If you live in a wintery climate, you might be wondering how cold is too cold to walk the dog? Physical exercise is essential for our dogs to stay healthy throughout their lives. But when it’s too cold outside, your walk might do more harm than good.
Over-exposure to freezing temperatures can cause hypothermia or even frostbite. Although our dogs, especially labradors, have thick furry coats they can still get cold.
My labradors love to play in the snow! So I always make sure that our snowy walks and outdoor play time are safe.
As a general rule for my healthy adult labs, we limit our walks to 15 minutes if it’s below 10°F, and we only do quick outdoor potty breaks if it’s below 0°F. For temperatures above 10°F, there are more environmental factors to consider.
Keep reading to learn more about keeping your dog safe this winter!
How cold is too cold for dogs?
We’re in the middle in winter and I’ve been posting lots of photos and videos on Instagram of me and my labradors enjoying the snow. While we love it, I’ve also received messages from new dog owners asking how cold is too cold to walk the dog? If you have a new pandemic puppy, you might be wondering the same thing!
I’ve had labradors for over 20 years and I’m happy to share my expertise with you! In those 20 or so years, we’ve always lived in the Pittsburgh area where we experience all 4 seasons. In the summer, it’s humid and gets close to 100°F. Then in the winter we have a few days that are below 0°F. And of course, lots of snow!
There are some general temperature guidelines for dogs, but you’ll also want to to consider your dog’s breed, size, weight, age, health and coat to know when it’s too cold to take a walk outdoors.
Puppies and older dogs or dogs that have health issues are at a higher risk in very cold temperatures. If you have a healthy adult dog they will be comfortable outdoors for longer and at lower temps.
Here’s a good general guideline for most dogs:
- Below 45°F: dogs will start to feel cold.
- Below 32°F: small breeds, thin-coated, old, young or sick dogs should limit time outdoors.
- Below 20°F: Hypothermia and frostbite are a risk. Closely monitor your dog’s comfort level.
Looking at those numbers you might be thinking… “But my lab loves winter! I can hardly get them to come inside!” It’s true, certain breeds are designed to be more comfortable in the cold. So let’s look at the history of labradors and some specific facts about our favorite breed!
By the way, thank you to Dr. Karen Becker for providing those temperature guidlines! Her book, The Forever Dog, is my current favorite dog book!
Do labradors get cold in the winter?
Looking back at what Labradors were bred for can explain why they love cold temperatures so much. Labs originated in Newfoundland in the 16th century where they were bred to swim out in icy water to retrieve fish or fishing nets. Their coat and webbed feet prepared them for swimming in cold temperatures.
These days, most of our labradors aren’t being used to retrieve fish! But this explains why they have an ingrained passion for icy, wet and cold activities!
My labrador Lucy loves to be cold! She will jump in the creek all winter long and chew on the ice while she’s standing in the freezing water. I think it feels good to her and might soothe her arthritis.
She’s a very healthy dog, but I still monitor her closely after she gets wet in the winter. If it’s possible, I dry her off immediately. But if we’re on the trails I keep an eye on her to see if she’s exhibiting signs of being too cold like lifting her paws, trembling or a change in body language.
How cold is too cold to walk my Labrador?
Labradors are bred to handle cold, wet and icy environments. Although they might love it, it’s our job as pet parents to keep them safe and healthy.
To know how cold is too cold to walk you lab, I consider a few things:
- Are you walking in the woods where you Labrador can run, climb hills and get their heart rate up?
- Is it wet or windy out?
- Are you walking in a neighborhood where the sidewalks are salted?
Your lab will keep themselves warm if they’re running around on the trails, jumping over fallen logs and darting up hills. Even then, you should be careful in temperatures below 20°F and look for signs of discomfort.
On the flip side, if it’s wet or windy outside your Labrador will get colder, faster. When their coat gets wet or retains moisture, it’s not as effective at insulating their body heat. If you live somewhere that’s cold and wet you might want to consider a water repelling winter coat (I have a few of my favorites linked at the end of this post).
Probably the biggest hazard to walking your dog in the winter is salt on city sidewalks. The salt used by most people can sting and even burn your dog’s paw pads. Try to avoid heavily salted sidewalks and consider telling your neighbors about pet and kid safe option like Safe Paw (you can find it on Amazon or Chewy).
You can also try a few things to proactively protect your dog’s paws from salt and ice. I like to use Musher’s Secret before a walk. It’s a waxy vaseline-type product that you rub on your dog’s paws. It will actually repel snow and ice from clumping and I think it provides a small barrier to the salt.
Another option is dog booties. If you go this route, please set your dog up for success and allow lots of time to train them to be comfortable with the booties indoors before heading out for a walk. You might want to spend a couple of weeks getting your dog used to the boots.
To sum it up, if your Labrador is a healthy adult dog, they should be comfortable taking walks and playing outdoors on most days over 10°F. When the temperature is in the single digits, I only walk my dogs around the block or do quick potty breaks in the yard.
Remember, older labs and puppies can be more susceptible to the cold and you should be very careful taking them out in anything below 20°F.
Does this all make sense? Do you feel like now you know how cold is too cold to walk the dog? Comment at the end with any other questions!
How can I tell if my dog is cold?
Even with all these things in mind – your dog’s breed, size, weight, age, health and coat plus the weather conditions – some dogs will get colder faster than others. Whenever it’s below 45°F it’s important to pay attention and look for signs of discomfort.
Keep an eye out for these signs to know it’s too cold for your dog:
- Shivering, shaking or trembling
- Turning back for home or resisting the walk
- Ears pinned back, tail tucked or hunching
- Being anxious or nervous
- Lifting their paws
- Barking or whining
- Seeking shelter
If you notice any of these behaviors, it’s a good idea to head back home and warm up indoors! Remember the conditions that day and you’ll have a better idea of how cold is too cold to walk the dog, and specifically your dog!
Last Winter my other lab Burt started eating the snow obsessively! I had never seen him do this before, but one night I let him out to pee in the yard and he gobbled up so much snow so fast that he gave himself a minor case of hypothermia. When he came indoors (he’d only been outside for 5 minutes), he started trembling. His lips and paws felt cold and he was clearly anxious and distressed.
He actually threw up a snow ball! That’s hold cold he made his stomach. It was not good.
To warm him up, I wrapped him in blankets and an electric heating pad (be careful it’s not too hot) and fed him warm bone broth, a little at a time. We cuddled on the couch, he dozed off and was good as new by bed time.
Even since that incident, I’m careful to watch Burt and make sure he doesn’t eat too much snow. He still tries though! Apparently, he didn’t learn anything from that night!
The Best Coats for Labradors
Now that you have a clear idea of how cold is too cold to walk the dog, you might want to invest in some winter gear to make your lab more comfortable in the Winter.
I started buying dog coats when my old Labrador Lola got older. She had lost some weight, was more frail than she used to be, and was noticeably cold outdoors in situations she wouldn’t have been before. Adding a cozy fleece coat and simple booties made such a difference. With those two simple additions, Lola was back to rolling in the snow and loving Winter.
It used to be so hard to find dog coats large enough for my labs. But these days there are tons of options!
What dog coats fit labradors?
My favorite winter jackets for my labs are from UpCountry. Measure your dog’s length from their collar to base of the tail to figure out the size. Lucy wears a size 26 in their coats. We have a few of the tweed-style coats and I’m so impressed with the quality.
For dog sweaters, I love the handmade 100% wool dog sweaters from Chilly Dog. I will warn you, the sizing can be really inconsistent on these since they are handmade in Peru. If you can find them in person at a local pet supplies store, that would be your best bet. Otherwise, don’t be surprised if you need to exchange your online order to get the right size. It’s worth the hassle though because these are so well made!
One other brand I want to recommend for a winter coat for your lab is Voyagers K9 Apparel. I have a labrador-sized rain jacket from them for Lucy and I love it! It’s so easy to get on and off, theres a opening to clip a leash to her collar and it covers her underbelly much more than other styles. The winter jacket is similar to the rain jacket, just with added insulation. And did I mention, they have specific Labrador fits (along with more than a dozen other breeds!).
Do you live in the city and need dog booties to protect your pup’s paws from the salt? I love these simple ones from Pawz (that’s Lola wearing them below). They’re like a rubber balloon. You wouldn’t think they would be that warm, but this thin protection made a huge difference for my old dog Lola. They’re also inexpensive and not a big deal if one falls off and gets lost.
For a more heavy duty bootie, I have these Ruffwear ones for Lucy. I’ll work on a video to explain how to train your dog to be comfortable in booties. You can’t just put them on and head out the door. Please set your dog up for success and give them time to get used to new gear. Stay tuned for that!
Did you enjoy reading this? Check out these other posts about enjoying winter with your dog:
The Best Warm Jeans for Winter Dog Walks (I’m wearing the Old Navy ones right now!)
How to Plan a Winter Road Trip with Your Dog
Built-In at Home Dog Wash Renovation Reveal
How to Safely Switch Your Labrador to a New Food
Healthy Kong Stuffing Recipes
PIN THIS POST!