One of the reasons why German Shepherds became among the most popular breeds in the world is that they can tolerate all sorts of climates. In fact, early GSDs were bred to herd sheep even in intensely cold weather. But does that mean they’re not affected by low temperatures?
Do German Shepherds Get Cold?
Yes. Just like any other breed, German Shepherds do get cold. But thanks to their robust bodies and double coats, they tolerate low temperatures better than most breeds. In fact, many GSDs love playing in snow.
Nevertheless, they can also get too cold and it’s critical that you understand how they cope with chilly weather in order to protect them and keep them from freezing.
How German Shepherds Cope With Cold Weather
Although German Shepherds aren’t exactly snow dogs like Siberian Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes, they cope well in frigid weather because of the following:
German Shepherds generally have double coats composed of a coarse outer layer and a dense undercoat.
The undercoat functions as insulation so that heat doesn’t escape from the body. Whereas, the outer coat act as guard hairs to repel moisture and keep the cold from reaching the body.
It is important to note, however, that the density of undercoats differ between individual dogs. While most GSDs will have thick undercoats, others won’t have any at all.
It’s essential that you recognize your own dog’s coat structure to determine how well they could cope in cold weather.
German Shepherds have robust bodies that allow them to stay comfortable in low temperatures. They have a good ratio of muscle and fat to keep their vital organs insulated. Plus, they’re tall enough to keep their bellies away from the frosty ground.
Additionally, dogs in general have a remarkable paw structure, which features a network of blood vessels that ensures blood is warmed up before it is pumped back throughout the rest of the body. So, their bodies are safe even when they’re walking on ice.
As you’d expect from any working breed, German Shepherds have incredible energy levels. That’s helpful because dogs naturally use up more energy in low temperatures as their bodies adjust to the cold.
Additionally, many GSDs will instinctively engage in physical activity when the weather gets cold in an effort to keep their bodies warm.
How cold is too cold for a German Shepherd to be outside?
Temperature tolerance will be different between individual dogs but, generally, 40°F (4.44°C) is already too cold for German Shepherds. Although they might tolerate it, they shouldn’t be left in that weather condition for too long. At temperatures below 20°F (-6.66°C), they’ll likely suffer from frostbite and hypothermia.
When you have a GSD that loves snow, it’s almost cruel to keep them from playing outside. Besides, they benefit tremendously from the physical and mental stimulation.
However, when your dog extremely excited and too focused on play, they might not notice they’re getting too cold or they might not let you know that they’re getting uncomfortable. So, it’s important to know their limits, watch out for signs of discomfort, and take them indoors before it’s too late.
Other Factors That Affect Cold Weather Tolerance
Remember that it’s not all about the temperature reading. There are several factors that could make your German Shepherd less tolerant of the cold. These include:
German Shepherd puppies have not had the chance to develop their robust bodies and lush coats, and so will have a lower tolerance for frosty weather.
Similarly, senior GSDs won’t tolerate cold weather very well, especially when they suffer from arthritis and other inflammatory conditions.
If your dog is malnourished or has an underlying health condition, they might not have enough fat and flesh to insulate their vital organs. It might not take much to make them feel too cold.
Not all GSDs have thick or woolly coats. If your dog’s undercoat is sparse, they won’t have enough insulation to protect them from low temperatures.
Guard hairs can only do so much. If the weather conditions are wet or damp, or too much snow has melted into your GSD’s coat, there’s a serious risk of hypothermia.
Even when the temperature hasn’t reached critical levels, the wind can make it feel so much colder. If there’s a draft, your dog will need to go indoors sooner.
Ways to Tell if Your Dog is Cold
The more time you spend bonding with your dog, the better connection you have. You’ll be better able to predict their limits and read subtle cues about how they’re feeling.
Individual dogs might cope in different ways, but here are general signs that your German Shepherd is feeling cold:
When they’re cold, their hairs along their backbone—particularly around the shoulders and at the base of the tail—are raised. This is also known as “piloerection,” which is similar to humans getting goosebumps when they’re cold.
Like humans, dogs tend to shiver when they’re cold. This is the body’s natural coping mechanism when subjected to low temperatures. When dogs shiver, their muscles use stored energy to create small involuntary movements in an effort to generate warmth.
Needing to Curl Up
At the onset of cold weather, many dogs will try to become more active to keep their bodies warm. But eventually, they will instinctively try to preserve their energy and keep warm by curling up.
They do so by burrowing or nesting, ideally in proper beddings. Even when standing, they will try to preserve body heat by hunching their back and tucking their tail in.
Showing Signs of Stress
As their bodies focus on keeping their vital organs warm, dogs often become lethargic when they feel too cold. This might be accompanied by dilated pupils. They will become increasingly unresponsive if their conditions don’t improve.
When your dog’s eyelids and gums are pale or have turned blue, they might already be suffering from hypothermia.
Ways to Keep Your Dog Warm in Colder Weather
As winter approaches, a good rule of thumb is to keep your dog indoors unless supervised for potty and play. Generally, these are what you need to keep them safe and comfortable in cold weather:
- Keep them indoors. The most important thing to keep your dog safe in frigid temperatures is to let them stay indoors. Always make sure they have proper shelter than protects them from snow, wind, and rain.
- Ensure access to fresh water. Proper hydration will help your dog tolerate the chilly weather. Always check that their water bowl is filled with clean water that hasn’t frozen over.
- Provide proper beddings. Give your dog thicker blankets so they can bundle up when they want to. You can even roll the blankets up and shape them in a circle so your dog can nest. Also, try to keep your dog’s bed away from the ground. An elevated bed keeps their body further away from the cold as they sleep.
- Increase their food servings. Just being in frosty weather makes your dog use up more energy. So, feed them more food to keep their bodies from using their fat and muscle stores for energy.
- Protect their paws. Use paw wax or balm to protect your dog’s paw pads when walking on cold surfaces. If they’ll tolerate it, they might also benefit from dog boots, which will keep their paws warm as well as protect them from harsh chemicals used to manage snow and ice. Additionally, if you have a long-coated GSD, make sure you keep their paws trimmed short since their fur can soak up dampness from the ground and make them more susceptible to hypothermia.
- Get some clothes. Dog clothes are generally unnecessary for GSDs unless temperatures reach critically low levels or your dog is particularly sensitive to the cold. In those cases, additional insulation through dog sweaters or vests will be helpful.
- Avoid bathing. German Shepherds don’t need to bathe often and avoiding baths during winter will help a lot in keeping them warm. Instead, brush them often to remove dirt and debris, remove loose hair, and keep their skin and coat healthy.
What to do if you Suspect your Dog has Hypothermia
Hypothermia is a serious condition caused by exposure to low temperatures. It could lead to heart failure, comatose, or even death.
If you suspect that your dog is nearing or has reached hypothermia, it’s critical that you get them veterinary care right away. If a vet is not immediately available, take the following steps:
- Step 1: Dry them up. A wet or damp coat significantly lowers your dog’s ability to keep warm. Soak up what you can with a towel and use a hairdryer to dry them up and give them warmth at the same time.
- Step 2: Keep them warm. Once they’re dry, bundle them up in some thick blankets. If necessary, wrap up some hot water bottles in some towels and place them along your dog’s abdomen.
- Step 3: Check their temperature. If you have a thermometer, check your dog’s temperature. Normal body temperature for dogs is 101°F to 102.5°F (38.3°C to 39.2°C). Any reading below 100°F (37.8°C) is considered hypothermia. If your dog’s temperature is below 98°F (36.7°C), it’s critical that you get emergency veterinary care. Otherwise, watch them closely as they warm up.
- Step 4: Monitor their progress. Check their temperature every 10 minutes. As soon as their body temperature returns to normal, you can remove the heat but keep them bundled up. Continue checking their temperature every 30 minutes until you’re confident that they’ve bounced back completely.
The bodies of German Shepherds are built to tolerate the cold much better than other breeds. However, they do still feel cold and excessive exposure to low temperatures still poses severe danger.
However, as long as you make an effort to keep them safe and warm, the colder months might actually be your GSD’s most enjoyable time of the year.