Is 50 degrees Too Cold For A Dog To Be Outside?

It’s getting to be colder, and you’re wondering how long will it be okay to let your dog stay outside.  Your dog loves being out all night, but you don’t want him to catch a cold either. So, if you’re wondering when you should bring your dog inside, let’s help you out.

Is 50 degrees too cold for your dog to be outside?  Generally speaking, 50 degrees is not too cold, but there are other factors to consider:

  • The breed and age of the dog
  • The accompanying weather conditions
  • Signs that your dog is too cold
  • Ways to keep your dog warm. 

This article will explore each of these factors as they can impact your decisions to leave your dog outside or bring them in.

What Temperatures Can Dogs Tolerate?

Generally, 50 degrees is at the edge of what dogs can tolerate. 

When temperatures drop below that, they can begin to feel uncomfortable, especially dogs more susceptible to cold temperatures, such as smaller dogs and those without thick coats. 

As temperatures approach freezing, it’s time to pay closer attention to those dogs.

“Once temperatures drop under 20° F, all owners need to be aware that their dogs could potentially develop cold-associated health problems like hypothermia and frostbite.”

Dr Jennifer Coates, practicing veterinarian, writer, editor, and veterinary consultant at petmd.com

Most vets agree that 50 degrees is probably not too cold if the only thing to consider is the temperature.  But there are other things to think about as well.

Accompanying Weather Conditions to Consider

Have you ever checked the temperature, gone outside, and been hit by a blast of a cold wind? If that’s happened, you know why temperature is only one factor when deciding to keep a dog outside.  Some other reasons to keep in mind include…

Wind chill

Temperature and wind speed work together to remove heat.  If the temperature is 40 degrees and the wind speed is 20 miles per hour, the conditions are the same as if the temperature was 30 degrees and no wind.  

The National Weather Service has developed a Wind Chill chart that can help you figure out what the actual wind chill is when you combine temperature and wind speed.  Check it out here if you’re interested. Or, the weather app on your phone will probably give you the wind chill factor as well.

Moisture

The fur that keeps a dog warm no longer insulates it when it’s wet

Also, the moisture now pulls, or wicks, heat out of the body.

This is no different than what happens to you when your clothes get wet.  Just like wet clothes make you feel colder, wet fur does the same for the dog.  

Humidity and clouds

You know how a humid day is hotter than one with low humidity? 

Humidity can make it feel warmer in the winter. But humidity can be a sign of snow, so you need to keep a watch out for that possibility.

 “Your dog can ‘feel’ bad weather through changes in barometric pressure and static electricity.”

Source:  Orvis.com

How long dogs can stay outside is partially related to overall weather conditions.  But that’s not all—you have to also consider your dog’s size, health, and ability to withstand the cold.

What Makes Your Dog More Sensitive to Weather?

Size and age are the top two considerations in how your dog is affected by the weather. 

Let’s look at size first. This chart shows each weather condition and how it affects different sized dogs.

TemperaturesSmall dog, like a PoodleMedium-Sized, like a Border CollieLargest Dogs, like a Husky
45-60 degreesNo risk until temperatures get close to 50 degreesNo riskNo risk
30-45 degreesPotentially unsafe, definitely need to watch your pet—weather is now dangerous for certain breedsStart watching your pet—could be a risk for some breeds or conditions.Unlikely risk
15-30 degreesThe cold now has the potential to be life-threatening.  The weather is now dangerous, and caution needs to be used.Unsafe conditions
0-15 degreesThe cold is now life-threatening.  The cold is also life-threatening.Dangerous–Even larger, long-haired dogs should not have long activity outdoors.

Essentially, the smaller the pet, the less cold it can tolerate.  Even if it has long hair, its body mass is too small to hold sufficient heat.  

This is why puppies should not spend much time outside, even if they want to.  They will get cold quickly because of that lack of body mass.

Here are some additional considerations to keep in mind:

  • Move life-threatening up two categories in the table above if there’s wet weather.
  • Toy breeds, elderly, sick, or dogs under six months should be moved up one category in the table above.
  • If a dog is a breed with a heavy coat or is acclimated to the cold, categories can stay where they are, or even be moved down.  In other words, a Husky can handle temperatures below 0.

These categories come from something known as the Tufts Animal Care and Conditions (TACC) Scales.  In case you want to see the original scales, click here

Which Breeds of Dogs can Better Tolerate Cold Weather?

Some breeds of dogs were bred to survive cold weather, usually because they were used for hunting or sledding.

According to the American Kennel Club, these breeds can handle cold better than most:

  • Saint Bernard.  They were bred to find lost travelers in the Swiss Alps.
  • Siberian Husky.  From Northeast Asia, these dogs have one of the thickest coats of any breed.  They were bred to be sledding dogs.
  • Tibetan Mastiff.  It gets cold in the Tibetan Mountains, where these dogs were first bred.  They are noted for having a thick double coat.
  • Newfoundland.  If a dog was bred to work in icy water, it’s got to be a hardy dog. 

Two lesser-known breeds that were also bred to work outdoors in the snow include the Norwegian Elkhound and the Keeshond.

Besides having thick fur, these dogs also have a long snout.  You may be wondering what snouts have to do with anything. Well, any dog with a short snout is not designed to be outside in the cold for a long length of time.  Not only are they already prone to lung issues, but their short snouts also afford little protection against stinging cold air.

Most medium-sized breeds, such as a German Shepherd or Border Collie, with a thicker coat of hair, can handle cold temperatures.  

How Long Can Dogs Play Outside in Cold Weather?

Playing outside is different than staying outside overnight.  A couple of tips provided by vets include the following:

  • Shorten the amount of time you give them.  Most dogs will let you know when they are ready to come inside, but if you normally let a dog out for two hours in the afternoon, make it one hour instead.
  • The same thing is true about walks. Long walks in the park should become short walks in the park.  Again, your dog will probably let you know when it’s time to head back in.
  • If your dog is used to taking a walking without a leash, cold weather time is time to put the leash on.
  • Since the exercise time is shorter, provide variety in exercise.  Take a different route when walking or add some new toys to outside play and inside, get some toys that move.  

In summary, cut your dog’s outside playing time in half unless you have a short-haired, toy breed, elderly, sick, or young puppy.  Out of all of those, only the puppy will want to go outside.  

Adjust Your Dog’s Diet

Although this might not seem to be related to exercise, when your dog exercises less, he needs fewer calories.  Or, when he goes wild in the snow, he might need more.

“My dog loves the snow. She’ll go out five or six times a day when it snows to play. On those days, she may need more calories because of the increase in exercise. Other dogs don’t like to go out at all—even for potty breaks. Because they’re less active, they should consume fewer calories.”

Dr. Ruch-Gallie, service chief for the Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital’s community practice

Signs Your Dog is too Cold

What are the signs that your dog got too cold?

  • If a dog is limping or avoiding the use of one paw by limping, that might be a sign of frostbite.
  • If you see a hunched back or tucked in tail, the dog might be trying to keep energy from escaping.
  • Believe it or not, dogs do shiver when they get too cold.
  • As strange as it may seem, a cold dog will lie on the ground because the cold has exhausted him.
  • Dogs, like humans, become disoriented when they are losing more heat than their bodies can generate.
  • Once a dog’s ears are cold, the dog is probably also cold, so check its ears.

“If you notice your dog shivering, acting anxious, whining, slowing down, searching out warm locations or holding up one or more paws, it’s time to head inside.”

Dr. Jennifer Coates, practicing veterinarian, writer, editor, and veterinary consultant at petmd.com.

My Dog Got Too Cold. What Should I Do?

Don’t warm your dog directly.  Instead, warm some blankets with a hairdryer or in the clothes’ dryer.  If you use a hot water bottle or a heating pad, wrap either one in a towel.  Your dog’s abdomen, not back, is the ideal spot to place it.

A dog’s normal temperature ranges between 101 and 102.5 degrees.  Check the temperature: if it’s below 98 degrees, it’s time to take your dog to the vet

Once his temperature reaches 100 degrees, you can stop the warming treatment. For the next half hour, monitor their temperature.  Once they are walking around and behaving normally, you can breathe a sigh of relief.

Frostbite – special mention

Frostbite requires immediate attention.  Some people make the mistake of rubbing or massaging a dog’s legs if they suspect frostbite.  That can cause tissue damage, so a better option is to wrap the leg in a warm blanket

Ways to Keep Your Dog Warm Outside

How do you keep yourself warm?  Protection from the elements, such as wind and snow? A source of heat like a hot water bottle or heater? Bundle up?  

There’s a variety of ways you can keep your pooch warm.  They’re similar to what you would do.

Boots

Protecting your dog’s paws is important, and there’s plenty of different types of doggie boots available. 

Among the highest-rated ones are the QUMY Dog BootsVelcro for easy on and off, waterproof, and anti-slip soles are features that make these among these an excellent choice.  Check them out here.  

Raincoat

Rain, as we stated earlier, causes a dog’s fur to get cold and lose whatever insulative quality it had. 

There’s a wide variety of raincoats for dogs to be found. We prefer the Pro Plums Dog Raincoat for two reasons.  It has lots of good features—it’s washable and adjustable, and it provides adequate reflective trim.  But the other reason we recommend it is because it’s fashionable. A dog shouldn’t have to walk around in a yellow raincoat.  If interested, check it out here.

Jacket

A jacket is designed more for warmth, although many jackets are also water-proof, depending on the material. 

We’re not sure why it’s called the Chilly Dog Boyfriend Dog Sweater, but it is made from 100% wool and is highly-rated, so it will keep your dog warm.  It’s fashionable also—it looks like an actual sweater. Check it out here.

Again, remember that most dogs aren’t made for the cold.  If you want a jacket, maybe your dog will want one also.

dogs outside in winter
Don’t forget a jacket for your dog in the colder months during their walks

Can I Keep My Dog in a Doghouse at Night?

Hopefully, it is clear that for small dogs, the answer is no.  They don’t have the insulation, and even temperatures under 45 are considered unsafe.  Perhaps you can get a doghouse to stay above 45 or 50 through tons of insulation and maybe a heat lamp or other heat source.  

But what if it gets out? No problem, you say.  But at this point, you have a fancy doghouse that functions like a cage.  So why not keep them comfortable inside by providing them a larger, dog-crate, such as this Midwest iCrate Kit that you can see here.  That way your pooch is not running around your house and getting into mischief, and he gets to stay inside.

How Warm is a Regular Doghouse?

A better question is how cold does it get in a doghouse.  Dr. Ernie Ward decided to find out. He bundled up–two pairs of socks, lined snowshoes, long underwear, thermal underwear, down jacket, ski jacket—you get the picture.  Then he climbed into a doghouse to see how long he could last.  

He went outside on a typical winter night in Chicago, with a temperature of 12 degrees.  The doghouse was a balmy 10 degrees warmer. Half an hour later the temperature had gone up about 3 degrees because of his body heat. That’s still pretty cold.  And that’s as warm as it got!

After spending 4 hours outside, the outside and doghouse temperature had both dropped.  But Dr. Ward’s body temperature had also dropped to 94.1 degrees. His advice is to keep dogs inside when temperatures drop below 40 degrees.  The YouTube video here has him explaining the experiment in more detail. 

Dr. Ward’s experiment inside a dog house outside during a Chicago winter

What About an Outdoor Doghouse?

We have a difficult time recommending an outdoor doghouse, especially if the temperatures will get to freezing.  A shelter—such as a chicken house or horse stable—that provides protection from the elements and ways to stay insulated, such as straw, is a possibility. But not everyone is in that situation.

You can get insulated doghouse, put straw or hay inside it, and get a small heater designed for dogs.  And your typical house dog will survive a cold night. But it won’t be happy.

In Conclusion

Is 50 degrees too cold for your dog to be outside? Every dog is different, but most dogs can safely handle 50 degrees.  Many people think that since dogs have furs, they can handle the cold.  That’s true for dogs that were bred to live in the cold. But it’s not true for most dogs.  

If you plan to take your dog outside, there are clothes and accessories that will help your dog stay warm.  Your dog will let you know if it’s too cold—either by staying inside or by asking to come back in. And if that doesn’t work, there are the physical signs such as shivering that will let you know it’s time to go inside and warm up.

They say that a dog is man’s best friend, but when it gets cold, we need to be a dog’s best friend.


Michelle

Michelle loves enjoying the outdoors with her dogs. She grew in a big house near the beach with German Shepherds. Nowadays, Michelle has down-sized her dogs, proving small dogs can enjoy the outdoors too! Lucy loves playing fetch with her ball and frisbee. Max loves swimming and could walk forever. Latte's life is simple: follow Lucy and Max and fun will happen. Michelle and her 3 dogs enjoy escaping the city limits to hike, camp and swim.

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