How to Tell If Your Dog Is Too Cold

By: Orvis Staff

Photo by Erin, Forked River

Clear signs your dog is too cold include shivering, whimpering, curling in a ball, and balking at walks outside on a frosty day. But there are other signs your dog needs protection from the cold, and may require immediate warming up or even emergency medical attention. We have the answers to questions you may have about your chilly dog so you can take steps to keep him toasty warm and comfortable throughout the winter, and all year long.

Is My Dog Cold?

Some dogs are more sensitive to cold conditions than others. Small dogs, puppies, older dogs, sick dogs, and dogs with short coats and lean bodies tend to get colder more quickly in cold, wet, and windy conditions. If your dog is in one of the above categories and you live in a cold climate, he needs a dog jacket when he’s outdoors for more than a few minutes.

Even if your dog is a hearty breed with a thick, long coat, he can get cold, too, and may require protection from the elements. No matter your dog’s age, size, breed, or wellness, it’s important to know the signs his body temperature is dropping. Here’s what to watch for:

<ul>
    <li>Shivering, trembling, shaking</li>
    <li>Whimpering</li>
    <li>Agitation</li>
    <li>Slow movements, lethargy</li>
    <li>Hunching over</li>
    <li>Tucked tail</li>
    <li>Curling in a ball</li>
    <li>Seeking shelter outdoors</li>
    <li>Cold ears and other extremities</li>
    <li>Limping</li>

Normal body temperature for dogs is between 101°F and 102.5°F. If your dog’s temperature drops below this, he is at risk of hypothermia. Mild hypothermia occurs when your dog’s body temperature is between 90°F and 99°F, moderate hypothermia occurs between 82°F and 90°F, and severe hypothermia occurs at 82°F and below.

Symptoms of hypothermia in dogs include the above list, along with extreme weakness, shallow breathing, low blood pressure, labored breathing, and, in severe cases, coma and an inaudible heartbeat.

The only way to determine your dog’s temperature accurately is by using a rectal thermometer. If his temperature is 99°F or above, wrap him in blankets warmed on the radiator, place a wrapped, warm water bottle against his belly, and give him warm fluids to drink if he’s conscious. If your dog’s temperature drops below 99°F this is an emergency situation. Wrap him in a warm towel or blanket, put the heat on in the car, and drive him to the veterinarian’s office or nearest animal hospital.

Note: Never leave a dog outdoors alone for long periods or overnight in any season. Your dog needs protection from the elements—whether it’s a spring rain, a summer heat wave, a winter storm, or frosty fall winds.

Is My Dog Cold at Night?

Your dog probably gets cold at night, the same as you. Once again, breed, age, and wellness are important factors in how quickly and easily he gets cold. Arctic breeds, such as Alaskan Malamutes or Siberian Huskies, may not require a blanket at night if they are hale and hearty. But older or ailing Huskies will appreciate a cozy blanket or dog sweater at night, as will small dog breeds and dogs with low body fat, such as Whippets and Salukis.

The nighttime thermostat setting in your house is another key factor. If you drop the temperature very low overnight, most dogs enjoy the comfort and warmth a dog blanket provides.

All dog breeds of every age are sensitive to hard, drafty floors when they sleep for hours at a stretch. If your dog doesn’t sleep in bed with you, be sure to provide a comfy dog bed that elevates him above the cold floor and protects his joints.

Why Is My Dog’s Nose Cold?

The temperature of your dog’s nose fluctuates naturally throughout the day from cold to warm. His nose contains glands that secrete a watery mucus that helps with body temperature regulation and keeps his nose moist—and primed to sniff out interesting scents. Dogs don’t sweat like people, so their bodies prevent overheating through the evaporation of moisture from their mouths when they pant, as well as evaporation from their paws and noses.

Many dogs have cold, wet noses when they are awake and active, and dry, warm noses during naps and immediately after waking. This is simply because dogs lick their snouts frequently when they are awake, and don’t when they’re sleeping.

If your dog has a long snout, his nose may be cold because its tip is further out in the elements than his short-snouted (brachycephalic) cousins’ noses. Finally, if your dog has recently romped outside on a frosty day or burrowed his nose in snow drifts during a walk, he’ll have a cold snout for a spell.

Why Is My Dog’s Tongue Cold?

Similar to his nose, the temperature of your dog’s tongue varies depending on recent activities. Your dog’s tongue may be cold because it is hanging outside of his open mouth, or because he just took a cool drink from his water bowl.

Your dog’s tongue and mouth are also key to his panting, which is the primary cooling process for canines. As your dog pants (breathes in and out rapidly), air travels across the moist surfaces of his tongue and mouth, facilitating evaporation that cools his body.

Note: Blue skin and mucous membranes, and cool limbs are symptoms of cyanosis in dogs—a serious medical condition usually caused by lung and heart disease.

Why Is My Dog Always Cold and Shivering?

If your dog is always shivering because of the cold, he may be a cold-sensitive breed with a short coat and low body fat, an older dog, or he might have an illness. If he shivers shortly after going outdoors in cold temperatures, he should wear a dog jacket or coat whenever he goes outside in these conditions. And if he shivers when there’s a draft indoors, offer him a soft jacket or sweater and a dog blanket for snuggling.

If your dog’s shivering appears unrelated to the cold or doesn’t go away when your dog warms up, it could be pain, illness, or fear. Note the timing and severity of his shivering, as well as any other symptoms, and discuss with your dog’s veterinarian.

How to Keep Dogs Warm

Keeping your dog warm mirrors how you keep yourself warm when it’s cold. Here are the most important supplies and tactics to keep your dog toasty:

Outdoors

<ul>
    <li>A dog jacket </li>
    <li>Dog boots (especially in the snow or in extremely low temperatures)</li>
    <li>Short walks</li>
    <li>Dry off your dog thoroughly after walks in wet, windy, and cold conditions</li>
    <li>Bring your dog indoors if he appears cold or shows any symptoms of hypothermia</li>

Indoors

<ul>
    <li>Soft dog jacket or sweater if needed because of air conditioning or drafts</li>
    <li>Dog blankets</li>
    <li>A dog bed</li>
    <li>Keep the thermostat set to a warm temperature in winter</li>

By paying close attention to your dog and the weather, and using smart dog gear indoors and out, you can keep your best friend warm through the year, and throughout his life.

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