When Is it Too Cold to Take My Dog For a Walk? · The Wildest

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When Is it Too Cold to Take My Dog For a Walk?

It’s not as simple as one universal temperature for all

by Orla Pentelow
1 January 2024
dog in snow wearing a coat
Natasa Kukic / Stocksy

As we enter the midst of winter (the days may be looong, but the cold fronts aren’t going anywhere), many dog owners find themselves grappling with a common concern: when is it too cold to take your dog for a walk? The Wildest sat down with veterinary behaviourist Dr Katie Friel-Russell to shed some light on the topic and provide guidance on keeping your furry friend happy and healthy when the mercury drops.

Most parts of the UK are fortunate enough not to face extreme cold spells too often, but that doesn’t mean our four-legged friends are entirely immune to seasonal chills. The question of when it’s too cold for your dog’s walk doesn’t come with a simple thermometer reading. Instead, it’s a nuanced thought process that depends on various factors, ranging from your dog’s breed and size, to their individual coat thickness.

Discover how to navigate the cold-weather conundrum, and how to strike the right balance between exercise and comfort during the winter. 

How cold is too cold?

The million-pound question: how do you know if it’s too cold to take your dog for a walk? Dr Friel-Russell emphasises that unfortunately there’s no universal temperature gauge for all dogs. “Generally larger dogs are going to be able to cope with colder weather due to their size but coat thickness plays a role, too,” says Dr Friel-Russell.

“Dogs with very fine coats, especially sighthounds such as Greyhounds and Whippets, are often not going to want to spend too much time outside even at 5C,” she adds, “whereas thicker coats and dogs bred to live in colder climates such as Labradors and Huskies will usually be happy to be out in the minus figures.”

Generally speaking, most vets agree that small and medium breeds with thinner coats will struggle in -4C conditions and bigger dog breeds with thicker coats can withstand temperatures of -6C. However, it is important to take each dog’s individual needs into account when determining whether it’s too cold outside for a walk.

The key is to consider your dog’s size, coat thickness and breed, and keep an eye on your pup’s behaviour – if they seem reluctant to go out, appear uncomfortable, or shiver, it’s time to head back indoors. Trust your instincts and ultimately listen to your dog to prioritise their well-being.

Alternative indoor activities

If it is too frosty for a stroll, what’s next? Dr Friel-Russell recommends engaging your dog in mentally stimulating activities indoors. “Chewing, sniffing, playing and training are all great exercises to use their brain and help wear them out,” she says. These activities not only keep your dog entertained but also provide the valuable mental stimulation often missed when you can’t walk your dog. 

If your dog is craving physical activity, consider short bursts of play outside, followed by a quick return indoors to warm up, she adds. This way, your dog can still burn off energy without prolonged exposure to the cold.

Does cold weather pet gear make a difference?

Some dogs may benefit from extra protection against the cold. Dr Friel-Russell advises introducing any gear, such as coats, in a positive and gradual manner before you actually need to use them. “They should fit well without restricting their movement and ideally your dog should be able to put it on without needing to be picked up or manhandled,” she adds.

While some owners swear by booties for dogs, Dr Friel-Russell issues a word of caution as “they often make things slippery for dogs, whose paws are perfectly adapted to grip well on a range of surfaces.” Most dogs find booties uncomfortable, so if it’s so cold you’re contemplating using some, it might be a sign that the weather is better suited for indoor activities until it warms up.

The key takeaway is to know your dog. By understanding their size, coat and individual preferences, you can make informed decisions about when it’s too cold to venture outside. Listen to your furry friend, and together, you’ll navigate the big freeze with wagging tails and warm paws.

Orla Pentelow

Orla Pentelow is a freelance journalist and copywriter based in London. When not at her desk she’s out and about with her rescue dog, Luna, who works primarily as chief distractor.

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