Winter Safety for Golden Retrievers: What’s Too Cold?


When winter arrives, it can often pose a challenge for exercising our Golden Retrievers. While they might enjoy playing in the snow, and their double coats help keep them warm, it is often difficult to know how cold is too cold for your Golden Retriever and how long they should be allowed to be outside. 

What Temperature Is Too Cold for a Golden Retriever?

Knowing what temperature is too cold for your Golden Retriever is essential. In addition, it will play the primary role in determining when caution must be taken outdoors. 

In general, it gets too cold for Golden Retrievers below 14 F (- 10 C), so adjust activities accordingly while limiting time outdoors. However, healthy adult Golden Retrievers can still engage in suitable outdoor activities for 30 to 60 minutes when temperatures are between 14 to 32 F (0 to – 10 C).

Remember that the temperature discussed above are ranges and a general guide. Many factors can impact what temperature your Golden Retriever can tolerate and the time limit for it being outdoors. 

As well, some Golden Retrievers may tolerate colder temperatures better than others. They are individuals and, just like us, have their own preferences. 

As owners, we need to be aware of what activities are appropriate for our dogs when the thermometer drops, and when to limit time outdoors. So, we must know our dogs and watch for signs that they are uncomfortable while using common sense.  

In the next section, we’ll discuss how the various traits of the Golden Retriever impact their ability to withstand the cold. We’ll also look at multiple things that can affect the temperature and how you can use these to determine when it’s too cold for your Golden Retriever.

Golden Retriever Traits and Cold Tolerance 

Often you’ll see general guidelines that a temperature for a “dog” should be this or that. However, those recommendations fail to account for the various traits of a dog. Obviously, a Husky is better equipped to handle cold than a Chihuahua. 

So, let’s look at some traits that can impact how well a Golden Retriever tolerates the cold. 

Coat 

Golden Retrievers possess a dense double coat, which helps keep them warm. While not as long as some double-coated breeds, such as the Bernese Mountain Dog or Newfoundland, the coat does add an extra layer of protection versus dogs without a double coat. 

The coat enables the Golden Retriever to do well in water and tolerate cooler temperatures. The Goldens coat is made up of two layers. 

The outer coat is long and lustrous and is often referred to as the guard layer for the inner coat. The inner or undercoat is below this longer, shining “Golden” coat. The undercoat consists of a downy feathery fur that is water repellant and helps protect the skin from sun and cold. 

The double coat provides thermal insulation for your Golden Retriever to keep warm in the cold. 

Even still, caution must be exercised. The Golden was not bred to withstand cold temperatures to the same degree as dogs bred for more frigid temperatures, such as Huskies or St. Bernards.  

Size

Golden Retrievers are medium to large dogs. While the breed standard for the dog is between 55 to 75 lbs, Golden Retrievers can get much larger and grow upwards of 100lbs. Our purebred Golden Bailey is just under 90lbs at just over a year old. 

Why is size important for cold tolerance? Because the bigger the dog, the better tolerance they have for the cold. Smaller dogs cannot generate the same degree as larger dogs.

In addition, smaller dogs are lower to the ground, so their bodies are typically closer to the cold ground or even touching the snow. 

With their larger size and double coats, Golden Retrievers can generally tolerate the cold and snow much better. 

Weight

As discussed in the previous section, bigger dogs tolerate cold better than smaller dogs. However, a Golden Retriever that is overweight or obese or underweight and too skinny may not handle cold as well. 

While the extra fat layer adds additional layers of warmth, the excess weight being carried can stress a dog’s system much more. In addition, the extra weight makes it more challenging to exercise, and deep snow and colder temperatures may add to the stress. 

Consider a fit person versus an unfit person shoveling snow in the winter. Which is more at risk for an injury or health issue? 

Conversely, an underweight Golden with very little fat might be in a poor state of health due to malnutrition, thereby making the cold an additional stressor. Not only is an underweight Golden Retriever more likely to be less cold tolerant, but the lack of nutrition may impact the coat as well.

If you believe your Golden Retriever is too skinny then take a few minutes to read my article on that topic. In my article, Is My Golden Retriever Too Skinny? (Signs to Look For), I discuss how to know when your Golden is too skinny, what to do, and much more.

A Golden Retriever that is healthy and fit with a full double coat is better equipped to handle the colder temperatures than one that is overweight or too skinny. 

Health

Golden Retrievers that are in poor health are particularly susceptible to the cold. Conditions like diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, and hormonal imbalances can compromise a pet’s ability to regulate its own body heat.

Therefore, Golden Retrievers that are not generally in good health, should not be exposed to winter weather for an extended period. Talk to your veterinarian about what is appropriate.

Age

Age is another factor in cold tolerance for Golden Retrievers. Older or very young (puppies) Golden Retriever may have less tolerance for the cold than dogs in their prime. 

Like hot temperatures in the summer, cold temperatures can be very taxing on an older or very young dog. In addition, older dogs and puppies have more difficulty regulating their body temperature. 

Hold up. I wrote an article on what temperatures are too hot for a Golden Retriever. Like the cold, heat can cause issues for dogs, namely heatstroke. Read about it here: Golden Retrievers In Hot Weather: Keeping Them Cool.

Puppies are smaller, and as discussed earlier, smaller dogs cannot generate the same heat as their larger counterparts. Their smaller size may also mean they are touching the snow with their bellies or more fully immersed. 

Older dogs often have joint issues and other health issues which can be exasperated by colder temperatures. In addition, older dogs may no longer have the same metabolism or degree of muscle mass, reducing their tolerance to exercise and temperature extremes. 

Be mindful of your Golden Retrievers weight, age, and health status. Puppies or senior Golden Retrievers, dogs that are overweight or too skinny and ones that have health issues may be less suited for cold temperatures. Adjust the activity and the time spent outdoor accordingly and consult your vet on what may be appropriate. 

What Are the Risks of Cold Weather for Golden Retrievers?

As pet owners, we must always advocate for our Golden Retrievers. Although our Golden Retrievers often love outdoor activities, they are not the best judge of when they are too cold or at risk from the cold weather. 

Golden Retrievers outside in cold weather for too long are at risk of hypothermia and frostbite. The cold can also add additional stress to pre-existing health issues like kidney, heart, or joint problems. Therefore, limit time outdoors when temperatures are frigid, and never leave the dog unattended in cold weather. 

Extreme temperatures are unpleasant for us, and this includes our Golden Retrievers. That unpleasantness is exacerbated by the risk of cold if outside for too long. Like sweltering temperatures that can cause heatstroke, cold temperatures are equally formidable with their potential for severity. 

Hypothermia

Hypothermia occurs when your Golden Retriever has an abnormally low body temperature. According to the AKC, hypothermia can be classified as mild, moderate, and severe, defending the body temperature as illustrated below. 

Severity of Hypothermia Body Temperature (Fahrenheit)Body Temperature (Celsius)
Mild90 – 99 F32 to 37 C
Moderate82 – 90 F28 to 32 C
SevereLess than 82 FLess than 28 C

Signs that your Golden Retriever may be suffering from hypothermia include: 

  • Shivering
  • Rapid or increased heart rate, followed by a slow heart rate
  • Breathing difficulties: either rapid breathing or slower and shallower breath
  • Lethargy and sluggishness 
  • Slow to respond and delayed reflexes
  • Difficulty or inability to walk
  • Depressive state or a stupor
  • Paleness or blue gums
  • Cold to the touch
  • Dilated pupils
  • Loss of consciousness

Contact your vet immediately for instructions and to determine if the dog needs to go to the emergency room. Even if you believe the hypothermia is mild, it’s best to have your vet assess the dog. 

If you believe your Golden Retriever is suffering from hypothermia, immediately remove the dog from the cold to a warm environment. If wet, gently dry off the dog and wrap it in warm blankets.

And, be leery of using radiant heat (blow dryers, space heaters), as increasing your dog’s temperature too fast may be harmful. IV fluids may be required if severe, and your vet will need to administer those. 

Frostbite

Frostbite occurs when the skin becomes frozen, and there is damage to the underlying skin. And, yes, frostbite can occur in dogs. The paws and nose are the most susceptible to frostbite, and the ears may also be vulnerable. 

Signs that your Golden Retriever may be suffering from frostbite include discoloration of the affected skin area is often pale, gray, or bluish, coldness and/or brittleness of the site when touched, pain when you touch the body part(s), swelling of the affected area(s), blisters or skin ulcers, and areas of blackened or dead skin.

If you suspect your dog has frostbite, you should immediately render interim first aid, including:

  • As soon as possible, take your dog to the veterinarian. The quicker the issues are addressed, the better the prognosis. 
  • Move your dog to a warm, dry area as quickly as possible.
  • Refrain from rubbing or massaging the affected area.
  • Do not warm a frostbitten area outdoors. Wait until indoor to prevent refreezing. 
  • Never use external heating sources like blow dryers to warm the area. Instead, use WARM water or warm compresses such as towels. 
  • When transporting your Golden Retriever to the veterinarian, keep the vehicle warm and wrap towels or blankets around the dog for additional warmth.
  • DO NOT give the dog any pain medication (including over-the-counter pain relievers such as Tylenol or Advil) until instructed by your vet. 

Mild cases of frostbite usually resolve with no permanent damage. In contrast, moderate frostbite may result in some alteration of the affected tissues. In extreme cases, amputation or surgical removal of the necrotic (dead) tissues is required. 

Exasperation of Pre-Existing Health Conditions

Another risk for Golden Retrievers is if the dog has some underlying health condition. For example, suppose the dog has diabetes, heart issues, or joint problems. In that case, those conditions can be aggravated or worsened by cold temperatures. 

For dogs with pre-existing health issues, it’s essential to discuss with your veterinarian how to deal with the cold. It may be best to find alternate ways to exercise your dog in freezing temperatures, such as swimming or finding indoor doggie daycare classes. 

For more minor health issues, it may be just a matter of adding some booties and a sweater while limiting vigorous activities and time outdoors when cold. 

How Do You Take Care of a Golden Retriever in the Winter?

Golden Retriever owners can employ some proactive measures to ensure their dogs remain safe and healthy in the winter. 

You can ensure your Golden Retriever remains safe and healthy during the cold winter months by employing the following tips:

  • Watch for sand, grit, and de-icers on the sidewalk, and always clean the paws after a walk.
  • Consider booties to protect paws and a sweater if the temperatures are frigid. 
  • Consider indoor games or doggie daycare classes if extremely cold out.
  • Many pet stores or greenhouses allow dogs on a leash, so a gentle walk around the store while shopping gives them some exercise. 
  • Never let your dog off-leash during a snowstorm, as they can quickly lose their way and become lost.
  • Be careful of traffic. Limited daylight hours in the winter can lead to accidents, so try to walk your dogs when light out, if possible. 
  • Keep antifreeze out of reach and out of sight, as it is highly toxic to dogs.
  • Dogs can and should continue to exercise in the colder months. Lack of exercise can cause weight gain and other issues.
  • If you’re both stuck inside during a deep freeze, why not take that time to practice commands, teach new tricks or hide treats in toys? It’s a great way to help your dog burn energy and keep you both entertained until it’s warm enough to get outside to play again!

Want to know if your Golden Retriever is getting too fat, something that might be a side effect of too little exercise in the winter, then check out this article: A Fat Golden Retriever? (How To Know and What to Do).

If your Golden Retriever ever gets lost – especially in cold temperatures – you need to stay calm but act quickly. Read about what to do if your Golden Retrieve gets lost here: A Lost Golden Retriever: Don’t Panic (Here’s What to Do).

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