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How Cold Is Too Cold for My German Shepherd?

Winter is right around the corner, and cold temperatures will soon be knocking at your door. It is important to stay warm and cozy. While you may already be set for winter and all it will bring, it is important to also take care of your German Shepherd. Knowing your German Shepherd’s cold tolerance, and preparing when the temperature gets too low, can help you take care of your dog.

Most German Shepherds are comfortable spending time outside at temperatures as low as 24.8°F or -4°C thanks to their thick, two-layer fur coat. Dogs with thick coats may do well with lower temperatures, but exposure to severe cold should be limited.

Several factors determine how much cold your specific German Shepherd can handle. This article will look at these factors so you can provide your dog with the best care possible.

How Cold Can My German Shepherd Handle?

While German Shepherds may not want to spend all their time in the frigid cold weather, they can handle temperatures as low as 24.8°F or -4°C. if the temperature gets too much below these numbers, your dog will have trouble regulating their temperatures.

There are a few exceptions to this. For example, if your dog has a thick fur coat with surface area to volume ratio being higher, or they’re muscular, they may be able to withstand temperatures a bit colder. Some German Shepherds, for short periods, can handle temperatures as low as 10° F or -12°C.

Pay attention to how your dog reacts to the colder temperatures. Not all German Shepherds have the same ability to regulate their body heat temperatures, and they may struggle with colder temperatures. If it seems like your dog struggles when it gets colder, you need to keep them inside or give them some added layers of protection.

German Shepherd Cold Tolerance

To help determine how much cold your dog can handle, it is important to understand what makes up the cold tolerance level for each dog. Since German Shepherds are a large breed with lots of fur, they are often revered for how well they tolerate the cold weather. Even so, this dog does have a limit on how much winter weather it can take.

There are a few things that help determine the cold tolerance of a German Shepherd, including:

Type of Coat

A German Shepherd has a coat with two layers of fur, which helps keep the dog warm. The underlayer will be thicker than the top layer, helping the dog trap heat inside and close to the body. The topcoat is full of coarse hairs that are known as water-resistant. This helps the dog to withstand colder weather conditions.

The thicker the top and the undercoat of the dog, the higher cold tolerance the German Shepherd can handle. The water-resistant coat will increase how well they can stay warm as well. Three variations come with the German Shepherd coat including:

  • The outer coat is shorter with a thick and fluffy inner coat.
  • Both coats have long hairs. There are also tufts of fur found on the hind legs and ears of this dog.
  • Only one coat that has long hairs and no undercoat.

The Surface Area to Volume Ratio

We mentioned this a bit before, but according to research, large animals have a smaller surface area to volume ratio. This is important because it helps them retain heat for longer. Smaller dogs are opposite with a larger surface area to volume ratio. This means that smaller dogs will need to raise their metabolism rate to retain heat.

Since German Shepherds are larger dogs, they can hold onto heat better. It is not uncommon to find these dogs growing to 26 inches (66.04cm) and weighing 90 pounds (41kg). Some dogs of this breed can grow bigger, which helps them to better handle cold temperatures.

Muscle Mass

Under the thick coat, German Shepherds also have some thick muscles to help them move around and be a good working breed. These thick muscles help the dog stay warm by increasing their metabolic rate. Through the metabolism, the German Shepherd can release more heat to keep the body warm. The muscles are also in charge of coordinating shivering, which raises the body temperature as well.

Behavioral Adaptation

Since the German Shepherd breed lived in cold regions for many years, they are better adapted to these kinds of conditions. Owners should note the bushy tail that is used to cover the face during sleep. This is an effective way for the German Shepherd to keep their nose and eyes warm at night. This dog also curls up while sleeping, keeping their body nice and close and retaining heat.

What May Reduce Their Cold Tolerance?

Now that we know more about what makes the cold tolerance higher in a German Shepherd, we need to also focus on some of the factors that may reduce this cold tolerance. Some factors include:

Age

German Shepherd puppies have a thin fur coat that makes winter very hard on them. Their muscles are also underdeveloped, making it hard to regulate body heat well. Feeding your puppy a highly nutritious diet and giving them a warm coat can help them stay warm during winter.

Older dogs may have trouble regulating their body heat as well. Over time, older dogs lose their hair and muscles, and their immune systems may get weaker. It is usually best to not take a senior German Shepherd into the severe cold too often.

Disease

When your dog is sick, their bodies automatically take extra energy and direct it towards healing. This leaves very little energy left to help the dog stay warm. This is why it is best to keep any sick German Shepherds inside where it is nice and warm.

Weight Loss

If your German Shepherd loses weight, this means they have lost muscle and body fat. Both of these are important to maintaining heat. We have discussed why muscle is so important, but in really cold weather conditions, the body fat can be converted to extra energy to keep warm. If your dog doesn’t have a very big fat reserve, they will struggle more with staying warm.

Ways to Keep Your Dog Warm in Winter

Whether your German Shepherd has a low cold tolerance, is young, old, sick, or underweight, it is important to keep them warm. A few things you can do to help with this include:

  • Provide them a warm place to sleep. A comfy bed, like this Furhaven Pet Dog Bed, and some blankets will work nicely.
  • Provide water. Hydration is important. Pet supplements with electrolytes may help improve muscle function when it gets cold. This DoggieWater vitamin and supplement is a perfect choice.
  • Provide a healthy diet.
  • Groom your dog often. Try to avoid the temptation to trim the hair when it is cold.
  • Provide a dog Coat. An option like this SCPET Fog Winter Coat can add an extra layer of protection when your dog needs to be in the cold. 

Conclusion

German Shepherds do much better in cold temperatures than other dogs thanks to their size and two layers of fur to keep them warm. There are still limits to consider though.

You need to consider the age of your dog, how well they tolerate the cold, and even their health conditions. Always err on the side of caution and bring your dog in if you worry about the cold.