The temperature has dropped, and most of us don't want to leave the couch. Our furry friends, however, are another story. What if nature calls? What if they want to go on a walk or play outside? It's vital to know how cold is too cold for your dog, because if you don't, the consequences could be deadly. Even a well-meaning owner could leave their pooch out in unfriendly temperatures for too long; and depending where you are in the world and what the climate is like, "too long" could be minutes. Thankfully, veterinarian Dr. Kim Smyth is breaking it down for us and making it easy to determine whether or not your dog can brave the temperatures.
In a blog post on Petplan.com, Dr. Smyth explains she used information from the Tufts Animal Condition and Care system to determine under what conditions dogs of various sizes are safe in colder weather. She compiled the information into one easy-to-use chart, using just the temperature and size of your dog to help you determine whether outdoor time is A-OK or a no-go. There are a few caveats — for example, precipitation and breed can affect the results — but it's sufficient as an excellent rule of thumb. Check it out below.
All you do is find your current approximate temperature in one of the two left-most columns, and intersect it with your dog's approximate size. That will give you a number from one to five indicating whether or not it's safe, and to what degree. One means there is no risk, and five means you should stay the eff inside. Dr. Smyth even accounted for the aforementioned caveats. If it's wet weather, add two to your number. If your dog is a northern breed or has a heavy coat, you can subtract one (probably because that kind of dog will be a little warmer). Lastly, if your dog is used to colder weather, you can also subtract one from your number.
Just a quick glance at the chart could make all the difference in your four-legged pal's life.
Pets can't be left out in the cold for the same reasons humans can't. Prolonged temperatures can lead to frostbite and hypothermia. Hypothermia occurs when the body's temperature drops dangerously low, and the body is no longer able to warm itself up, because it's losing heat faster than it's producing it. Frostbite commonly happens on the ends of the ears, the tail, scrotum, and feet (particularly the toes). Yes, it is treatable (and you should familiarize yourself with the signs and how to handle it), but know that it's very serious. It can even require amputation.
If you see your dog shivering, having a hard time breathing, or appearing weak, the cold could be getting to it; get your pup indoors stat!
Stories have already hit the news of dogs being left out in the cold and freezing to death. What should you do if you come across one? Immediately move the animal to a warmer place, and cover it in blankets or towels. Do not use heating pads against their bare skin — they will burn! Either put several layers between them, or use warm water bottles, says Dr. Smyth. The animal will need immediate medical care. You can take them to the vet, or call the local animal shelter/rescue — or even the non-emergency police number. If you find a dog chained up outdoors and left there, this is abuse.
The winter weather can be a fun time for the right kinds of dogs who enjoy snow; but extreme caution is necessary. Keep a close eye on your pooch if its playing outside in the cold. Even if the chart tells you it's safe, if your gut is screaming NO, better safe than sorry. Keep playtime indoors. Dogs are people too, and they make our lives better. Take care of them!