I had a client call the clinic this week and ask if it is safe to keep her dog outdoors during the upcoming cold snap. It is embarrassing for me to admit that I had to reach into the “common sense” compartment of my brain to retrieve an answer rather than my “veterinary medical science” compartment.
Believe it or not, this was never discussed in any course I took at veterinary college. Ironically, the school is located in Saskatoon, Sask. (Really- how cold can be TOO cold?) If I was to reach for my textbooks, they too would have no answers……So where are all the experts? How cold is too cold for our pets?
The answer is “it depends”. There is not one temperature that you can cite.
How well your pet fares the cold depends on breed, size, hair coat, health, wetness, acclimatization, wind, and insulation of shelter.
An average sized Newfoundlander can be outside at -40C if acclimated, dry, healthy, nested with no wind. On the other hand a non acclimated dog who doesn’t know how to behave in cold will freeze feet, ears, and tail in a few hours and become mortally hypothermic soon after.
There really isn’t any expert advice on the topic, only a few guidelines I’m afraid.
Common Sense is not always so common, so here are a few words of advice:
1. Realize that small breed dogs and short breeds will not do as well outdoors as hardy breeds. While a malamute will be fine during temperatures that are freezing, a Yorkie will likely die well before the Malamute registers even a bit of discomfort. There are coats, sweaters and protective booties you can buy to place on your small breed dogs that help retain heat.
2. Keep your cats inside. They have incredible survival instincts and will likely find shelter and warmth- but why subject them to discomfort/ stress? Outdoor cats often sleep under the hoods of cars. When the motor is started, the cat can be injured or killed by the fan belt.
3. Puppies do not tolerate the cold as well as adult dogs, and may be difficult to housebreak during the winter. Perhaps opt to paper train him/ her inside until the weather warms
4. If your dog is a large breed outdoor dog, provide a well-insulated dog house, placed in a protected area of the yard — as a shelter against wind chill and blowing snow. Add a door flap and fill it with lots of straw.
5. Never leave your dog or cat alone in the car during very cold weather. A car can act as a refrigerator in the winter, holding in the cold and causing your pet to freeze to death.
6. And finally- beware of coolant and antifreeze which are lethal poison for dogs and cats. Be sure to thoroughly clean up any spills from your vehicle.
Avoid heartbreak and rather than wondering how cold is too cold for a dog or cat outside, resolve to be proactive and err on the side of caution. The question is not whether a pet can survive but rather what provides them with happiness, companionship and an enjoyable life.