How cold is too cold for cats and dogs – and what can you do to keep them cosy and warm?

The cold weather might be heaven for Huskies but come the frosty weather, Greyhounds are reviewing their winter wardrobes: will it be the red quilted coat or the green rain jacket?

Keeping your pet warm enough can be a worry and it is hardest to manage at night, particularly in New Zealand when night-time temperatures can plummet.

How cold is too cold for your pet?

Temperatures below freezing (0°C) will be too cold for most dogs and cats. When the temperature averages below 7°C, most pets shouldn’t be left outdoors day or night - spending long periods at these temperatures means your pet is more likely to develop cold-related health problems like hypothermia. 1

But every pet is different. Your pet’s coat type and colour, age, weight and size all impact how they’re able to handle cold (or hot) weather.

Dogs like Siberian Huskies have double-layered coats and so are better equipped to handle cooler weather. Darker-coloured fur absorbs heat from sunlight better, so on a clear day, brown and black pets will have a slight advantage over pets with lighter-coloured fur.

Dogs and cats will lose a lot of their heat through their skin. The smaller your pet, the higher their surface area to volume ratio. Translation: smaller pets will get colder, faster.

Weight also has an impact, as body fat is a good insulator. That said, there’s a myriad of health issues that come with being overweight, so don’t let your pet pack on the pounds this winter. Find other ways to keep them warm and toasty and be aware that a naturally skinny Greyhound might appreciate a warm jumper.

How do you know if your pet is cold? Their extremities tend to get cold first – so if the tips of their ears are cold, chances are they’re feeling chilly and will welcome a warm cuddle or an extra blanket in bed.

Do dogs and cats get colds?

Dogs and cats don’t get colds in the same way that humans get colds and the flu. But, just like humans, our pets can get sick over the winter months too.

Common winter health problems include joint problems and fireplace related injuries. Older and very young pets can be particularly vulnerable and may need extra care during the cooler months.

Hypothermia is a dangerous condition in both cats and dogs. It happens when their core body temperature drops below 37°C. Moderate hypothermia occurs when their core body temperate drops below 32°C, and this can have a severe impact on your pet’s health. However, Hypothermia will only occur if a pet has been exposed to cold temperatures for a period of time such as they have been injured and outside overnight.

Signs your pet has hypothermia include:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Sluggishness
  • Depression
  • Dilated pupils
  • Low blood pressure
  • Slow heartbeat

If you think your pet has hypothermia, wrap them in a warm towel and take them to your veterinarian immediately.

Keeping your pet warm at night

When temperatures regularly reach below 7°C at night (or during the day), you’ll need to make sure your pet has access to a warm, sheltered and dry spot to rest in.

  • Ideally, you’ll be able to keep your pet indoors at night, or in a shelter out of inclement weather.
  • Make a cosy pet bed that’s slightly raised and out of the way of cold draughts. Add insulating padding or towels and blankets they can curl up in.
  • Ensure your pet (particularly cats) has access to fresh water – some pets don’t drink enough water during colder weather and this can exacerbate health issues.
  • Put a barrier around any heat sources. Some pets just can’t help themselves and will snuggle up to very hot fireplaces – and nobody wants burned whiskers!
  • Use pet-safe heat pads for young, elderly or unwell pets. Check them regularly to ensure they are in good working order

Of course, if your pet already sleeps on your bed, you’ll know exactly when they want to borrow a little warmth – when you’re almost falling out of bed with a furry friend pressed into your side!

Winter’s a great time to cuddle up with your furry friends. If you’re feeling chilly, chances are, they are too. So huddle up and make the most of the cosy winter months together.

1 How Cold is Too Cold for Your Dog, Jennifer Coates, PetMD,

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