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How Can I Tell If My Dog is Cold? [From a Labrador Expert]

When temperatures drop to extreme lows in the winter, we need to be careful that our dogs aren’t at risk. Yes, even for hearty labradors! They can get cold, too.

Understanding how to tell if your dog is cold and how to help them is crucial for their health and safety.

In this article, I’ll explain some of the basics of dog health and Labrador care when it comes to their safety in the winter. I want to prepare you to recognize the signs that your dog is cold so you can keep them healthy and safe all year.

Our Labs are known for enthusiastically playing in the snow or even taking a dip in frozen ponds and creeks. There’s not much that you can do to prevent your labrador from having a good time!

But, you need to be aware of their cold weather cues to keep them safe in these cold temps.

Read on to learn the telltale signs that your dog is cold and practical tips for keeping them warm and safe. Whether you’re a new pet parent or an experienced dog lover like me, the advice here will give you the knowledge to go outdoors on cold winter days with your dog confidently.

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How To Tell If Your Dog Is Cold

How much a dog enjoys the cold can vary from pup to pup. I have two chocolate labradors with very different opinions on the cold!

My labrador, Lucy, loves the cold! She will sit on her outside bed at night in January. She thinks nothing of running through a creek that’s partially frozen over and rolling in the snow is one of her favorite things. She’s also an English Lab with a thick double coat.

My other labrador, Burt, is a thin-coated American lab who prefers to cuddle on the couch under a blanket while Lucy sits outside in the cold. When it’s very cold out I put him in a sweater and jacket. Not only does he like to be warm, but he has a terrible habit of eating so much snow that he’s given himself hypothermia. So I need to pay close attention to his cold weather cues. 

These are the symptoms that you want to look for to tell if your dog is too cold:

  • Shivering, shaking, or trembling
  • Teeth chattering
  • 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, you should head back inside and warm up as soon as possible! Remember the conditions that day and you’ll have a better idea of how cold is too cold for your dog.

Our dogs cannot speak and they often want to hide their discomfort. So if you notice these signs of cold in dogs, you should take it seriously. If they’re feeling cold, there’s no need to make them stay outdoors.

First Snow With Up Country

Best Practices for Keeping Labradors (or any dog!) Warm

Before you head outside you should check the weather to see if it’s too cold to walk the dog.

Depending on the temperature and conditions, a dog coat can keep your lab warm for a cold-weather walk. Something with insulation will keep the body heat in. So you want something heavier than a raincoat.

But don’t forget their paws! Your dog’s paws are constantly coming in contact with the snow, ice, and often salt on the sidewalk. Booties are an option, but they require upfront time to train your dog to be comfortable walking in them. I’ve also seen a lot of abandoned single booties because they can fall off.

I think an easier solution is paw wax. This is different than a paw balm which is moisturizing for cracked paw pads. Instead, for cold weather, I reach for a paw wax like Musher’s Secret. I’ve been using that for 20 years to keep my dog’s paws protected from snow, ice, and salt.

I scoop up a generous blob of Musher’s Secret and thoroughly coat each of my dog’s paws. I get between the paw pads and I even rub it on top of their paws. The wax can prevent snow build up between their toes and it can prevent the sting of sidewalk salt.

When you come inside from the cold, be sure to warm and dry your dog with towels. You should also check for ice, snow or salt stuck between their paw pads.

I use an EarthRated unscented wipe to clean my dog’s paws when we come inside. I don’t want them to lick any of the nasty salt that got on their paws.

do labradors need booties in winter

What if you’re not close to home to warm up your dog?

The other day I was out for a snowy hike with Burt and Lucy. Burt was doing his usual naughty thing and eating snow. I stopped him a handful of times, but he ate so much, so quickly that he started showing symptoms of being too cold.

His back legs were visibly trembling, his head was trembling slightly and his teeth started to chatter. I recognized these symptoms from the last time he ate too much snow and I knew that I had to warm him up right away. But we were almost at the turnaround point of our hike, meaning we were as far from the car as possible.

I quickly thought about what I could do to warm up his body temperature on the trail.

First off, I wanted to get his paws off the snow. So I sat down on the ground and got my 90-pound dog to sit on my lap. I put my arms around him and tried to warm him up. The other person who was with me stood over top of us and put Burt’s head inside their long winter coat.

After a few minutes, the trembling stopped and the teeth chattering stopped. So then I wanted to get Burt moving so he could warm himself up. We briskly walked up a steep hill and continued on our hike. I kept a close eye on him as we made our way back to the car and he was fine after that.

When we got home, I gave Burt some warm bone broth to drink and kept an eye on him the rest of the day.

Shivering generates body heat, but it can also deplete glucose levels in your dog’s body. I learned in my pet first aid certification course that after shivering, you may want to offer your dog some natural honey to replenish their glucose.

Symptoms of Serious Cold Injuries for Dogs: Frost Nip or Frostbite

I am certified in pet first aid. In our training, we learned about what to do in the event of serious cold injuries like frostnip, frostbite or hypothermia.

After taking the certification course, I want to share as much as I can with pet parents here on my blog and on social media. I know not everyone has the time and resources to do a training like this.

According to PetTech, frostbite and frostnip can be caused by extreme or prolonged exposure to low temperatures. 

The signs of these serious injuries include:

  • The dog’s skin becomes swollen red and painful
  • Dog’s skin can be hard and pale
  • In later stages, the pet may lose skin and hair in the affected area
  • A lesion that looks similar to a burn
  • In the late stages of frostbite, the skin can be hard

The best thing is to prevent these injuries from happening. Pay close attention to your dog’s cold weather cues and make sure they have proper protection like coats, booties, or paw wax.

However, if you do think your dog has frostnip or frostbite, you want to get to the emergency vet as soon as possible. This is a very serious condition that is painful and can result in serious tissue damage.

Do not squeeze or rub frostbit areas as this would be very painful for your pet. If you try to warm them up, it should be done slowly with wet towels.

This is an extreme situation and I hope it never happens to you. But it’s always good to be prepared for anything with our dogs.

signs and symptoms how to tell if my dog is too cold in the snow this winter

Keep Your Dog Safe in Cold Weather

Ultimately, we must keep our dogs safe. In the winter, a big part of that is making sure they aren’t too cold.

Many areas in the United States are realizing that leaving pets out in the cold can be extremely harmful and cruel in some situations. Where I live in Pennsylvania, a law was created in 2022 stating that dogs may be tied outside for no more than 30 minutes when temperatures are lower than 32 degrees.

If you’re reading this post, I’m guessing your dog is warm and cozy right by your side right now. But you should still be aware of their cold weather cues and the symptoms of being too cold.

As a reminder, if you notice these signs of cold in dogs, get back inside ASAP:

  • Shivering, shaking, or trembling
  • Teeth chattering
  • 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

Did you like this post? I have more that you should check out:
The Best Warm Jeans for Winter Dog Walks
How Cold is Too Cold to Walk the Dog?
Can Your Dog Get Hypothermia from Eating Snow?
Indoor Dog Enrichment Ideas

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Tori Mistick is the ultimate Dog Mom Lifestyle blogger with a passion for style, chocolate labs and the color pink. Based in Pittsburgh, PA.

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