As the weather gets colder, some of us may start pulling out our winter gear. But do dogs get cold at night the way we do? Just like any mammal, dogs can get cold, and yes, they can get cold at night too. We asked a vet tech to share more about how cold weather can affect your dog and what you need to do about it.
Do dogs get cold at night?
It is certainly possible for dogs to get cold at night, especially if they are kept outside and the temperature drops drastically. But even dogs who live indoors can feel the effects of the cold, for example, if they have short hair, are underweight, or have health problems.
In cold-weather breeds like the Siberian Husky, the longer hairs act as insulators, trapping warm hair next to the skin layers. Hairless breeds such as the Mexican Hairless, and short-haired breeds such as the Chihuahua or the Dachshund do not have this advantage against the cold and may need a blanket or a sweater to keep them warm at night.
The health status of your dog also comes into play. Dogs who are too skinny, suffer from diabetes, circulatory diseases, have arthritis, or are immune-compromised may also be unable to maintain a comfortable body temperature on their own.
Similarly, puppies and older dogs should have extra care on cold nights since they cannot regulate body temperature as efficiently as healthy, adult dogs.
How do you know a dog is cold?
When your dog is cold, they may show some of the following symptoms:
- Shivering: This involuntary muscle movement happens when the body temperature drops, and the body shivers to warm up. It is common in short-hair breeds and dogs that have been shaved.
- Looking for warm spaces: Cold dogs will seek out warm places, such as in front of a fireplace, or climb under a warm blanket. You may even start to notice your dog snuggling up to you more for warmth.
- Weakness: When dogs are cold, they may seem weak and unwilling to play or interact, or they may be very lethargic and tired. Also common are loss of appetite and slowed breathing.
- Lack of mental awareness: Dogs can also seem a bit “out of it,” or unaware of their surroundings in the midst of a hypothermic event (a condition where the body loses heat faster than it can produce it).
Should my dog sleep indoors or outdoors?
The answer to these questions depends on you, your dog, and your lifestyle. If you are a sled dog musher, and you have a team of Alaskan Malamutes, chances are they will be comfortable sleeping outside in all kinds of weather, as long as they have shelter from the elements and can keep dry.
However, if you have a Toy Poodle or a Chinese Crested, they will not do well at all sleeping outdoors, and would rather be snuggling under the covers with you.
What temperature is too cold for dogs?
Most of the literature states that most dogs will be fine until temperatures drop below 45F, at which point they will start to feel cold and seek out shelter or a warm place. When the temperature is at freezing (32F) or reaches below freezing, older dogs, small dogs, and dogs with health issues (no matter the breed) can be at risk of hypothermia and should be brought indoors as soon as possible.
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) suggests that no pet should be left outside for extended periods in temperatures below freezing.
What is the ideal house temperature for dogs?
According to the Animal Welfare Act, the ambient temperature of kennel facilities should not fall below 50F for dogs not used to colder temperatures, and should not be over 85F (however 85F can be a bit too warm for thick-coated breeds).
During the winter months, setting the thermostat to 68-72F should be perfectly comfortable for your pooch, but anything less than 50F may be a bit too chilly. If you have a puppy, an older dog, or a short-haired breed, try offering them an extra blanket to keep them comfy and warm.
How can I keep my dog warm at night?
If you have your thermostat set to a comfortable setting for you and your family, your dog should have no problem curling up either on your bed or on their bed. However, if you would like to offer your best friend some added warmth, try some of the following:
Heated mat or bed: Look for a heated mat that is thick enough to help keep your dog off the cold floor. Also, make sure that it has an automatic shut-off, and that you place a blanket between your pet and the pad to prevent burns or overheating.
A raised dog bed: We all know hot air rises, so it makes sense that having an off-the-ground bed will help your dog stay warm. While you’re at it, you may want to consider one with bolstered sides that your dog can rest against to help maintain body heat.
A space heater: This tends to work best in small spaces. Of course, you’ll want to watch your dog closely so that they don’t get too close or accidentally knock it over.
Dog sweaters and pajamas: This is another great way to help keep your dog toasty at night without adding too much bulk. I personally recommend zippered clothes so you can easily take them on and off.
If you have an outdoor dog, try some of these suggestions:
Prepare a warm, insulated doghouse: Raise the doghouse off the ground, and fill the space underneath with straw or hay to keep the cold out. Then, place blankets, towels, or cedar or pine shavings inside so your dog will have plenty of warmth and protection.
Use a heat lamp: But make sure that it is safe for your pet. All types of heat lamps should be mounted at a certain height so that the electric cords and blubs are out of reach of your dog. Safety is key here.
Even though their fur keeps them much better insulated than we are, dogs can still get cold. Whether you have a furry Akita or a tea-cup poodle, temperatures, where they feel cold, will vary somewhat. As a rule, 32F or colder is too cold for your dog.
But there is no doubt that your dog will let you know if they feel cold, and they may just jump in bed with you to keep warm, especially on a cold, winter night.