How Long Can Your Dog Play in the Snow?

Just like humans, each dog has a different level of tolerance for cold weather.

Some pups won’t deign to step outdoors in the winter, while others are perfectly content to roll through the snow. But is it safe for your dog to spend hours at time frolicking through your backyard’s winter wonderland alone? The answer, as usual, is that it depends.

The Breed Matters

Your dog’s breed will go a long way in determining how well they adapt to cold weather. As you can probably imagine, shorthaired dogs like Chihuahua’s don’t adapt well to freezing temperatures. They simply don’t have enough fur to protect them. Other breeds, like Alaskan Malamutes, seem to thrive in the dead of winter. That’s because they have an added layer of protection hiding beneath their outer coats. The thick undercoat found in breeds like Huskies, Malamutes, and Akitas helps to insulate them from the cold.

A good indicator of whether or not your dog is naturally prepped for the snow is to watch how it collects on their fur. If you notice your dog lying idle in the snow, and it doesn’t seem to be melting as it piles on top of them, that’s because their undercoat is doing its job. However, if you notice that the snowfall is melting and your pup is getting wet, it’s time to bring them inside.

dog snow

©istockphoto/AshleyWiley

Exceptions to the Rule

While most northern, heavy-coated breeds will do just fine in the snow, there are exceptions to the rule. Huskies living down in Florida, for instance, probably won’t adapt to the cold the way they are typically bred to, due to such an extreme difference in climate. Healthy, young dogs are also able to stand the cold better than older dogs with compromised immune systems.

One glaring exception to keep in mind is that under no circumstances should puppies under eight weeks of age be left out in snowy or cold weather, no matter the breed. Their immune system hasn’t developed enough at this point for it to be safe for them to withstand frigid temperatures, and their undercoats have not fully grown in.

dog snow

©istockphoto/Sasha_Suzi

Helpful Tips

Even if you’re living with an Alaskan sled dog, there are still important health concerns to keep in mind. Particularly, your dog’s paws are always in danger no matter their breed. Snow and ice can collect between the paw pads, leading to frostbite and other dangerous conditions. Always clean them out after your dog spends any time in the snow. Boots are a great way to keep your pet’s paws safe in the winter.

You’ll also want to invest in or build a shelter for your dog, so they can escape the snow when they’re ready. The shelter should be insulated and have plenty of room for your pup to move around. A comfy bed wouldn’t hurt, either! Always be sure to have water on hand that isn’t frozen, as well.

Mostly, your pup will be fine as long as you use your common sense. If he’s shivering, bring him in. Watch for signs that he wants out of the snow, like hiding under a deck or car. Never leave your dog outside in freezing temperatures overnight, no matter the breed. No amount of undercoat can withstand subfreezing temperatures forever.

Remember that dogs are emotionally similar to children—just because your pup looks like he’s enjoying himself in the snow, that doesn’t mean you should leave him out there against his own best interest.

Meet the Author: Ben Kerns

Ben Kerns is a freelance writer, photographer and outdoor adventurer based out of San Diego. When he’s not busy working you can find him hopping across the world looking for new places to climb big rocks. He’s also fanatically obsessed with funding his outdoor obsessions for as little money as possible. This stuff gets expensive.

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