Like people, different breeds of dogs thrive in different climates.
For example, it would be difficult to raise a Saint Bernard in the heat of Arizona, and equally difficult to make sure a Whippet gets outdoor exercise during cold winter months without taking the proper precautions.
So when you’re buying a Lab, it’s only natural, and responsible, to consider whether or not your pup will thrive in your climate.
If you’re like many of us, it can get cold where you live, and not all dogs are built for chilly or snowy climates.
But what about Labs?
Long story short- yes! But that’s hardly the whole story.
Read on to find out why Labradors are fit to face a winter chill, and what safety precautions should be taken when bringing your dog outside in cold weather.
Labs & Cold - A Tale As Old As Time
Understanding why Labs can face the cold requires a little bit of back story.
As far back as the 1500’s the breed we now recognize as the Labrador was being bred in Newfoundland as a working dog.
Newfoundland, located in Canada, is a notoriously chilly place, with winter temperatures averaging around 32 degrees in December, and rarely rising above 61 degrees even in the middle of summer.
For a dog to truly thrive here it needed to be tough, and settlers to the area took note.
As the breeding of Labs evolved, there became a strong favor towards dogs displaying thicker, waterproof coats.
Dogs who displayed exceptionally warm and water resistant coats were beneficial, because settlers of Newfoundland mainly used Labs to help them while ice-fishing.
Labs were first in line to retrieve nets and other fishing equipment from the water.
If the air temperatures of Newfoundland rarely rise above 60 degrees, then it’s only a short leap to imagine the temperatures of the icy sea-water in the North Atlantic.
Centuries of this type of breeding eventually resulted in what is now the commonly accepted version of the Labrador.
Many of these cold weather fairing traits remained, along with a Lab’s enthusiastic love for all things water.
Signature Double Coat
As mentioned, Labs are known for their exceptionally thick and water resistant coats.
Most Lab owners are first clued into this trait by the significant shedding their dog may exhibit.
What some Lab parents may not know is that this unique feature is actually referred to as a “double coat”.
Labs have an outer coat, sometimes referred to as a guard coat, as well as a thick inner coat, referred to as an undercoat.
Remarkably, each of these coats serves a distinct purpose.
The outer coat may be noticeably rougher to the touch, and repels dirt and water as a barrier between them and the dog’s skin, earning its name of the guard coat.
The undercoat is usually much softer and denser, and acts like insulation to a Lab. This coat protects them against the chill of the air and the water, keeping their bodies warm even in the middle of winter.
Interestingly, the undercoat also keeps Labs cooler during the summer. It is a temperature regulator, making sure the dog can be comfortable to work and play year round.
It also produces an oily substance which covers the coat of the Lab, making its fur water resistant, and keeping their skin dry.
Knowing this, you may feel confident in thinking that your Lab can take on any cold temperature that your climate may throw their way. But this isn’t quite true.
Every dog has their limits, and before you take your Lab outside on a frigid day, there are a few things you should consider.
Before leaving your dog in the yard, or taking them on a long walk, it’s important to consider the wind chill.
Temperatures that may not seem so cold up front can be made far colder by a brisk wind.
Labs that may be very comfortable with the still air temperature are not immune from an especially cold wind that can cut through their layers of coat, and chill noses and paws.
It may be unsurprising that your Lab’s tolerance for cold weather can be closely linked to their age.
Younger adult dogs in general are more resilient, and adjust better to changes in climate.
If you are the owner of a senior Lab, pay special attention to air temperatures, and look for cues from your dog that tell you it may be too cold for them to stay outside.
It is also unwise to leave a Lab puppy outside in the cold.
Their small size and inexperience makes regulating their body temperature more difficult.
This leaves them especially vulnerable, and means that they should never be left out on cold days or nights.
Weight and Health
Another important factor in the cold resistance of your Lab is their general weight and health.
Healthy dogs with no preexisting conditions are usually great at withstanding chilly temperatures, and are good at regulating their bodies.
Labs who have been sick, or those who have preexisting conditions like arthritis or hip dysplasia should never be left outside in cold weather.
Not only is it unsafe, but it can worsen chronic conditions and make your dog uncomfortable or even ill.
Also variable is the weight of your dog.
Generally, Labs with higher body fat percentages are better suited to withstand the cold. This is because fat is an incredible insulator.
Between a thick layer of body fat, and their double coat, heavier dogs are far less likely to feel the cold.
Leaner dogs do not have this benefit, and should be watched more carefully.
Time of Day
The time and conditions of the day will have an impact on your Lab’s ability to stay outside in chilly weather.
Sunny midday skies make cold temperatures feel warmer, and your Lab will be able to absorb heat more easily.
Very cloudy days are harder to bear.
At night, temperatures may drop significantly.
It is important to watch the forecast carefully so you do not leave your dog outside overnight in weather that may be potentially dangerous.
Levels of Moisture
Generally, dry dogs are able to stay warm more easily than wet dogs.
If your dog has been swimming in cold temperatures, and their coat is retaining moisture, then keeping them warm will be more difficult.
It is important to dry your Lab off after swimming in cold water, and provide a warm area for them to heat back up after a chilly dip in the lake or sea.
Snow melt should also be dried from the coat.
Making sure your Lab is dry will not only make them more comfortable, but will help them regulate their body temperatures more efficiently.
How Cold is Too Cold?
Even great cold weather dogs like Labs have their limits.
Before taking your dog out for a long walk, or even just leaving them out in the yard, make sure to consider a few things.
Agreement from most vets is that dogs should not be left out in temperatures below 20 degrees Fahrenheit.
However, as we mentioned, other factors may make your dog susceptible to getting cold more quickly.
Strong wind chill, a wet coat, or chronic health conditions should all be signs to err on the side of caution.
Instead of using 20 degrees as your mark, consider taking more vulnerable Labs inside at 25 degrees, or even 30, depending on your dog.
Every dog is different, and knowing your Lab’s comfort levels and abilities when it comes to cold temperatures is incredibly important when it’s time to make the call.
Like us, Labs are susceptible to hypothermia and frostbite.
Pale skin, shivering, skin that is grey or cold to the touch, and fatigue are all signs your dog’s temperature has dropped too low and medical attention may be required.
Thankfully, there are signs to look out for so that you can realize when your pup is too cold before other possibly damaging complications occur.
Labs that are curled tightly into balls, are shivering, or have mouths clamped shut all may be experiencing a drop in body temperature and should be taken to a warmer environment immediately.
Staying Warm in Winter
If temperatures do drop below 20 degrees, and you still need to take your Lab outside, don’t worry.
There are multiple things you can do as an owner to help your Lab stay warm and cozy no matter the weather.
Enough Food and Water
A dog’s body burns more calories in the winter while it regulates its temperature.
Because of this, you may need to increase the amount of food and water you are giving to your Lab.
This shouldn’t be a drastic change in quantity, but should be a small increase to account for the calories your dog may be losing to the cold.
The more running around your Lab is doing in the snow, the more food they may need to stay satisfied.
Insulated Bedding and Kennels
A warm place to sleep at night is always important for indoor dogs, but is an absolute must for Labs who sleep outside.
Giving your dog a kennel that is windproof, insulated, and has proper bedding will help protect them against the elements.
Because temperatures can drop significantly at night, Labs should have a familiar shelter with blankets or bedding to curl up and keep warm.
Bring a Coat
If your Lab loves a good winter walk, and the elements don’t want to cooperate, it may be smart to invest in a coat made specifically for your dog.
Sweaters and vests are easily found at most major pet retailers and help keep your Lab’s core warm in very cold temperatures.
If you are planning on being outside for long periods of time, or your Lab has any conditions that might make it difficult for them to stay warm, coats can help bridge the gap and keep them comfortable.
So, Do Labs Get Cold?
Yes, at low temperatures all dogs can experience the effects of cold weather, and face potential risks.
However, Labs are historically great cold weather dogs, bred with a double coat that keeps them cozy in cold air and water.
If you’re looking for a breed to keep you company on winter walks, Labs are an excellent choice as long as you know your dog’s limits, and take precautions to keep them safe if the temperatures drop too low.