Just as school delays and closings are broadcast to protect children from inclement weather, you should be concerned for the outdoor safety of your pets. While most dogs and cats come equipped with fur coats, their coat does not ensure they have sufficient protection from the winter cold when temperatures dip below freezing. In general, cats should be kept indoors when temperatures near freezing to protect them from hypothermia and frostbite. Since dogs differ in their cold tolerance, there is no strict temperature cut-off for when it is no longer safe for dogs to be outside. Puppies and elderly dogs are less able to effectively regulate their body temperature than adult dogs, and this should be taken into consideration when deciding how long they can safely stay outdoors in both cold and warm weather. Dogs with some health conditions such as hypothyroid disease, anemia, and laryngeal paralysis (which is also exacerbated by warm weather) may be less tolerant of cold weather. Even a dog’s conformation or “body type” can play a role—dogs with short legs that are lower to the ground may be more susceptible to the cold if their abdomens get cold and wet from the snow.
The only published guideline for cold weather safety for dogs is the Tufts Animal Care and Condition (TACC) Weather Safety Scale. A more user-friendly cold weather safety chart (below) can give you an idea of the level of concern you should have for your dog based the temperature and conditions outside.