Can Dogs Sleep Outside in Winter? (Solved & Explained!)

To properly answer this question, there are a lot of factors to consider like the climate where you live, the breed of your dog, and the comfort items you provide your dog.

In certain circumstances you may be safely able to allow your dog to sleep outside, but for the vast majority of dog owners it’s safest to let Fido sleep inside in the winter. 

Keep reading to learn about why you should keep your dog inside your home during the winter, the risks of leaving your dog outside at night, and some specific circumstances when you might be able to let him sleep outside.

Do dogs’ fur coats protect them from cold weather?

It’s a common misconception that because dogs have fur coats they are safely protected from the elements, but this is not always true.

Most dogs will still feel cold very quickly despite having a fur coat, with the exception of dogs with a thicker, denser coat like a Husky or Malamute who may be a bit better protected naturally.

Can dogs get frostbite?

Dogs can get frostbite if they are outside in cold temperatures. According to the American Kennel Club, dogs’ ears and tails are the most at risk for frostbite.

If your dog will be outside for an extended period of time in the cold, watch for patches of white or blue skin which might indicate frostbite.

If you notice spots that look like frostbite, rush your dog to the veterinarian as soon as possible as the signs often appear once some damage to the tissue has already been done.

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Are older dogs more at risk if left outside in the winter?

While it’s not a good idea to leave most dogs outside in cold temperatures, older dogs (as well as very young puppies) are more at risk for adverse effects.

They may have a harder time regulating their temperature to stay warm and it may cause issues with underlying health problems your dog may have like arthritis.

Should dogs wear sweaters or jackets if it’s cold?

Yes, sweaters and other outerwear for dogs is more than just a fashion statement. The extra layer helps dogs stay warm by protecting them from the elements and keeping them dry.

The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends having a few jackets or sweaters on hand that fit your dog so that you always have a dry one for them to wear.

How cold is too cold for my dog to sleep or stay outside?

Most dogs will feel general discomfort at any temperature below 40 degrees Fahrenheit for any extended period of time. Any temperature below freezing is considered dangerous and should be avoided at all costs except for brief bathroom trips.

Can my dog sleep in a dog house outside?

Yes, if you live in a more moderate climate you may be able to allow your dog to safely sleep in a dog house outdoors.

It’s important to provide options for safety and warmth so it’s recommended to line the dog house with a blanket or dog bed, access to fresh water that is not frozen, and a sturdy structure to protect against winds and harsh weather.

Is it safe to heat a dog house with a space heater?

No. Any heating element left unattended in the dog’s sleeping space presents a risk of burning the dog or starting a fire. Space heaters should be avoided at all costs, and electric blankets and warming lamps should only be used under strict supervision.

Generally if it is so cold out that a thick blanket or dog bed will not be enough to keep your dog comfortable, it is too cold for them to be sleeping outside.

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How do I know if my dog has hypothermia?

It’s important to watch for early signs of hypothermia if your dog will be outside in the cold for any length of time.

Signs of hypothermia in dogs are whining, shivering, burrowing, changes in movement patterns (moving a lot more or less or in a strange way), anxious behavior, or weakness. If you notice any signs, bring your dog indoors immediately and seek veterinary attention.

What if my dog loves to be outside even in the cold?

Provide as much comfort as you can in the form of blankets, bedding, a dog house etc. and always offer them the option to return indoors often, especially if it is very cold.

Some dogs that are bred for colder temperatures like Huskies, Newfoundlands, and Malamutes may prefer to stay outside and do very well, but make sure to continue to check them for frostbite, hypothermia, and other signs of discomfort frequently as they may not alert you.

Can my dog get sick from sleeping outside?

Dogs can get colds from exposure to viruses and bacteria much like humans can. The American Kennel Club identified the following common symptoms of colds in dogs as general lethargy, runny nose, coughing, and watery eyes.

If your dog is experiencing any of those symptoms after spending time outside, it’s important to get them checked by a veterinarian.

How can I make sure my dog is safe while sleeping outside?

Ensure that your dog has a safe, warm, sturdy sleeping space that he is comfortable with. Check the fencing around your yard for any possible points of entry and replace before leaving your dog unattended overnight.

If your dog will be sleeping in close proximity to parked cars, check daily for antifreeze leaks as even the smallest amount of antifreeze can be lethal for dogs.

Make sure that your dog has a collar with easily identifiable contact information and/or is microchipped in case of an escape in the night.

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When is it not safe to let your dog sleep outside?

If temperatures approach freezing, or you live in an area where coyote or cougar attacks happen, you’ll want to avoid letting your dog sleep outside. Small dogs can also fall pray to predatory birds in certain areas of the country, and should be closely monitored when let outside.