German Shepherds are amazing dogs with warm hearts and a propensity to love and protect. But how does that big, fluffy double coat of fur stack up against the frigid weather outdoors? Do German Shepherds get cold?
Yes, German Shepherds do get cold just like humans do. However, they can tolerate some extreme temperatures outside. Their thick, dense, double coat of fur allows them to withstand temps that are just below freezing and in the range of 25-30 degrees Fahrenheit. But this doesn’t mean you should leave them outside for long periods. Bring them in right away if they are shaking or shivering!
Keep in mind that older less active GSDs won’t be able to tolerate as much cold as younger more active GSDs. Other factors such as age, diet and health will also play a role. Keep reading for more information on a German Shepherd’s cold tolerance including some great tips on how to keep them warm in the winter!
What Temperature Is Too Cold For German Shepherds?
German Shepherds love the snow and can withstand some chilly temperatures during the winter. Their double-coat of fur gives them protection against the elements including water and cold air.
But similar to humans, a GSD can only handle so much before their body shuts down and they start to develop hypothermia or frostbite.
For humans, that threshold is 32°F depending on the wind chill factor. German Shepherds can handle cold better withstanding temps in the 25-30°F range. Long haired GSDs can even endure colder temperatures.
That doesn’t mean they can stay outside for long periods though. When temperatures are below freezing you don’t want them staying outside for periods of longer than 30 minutes to an hour.
Anything below 20°F for dogs is considered very dangerous. Most canines will start to develop hypothermia or frostbite when the temp gets this low.
Factors That Affect A German Shepherd’s Cold Tolerance
Of course, many different factors contribute to a dog’s threshold for cold weather. Not every dog will be able to survive in 25°F weather. You need to consider certain things before sending your GSD out into the frozen tundra.
- Age and Activity Level: A younger adult that is active will be able to stay outside longer in the cold than a senior dog who is less active.
- Breed: Certain breeds were built for extreme temps. Some examples include the Great Pyrenees, New Foundland and Saint Bernard.
- Coat Color: If you’ve ever owned a black car, you know why color matters. A dark colored coat will absorb much more sun than a light-colored coat keeping the dog warmer.
- Coat Type: Smaller dogs with thin coats can’t handle the chilly temps as well as larger dogs with thick coats like the GSD.
- Health Condition: Certain health conditions can get worse in the cold. A GSD with arthritis for example may stiffen up in the joints
- Indoor or Outdoor: A dog that is used to the indoors will have a much tougher time enduring the cold than a dog that lives outdoors.
- Size and Weight: Large dog breeds like the German Shepherd will stay much warmer in the cold because of the extra pounds.
- Cloudy or Sunny: As you know the sun makes a big difference when it’s cold outside. A GSD will be able to endure the cold much longer when it’s sunny.
- Rain, Sleet and Snow: A dog can still freeze when they are wet even if the temperatures are above freezing.
- Wind Chill: First and foremost, check the wind chill because even if the temperature is above freezing, the wind chill may not be which could cause your dog to freeze.
Make sure to consider all of these factors when the temps are below freezing. There is no exact science when determining your dog’s exact threshold for chilly weather.
Signs Your German Shepherd Is Too Cold
There are many ways to tell if your German Shepherd is getting too cold and you don’t want to risk them freezing during winter.
- Anxiety or Stress: A GSD may exhibit signs of anxiety or stress when they get too cold. This can take shape in many forms. They may sit awkwardly, bark, howl or whine letting you know that something isn’t right.
- Curling Up: To stay warm, dogs will curl up into a ball and tuck their nose under their tail. This allows them to conserve heat. If they can, they will find somewhere to burrow or nest to stay even warmer outside.
- Dilated Pupils: Their pupils may become dilated and the inner eyelids may become pale or blue along with the gums.
- Hair Standing Up: When a dog is too cold, the hairs on its backbone, shoulders and base of the tail may stand up. This is similar to when a human gets goosebumps. It is technically called “piloerection.” It can also happen when a dog is scared, startled or stimulated.
- Lethargy: Lethargy is one of the top signs that your dog may be freezing. Their body will slow down in order to conserve energy and heat for their vital organs. Subsequently, they will become slower.
- Shaking or Shivering: This one is pretty obvious and a tell-tale sign that your German Shepherd is getting too cold. Shivering is the body’s way of attempting to warm up during low temperatures. The muscles will tighten and then relax to generate heat.
- Temperature: A GSDs normal temperature is in the range of 101-102.5°F or 38.3-39.2°C. If their temperature falls below 99°F or 37.2°C, they will begin to experience mild hypothermia. Moderate hypothermia will begin to set in once they get below 90°F or 32.2°C. And finally, any temperature below 82°F or 27.7°C is extremely dangerous for your dog and considered severe hypothermia.
- Trouble Standing or Walking: They may have trouble standing up form a sitting or lying position. They may also be off balance and have trouble walking.
If you notice any of these signs, make sure to bring them inside immediately to get warm. If you think they may be experiencing hypothermia or frostbite, take them to the emergency vet ASAP!
German Shepherd Cold Weather Tips
If you do plan on taking your German Shepherd outside this winter, here are some useful tips and tricks to keep them warm and safe from the frigid temps.
- Check the temp: As we stated earlier in the article, make sure it isn’t too cold. You don’t want to risk hypothermia or frostbite. Things get risky once the temperature drops below 25°F or -3.8°C.
- Keep bed warm with blankets: Use extra blankets during the winter in their bed to keep them warm and cozy.
- Provide a heat lamp or pad: Use a heat lamp for an outdoor doghouse or a heating pad for cooler areas like their crate, the garage or a kennel.
- Use snow boots: Snow boots will protect your GSDs paws when it is icy during the winter. They will be much more comfortable walking in the snow and it will protect their nails from bleeding or getting worn out.
- Use a snow jacket: A good waterproof snow jacket is a good way to keep them warm during snowy conditions. It also protects them from getting completely soaked in the rain or sleet.
Remember to keep your German Shepherd indoors if the temperature is too cold. It’s not worth risking their livelihood.
Why Are German Shepherds A Good Cold Weather Breed?
Believe it or not, German Shepherds were built for cold weather. If you go back to their roots in history, you will find that the breed was developed for herding livestock all year round.
They would have to endure the chilly temperatures in winter in Germany which average around freezing at 32°F or 0°C. In addition, they eventually became military, police and war time dogs. All of these professions required them to withstand frigid temps.
Throughout the breed’s lifetime, they developed a thick, dense double-coat of fur which helped to protect them from all the elements as guardians of the land.
The outer coat protects them from the wind and the water while the inner coat keeps them insulated and warm from the cold.
Long-haired German Shepherds with an inner and outer coat can survive even colder temperatures.
Size is another aspect that gives GSDs more protection during the winter months. Large dog breeds have more mass which gives them better insulation. Males are usually in the range of 65-90 pounds while females are in the range of 50-70 pounds.
The last trait that gives them an advantage is their activity level. German Shepherds don’t like to sit around and love jobs. They thrive when they have activities to do and complicated tasks.
This high energy keeps the blood flowing while they are outside keeping them less cold than other less active dog breeds.
There is a reason that the German Shepherd is one of the best cold weather dog breeds. Their history, physical stature and thick, dense, double layer of fur makes them the perfect candidate for chilly weather. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean they should be left outside all night or for long periods. It depends on the specific dog and their individual circumstances.
Make sure you know the signs and symptoms of hypothermia and frostbite to avoid your dog freezing outside during low temps. Prepare for the winter using the tips we mentioned earlier in the post.
Please leave a comment below and let us know what you think!
Do you have any experience with German Shepherds and cold weather? Let us know! We would love to hear any new tips for keeping your GSD warm during the winter!