If you are thinking about adding a new Labrador to the family, you might wonder if the climate you live in suits their temperature tolerance. If you live in an area that can get particularly cold, especially in the winter months, you might wonder if the new family pet will thrive in this climate. Is it a good idea to get a Labrador in an area that experiences cold rains and snow each year?
Can Labradors tolerate cold weather? Yes, Labradors are bred to withstand cold weather conditions and, therefore, get along quite well because of their thick double coat.
While Labradors are known to love the snow and handle swimming in ice-cold water with eagerness and ease, it is a good idea to bring your Lab inside if the temperatures drop below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. While Labradors are built for the cold, they can still suffer health concerns if they are over-exposed to cold temperatures.
While Labradors love to be outside, regardless of how cold it is, understand that during very cold weather, especially in the wintertime, you will need to take some safety measures to ensure that the health and wellbeing of your Labrador is protected.
Labs Were Designed for Cold Weather
To understand why Labradors are good contenders for cold living conditions, you need to understand where they come from. Over time, Labs have been bred for their thick coat for various reasons and that’s what makes them tolerate seemingly cold conditions.
The history of Labradors and how and why they have been bred over the years takes us to Newfoundland, Canada, in the 1500s. Newfoundland is notoriously cold with the summer season never really getting much warmer than 61 degrees Fahrenheit and can have average daily temps as low as 32 degrees Fahrenheit in winter.
Settlers to the area brought working dogs with them, namely the St John’s Dog, which is where current Labs, as we know them, actually originate from. Back in the 1500s, it is believed that these dogs with their thick, water-repellent double-coats were used to help fishermen drag in nets and pull ropes from one boat to another. They were also used for hunting fowl on land. The settlers of that time made particular use of these dogs for working in the icy seawater conditions during winter – where water temperatures could sometimes drop below 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
Related: If you’d like to know more about the extensive history of Labradors, as well as important and fascinating information on the breed, you’ll definitely want to check out our exhaustive article, Labrador Retrievers (Breed Info, History, and Tips).
While it is obvious that a Lab’s history shows that it is bred for working in cold conditions, there is always such a thing as “too cold” for a Labrador. While some time in cold weather is enjoyable for them, you should not leave your Labrador outside in freezing conditions for much longer than you frostbite would be comfortable. Some say that if the water bowl has frozen over during your time outside, you should probably bring your pet back indoors. Let’s take a look at the various factors that influence just how much cold weather a Labrador can tolerate.
Labradors Have a Cold-Resistant Double Coat
There’s something unique about a Labrador’s coat that makes it able to repel the winter chill. Labradors can be aptly described as “well insulated”. One of the most frustrating things for some Lab owners is their thick double coat that tends to shed at various times of the year. While their coat can be messy, this is the very reason why your Lab will do well in a cold environment.
Labradors have a coat with two fur layers. On the outer surface is the topcoat and below that is the undercoat. This is what makes Labs so tolerant to cold. It is the undercoat that provides insulation and keeps the dog warm during cold months. The undercoat makes it possible for the Lab’s fur to repel water as it produces an oily residue that keeps their skin dry, even while swimming.
How Much Cold Can a Labrador Tolerate?
Generally speaking, Labs are known to tolerate temperatures that drop to around 20 degrees Fahrenheit, but it is not the same for every Lab. Just how much cold can you allow your Lab to be exposed to? It really comes down to the individual dog. Of course, just because your Lab can survive cold temperatures doesn’t mean that it is always acceptable to expose them to it. Here are five factors that affect how much cold your Lab can tolerate:
1. Moisture Trapped in the Fur and Bedding
One particular influencing factor that is very often overlooked by pet owners is the moisture that is present in the Lab’s coat. If you take your dog outdoors, especially in the wind, rain, and snow, it is important to dry them down when you come back inside and to make sure that their bedding does not become damp. A damp dog or a dog with significant moisture in its coat will not fare well in cold conditions. Conversely, if you are just taking your dog out for a stroll, the weather conditions will have less of an impact on her than if she is, for example, playing in water while outside in the cold.
2. Wind Chill Factor
Many pet owners only take into account the temperature for the day without giving thought to other influencing factors that may make what is considered tolerable to be in reality too cold. One of those factors is wind chill. The term “wind chill factor” refers to the effect on warm-blooded creatures to perceive the surrounding temperature as lower than it actually is due to the passing flow of lower-temperature air. The chilled wind reduces the “real feel” of the temperature by quickly lowering body temperature.
Always keep wind chill factor in mind when taking your Labrador out into the cold. As an example, you might think it is okay to take your Lab out in weather temperature of 25 degrees Fahrenheit. If there is no breeze or wind, that can be considered a cold temperature. However, if there is a wind chill factor, that temperature may be harmful to your dog with prolonged exposure.
3. The Age and Weight of the Lab
Young Labradors can effectively regulate their body temperature better than older Labs. Dogs with a lot of fat will also enjoy better insulation. This is why the age and weight of your Labrador will play a role in how much cold they can tolerate. Older dogs that cannot regulate their body temperature as effectively as young ones should be brought inside during cold temperatures.
If your Labrador is on the lean side, you might find her struggling to tolerate the cold when compared to other “heftier” Labradors of the same age. To help your lean Lab cope better with the cold, limit time outdoors in the cold or provide your pet with an insulated dog coat.
4. How Experienced Your Lab Is to Snow/Cold
The more you expose your Labrador to cold temperatures the more she will grow accustomed to it and build up her tolerance for it. This is a type of conditioning that should be done gradually over time. Of course, you shouldn’t leave your dog outside in the cold and snow to become accustomed to it as tolerance to cold is not something that can be rushed or immediately expected of a pet.
To get your Lab used to cold temperatures, you can start by going for short walks several times a day until you notice your dog becoming more tolerant to the cold. Do not overdo this or your pet could end up with frostbite on her paws and/or tail.
5. Time of Day
The time of day that you take your Labrador out into the cold will also have an impact on how tolerant she is. Midday temperatures will probably be slightly warmer and easier to tolerate than, for example, early evening temperatures. Temperatures tend to drop at night and you can expect any Lab to feel this drop in temperature. If you want what is best for your pet, you should make sure that you bring your Labrador inside at night and provide it with a comfortable bed and blankets to keep warm.
Health Concerns for Labradors in the Cold
You might not give too much thought to it, but the cold can actually exacerbate or create certain health conditions that are common in Labradors. If your dog suffers from joint pain or arthritis, exposure to cold weather might make the painful symptoms much worse. One particular health concern that is common with Labs is that of hip dysplasia. This is a degenerative joint disorder that can result in stiffness, excessive wear and tear on the joint and even painful dislocation of the joint.
Related: We have done extensive research into the various health problems that Labradors are prone to. To learn what health issues may be just around the corner for your Lab, you’ll want to read our article, 14 Common Labrador Health Problems.
It is highly recommended to keep a Labrador inside during the winter months if she suffers from hip dysplasia or similar joint problems. While taking your Lab out for a leisurely walk once or twice a day can be helpful to provide ease of pain and stiffness, too much exposure to the cold can be counterproductive to your pet’s comfort and well-being. Common signs that your Lab has hip dysplasia include:
- Apparent stiffness and limping when getting up and walking around.
- Short strides when walking or running with both back legs together.
- Falling over while urinating.
Frostbite is also a condition to be aware of when taking your dog out into the cold. Frostbite is damage to the skin cells due to freezing of the outer and underlying skin layers. Frostbite commonly occurs on the dog’s tail, ears, and paws. To prevent frostbite, make sure that you do not leave your dog outside in the cold for hours at a time. Common signs that your dog has frostbite may only appear a week after exposure to the cold. These signs include:
- An area of skin looks grey or pale.
- Swelling and inflammation.
- The affected area feels cold to the touch.
- Blisters or what appears to be sores on the affected surface.
- Skin that is black or appears ‘dead’.
- The dog shows signs of pain when touched or walking.
Another common problem that Labradors suffer when exposed to cold weather is hypothermia. A healthy dog’s body temperature is around 101 degrees Fahrenheit. When it drops below 100 degrees Fahrenheit (which can happen in extremely cold conditions) the dog will be at risk of hypothermia, which can result in heart failure, coma, or even death. The following are common signs of a dog suffering hypothermia.
- Pale color in the skin and nose.
- Hard shivering.
- Disinterest in normal activities.
If you suspect that your Labrador has hypothermia, you must warm the dog as much as possible and seek out veterinary care and treatment immediately.
Keeping Your Labrador Safe in the Cold
Just because it is cold does not mean that your Labrador has to be uncomfortable. If you own a Lab then she is one of the family. This means you need to put in some extra effort to ensure that you keep your Labrador safe and comfortable in cold weather conditions. Here are three tips for protecting your pet in the cold:
1. Provide Easy Access to Fresh Food and Water
Something easy to overlook during cold weather is your Lab’s need for fresh drinking water. You might think that because it is cold, there is no need for as much water as during the hot summer months. It is dangerous to have this mindset because your Lab will undoubtedly be exerting herself when outside and that brings on thirst. Water bowls left outside in very cold weather can also freeze over, so you have to keep an eye on them to make sure that there is always easy access to water when your Lab feels thirsty.
This winter rule can apply to food as well. Your Labrador will use more energy during the cold weather from running around and even shivering. During the winter months, you can give your Lab just a little bit more to eat at night.
2. Get an Outside Kennel and a Plush in Door Bed
It is not okay to leave your Labrador outside in the cold overnight, but there will be times where you have your hands full outside and can’t immediately attend to your pet. As a “just in case” precaution, you should have a decent outside kennel that your dog feels comfortable to retreat to if the weather gets too cold. This kennel must be well-insulated and have a windproof entrance (many kennels are designed with flaps for your dog to enter through).
Make sure that you include some cushions and blankets inside so that your pet can cuddle up. Inside, you need to have a well-cushioned bed (remember the hip dysplasia problems that Labs have) with a blanket or two. Set the bed in a spot that your Labrador can consider to be her own.
3. Allow Your Labrador Indoors
Some dog owners think it is fine to leave them outside, even during chilly weather. This is strongly discouraged. To ensure that your pet is comfortable and warm, make sure that you are prepared to allow her inside upon request with the rest of the family.
Related: If you’re curious about whether your Lab should be an outside or inside dog, and to learn more about the potential dangers of leaving your Lab outside too long, check out our helpful article, Are Labradors Inside or Outside Dogs?
Cold-Weather Gear for Labs
Want to make sure that your Labrador gets a little help with fending off the cold? Here are a few recommendations of supplies and clothing you can get for your Lab to keep the winter chills at bay.
- An insulated kennel. This provides somewhere for your dog to retreat and warm up if she is outside and feeling cold.
- A microfiber dog towel. When it is cold, rainy and snowy, your Labrador is bound to get at least a little wet when going outdoors. Microfiber dog towels quickly and effectively absorb water.
- Waterproof, insulated coats/jackets. There are various dog coats available on the market, which are specifically designed for medium to large dog breeds. These are essentially rain jackets that repel water while trapping warmth on the inside. Popular brands include Idepet, Genenic, and the range from The American Kennel Club. The Bone Dry DII Microfiber Pet Bath Towel, available on Amazon, seems to be a popular choice for pet owners.
- Insulated floor mats. You can use these inside the kennel and even under your dog’s inside bed to provide a bit of protection against heat loss through the ground. Mud River makes a good quality product.
- Grooming brushes. You will need a good grooming brush to use on your Labrador. When a Lab’s coat becomes muddy or matted, it does not insulate very well. By keeping your pet well-groomed and by using decent grooming brushes, you can help your dog better regulate its body temperature.
Generally speaking, Labradors can tolerate cold weather quite effectively. That being said, it is important to limit your dog’s exposure to extremely cold conditions for the sake of their comfort and well-being. While you can expect your Labrador to enjoy time outside with you during cold days, make sure that you take precautions to provide the relevant protection required for the safety of your pet.