanks for the recommendation!

Posted by Erin r
on February 16 2015 21:29

do you have one for hot weather too?

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