When the temperatures are pretty low, there are two types of dogs – the ones that want to curl up in front of the fireplace or radiator and the ones that prefer to chill out. While it is easy to correlate with the first type, it is hard to understand the second group of dogs.
My dog wants to stay outside in the cold – why? A dog might prefer spending its time outside regardless of the low temperatures due to several reasons, including genetics, excess warmth inside, boredom, anxiety or fear, genuine fondness of cold, and illness. Some of these reasons are a normal part of the average dog’s behavior, while others are red flags warranting veterinary attention.
This article will go through the most common reasons why dogs like staying outside in the cold and explain when the cold becomes dangerous and how to protect your dog from extremely low temperatures.
WHY DOES MY DOG WANT TO STAY OUTSIDE IN THE COLD?
There are plenty of reasons why some dogs prefer spending time outside, even if the temperatures are low and hostile. Here are some of the most common causes.
Some dogs are genetically wired to withstand colder temperatures. For example, Siberian Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes are bred to perform heavy-duty tasks in extraordinarily harsh and low-tempered environments. For these dogs, it is perfectly normal to want to be outside even if the temperatures are below zero.
It is too warm inside
Just like people, some dogs are less tolerant of warmth. This has nothing to do with genetics – it is all about personal preferences. If your dog dislikes the room temperature inside your house, it is advisable to keep one room cooler than the others so that your dog can go there when too hot.
It is usual for dogs to find the outside more stimulating and intriguing, especially if kept strictly indoors. The unknown outside environment is more challenging while the same old inside is dull.
When outside, dogs are exposed to various scents, sights, sounds, and experiences – these situations are entertaining. In such cases, to prevent boredom, make sure your dog is physically and mentally stimulated throughout the day.
If someone inside makes your dog scared or anxious, it may want to spend more time outside. For example, if you have guests over and there is a person your dog dislikes, it will ask to be let out. Or maybe you feel angry, and considering how empathetic dogs are, your pouch would prefer being away from you while you are not feeling like your usual self.
Some dogs may feel too hot because of an underlying medical condition. In such cases, they would prefer spending as much time outside where the environmental temperatures are helping them stay as cool as possible. If your dog wants to stay out in the cold because of a medical issue, it will also exhibit other signs of illness.
HOW COLD IS TOO COLD FOR A DOG TO BE OUTSIDE?
Although there are individual variations, the general rule of thumb is that dogs need shelter access when the temperatures are around four degrees.
Generally speaking, temperatures between 12 and 15 degrees are perfectly safe, but anything below 12 degrees can be risky depending on the dog’s individual profile – age, breed, and health.
At around 7 degrees, dogs should not be spending prolonged time outside without proper winter gear (coats and booties), and for temperatures below 7 degrees, they need shelter access.
Signs your dog is cold
If you are not sure whether your dog is feeling cold or not, pay attention to the following signs:
- Shaking and shivering
- Anxiety and discomfort
- Excessive barking
- Crying or whining
- Hunched body posture with a tucked tail
- Lifting the paws off the ground
- Reluctance to walk or play
- Seeking shelter places.
Cold-related health risks
Exposure to highly low-tempered environments can lead to two main health issues – frostbites and hypothermia. Frostbites are associated with short-term exposure to shallow temperatures, during hypothermia with more prolonged exposure to relatively low temperatures.
Frostbites or congelation develop when the body’s defense mechanisms constrict the blood vessels in the terminate body parts to conserve heat and maintain average core temperatures. The reduced blood flow combined with the cold leads to severe tissue damage and necrosis. The most commonly affected body parts include the toes, ear tips, nose, tail, nipples, and in males – the scrotum.
Hypothermia is the medical term indicating low body temperature. The first visible signs are shivering and lethargy. As the hypothermia develops, the dog starts manifesting other signs and symptoms like stiff muscles, lack of coordination, fixed and dilated pupils, decreased heart and breathing rate. If left untreated, hypothermia can have lethal consequences.
CAN DOGS STAY OUTSIDE IN THE WINTER?
When thinking about leaving your dog outside in the winter, there are few things you need to consider.
Your dog’s age
Young puppies and old dogs are less resistant to cold temperatures. This is because puppies have underdeveloped thermoregulation systems, while in seniors, these mechanisms are less efficient although well-developed. In comparison, healthy adult dogs have developed and efficient thermoregulation mechanisms and can stay outside in the winter.
Your dog’s breed
As mentioned, some dogs are genetically more suited to spend time in colder environments. In addition to Huskies and Malamutes, this group includes Mastiffs, Newfoundland dogs, Bernese Mountain dogs, Saint Bernard dogs, and Anatolian Shepherds. They have long, thick coats and heavy gat layers to keep them warm. On the other hand, dogs like Chihuahuas, Yorkshire Terriers, and Hounds can literally freeze to death.
Your dog’s overall health
The overall health profile is another thing you must consider. Dogs with perfect health are better fit to be outside during the winter than dogs with chronic health issues regardless of whether those issues affect the thermoregulation mechanisms.
Access to insulated shelter
Finally, if your dog is a good candidate for spending time outside during winter, you still have to ensure it has access to a well-insulated and cozy shelter – dog house, shed, or basement. This will allow your dog to enjoy the perks of living outside while having somewhere to cover when feeling chilly.
Food and water requirements
The basal nutritional requirements for a dog exposed to low temperatures are much higher than those of a dog living in mild or hot environments. If your dog is spending the winter months outside, you will need to add more caloric-dense food to its menu.
Another concern is water. Just because it is cold does not mean your dog will not need to drink. Constant access to fresh, drinkable water is of paramount importance. Just keep in mind the water bowl may be prone to freezing – you can either change the water frequently or use an electric water heater.
Although it may seem weird, some dogs prefer staying outside despite the freezing temperatures. Sometimes this tendency is due to something as ordinary as genetic wiring, and other times it can be due to something as serious as sickness.
If you are not sure where your dog’s irresistible urge to spend time outside in the cold comes from, it is advisable to seek veterinary help. If the vet determines there is nothing physically wrong with your dog, he/she may suggest a canine behaviorist.
Finding the root of your dog’s behavior will help you understand its urges and provide it with proper protection during its outside time.
Is it wrong for dogs to be outside in the cold?
Just like people, dogs can get frostbites and hypothermia if exposed to low temperatures for long. However, some dogs, especially those with long thick coats, are more resistant to cold climates and can be outside for longer without experiencing any health issues.
Do dogs feel cold like humans?
Yes, the principle and physiological mechanism behind feeling cold is the same in both dogs and humans. However, the temperature at which dogs start feeling cold is not the same as with humans. Plus, there are significant breed differences. For example, Siberian Huskies can endure colder temperatures than Greyhounds.
Do dogs shiver when they are cold?
Yes, just like people, dogs can shiver when they are feeling cold. However, low temperatures are not the only reason for shivering in dogs. If you suspect your dog’s shivering is not related to cold, it is advisable to seek veterinary attention.
Do dogs need blankets?
Although blankets are not part of the essential dog kit, they make helpful aids for specific dog categories – hairless, old, young, small breed, and dogs spending too much time outside in the cold. The same applies to dog outfits.
Is having an outside dog cruel?
As long your dog gets to spend enough quality time interacting with humans and has an outside house to protect it from the elements, there is nothing cruel about keeping a dog outside. In fact, it is more hurtful to have an inside dog that spends most of its time confined in the crate.