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Can Australian Cattle Dogs Handle Cold Weather?

Australian Cattle Dogs have a thick double coat with straight guard hairs and a fine, shorter undercoat to keep them warm in cold temperatures despite. The combination of an outer coat and an undercoat provides natural protection from the cold, rain, and snow.

Generally, as a breed, cattle dogs can tolerate cold weather. But just how cold is too cold, how long can they stay outside in winter weather and what are the signs they are too cold? Let’s find out.

Blue heeler in cold weather
Blue Heeler in the snow

How Cold is Too Cold for Cattle Dogs Outside?

A good rule of thumb is that your Australian Cattle Dog can tolerate as much cold as you can while you are wearing a winter coat.

When temperatures dip below freezing, it’s best to limit your ACDs exposure to 20-30 minutes while paying close attention to signs they may be too cold. Cold tolerance will vary by the individual dog and their experience with winter conditions.

As a comparison, Iditarod sled dogs run long distances in temperatures as low as -40F. After extensive training and acclimating to cold weather, Huskies and Malamutes are able to withstand the frozen conditions. Plus they are often decked out with a dog winter coat and boots.

Every dog has a unique cold tolerance. An ACD may do better than others depending on its previous exposure to cold, coat thickness, and duration in the cold. For example, our cattle dog siblings inherited very different coats. While most ACDs have a thick double-coat, like our Blue Heeler, Bindi, others can have a softer single-coat, like our Red Heeler, Banjo.

Even if you have a very cold-tolerant dog, their tolerance can change depending on the type of winter weather. Rain, wind, and dry air can change the effects of cold temperatures. For instance, an intense wind chill may make a zero-degree day feel like 15 below.  

A cold cattle dog may slow down with a desire to stop or raise a paw up in the air in an attempt. These are just two signs that they are two cold, which we’ll cover later in this article. 

Can an Australian Cattle Dog Live or Sleep Outside in Winter?

Australian Cattle Dogs can reside outside in cold weather if they have insulated shelters or runs to keep warm. PetMD also addresses the need for adequate shelters and that cattle dogs would much rather be indoors with their humans. ACD’s attachment to their humans is why they are known as shadow or velcro dogs.

A well-insulated and/or heated doghouse like these on Amazon will provide suitable housing. Another option in wetter conditions is a dog shelter that is raised up off the ground.

Each Australian cattle dog has a different tolerance for cold, dependent on their type of coat, previous exposure to cold, and available protective gear and shelter. Some Cattle Dogs can stay outside for hours while others may only be able to withstand the cold weather for a few minutes. 

To get more varied experiences, I interviewed a few cattle dog owners in the northern US and Canada. Here are some tips they shared.

Our cattle dog loves playing outside in winter and leaping in the snow. We have daily outings in -10C and there’s no problem in active play with temps around -30C. But keep an eye out for signs they’re too cold like slowing down, raising up one paw or shivering.

Boomer, Canada

I limit my ACD to 20 minutes in low temperatures and bring him back inside in freezing rain.

Heelermom, Minnesota

Below freezing and all my ACD wants to do is stay inside. I can barely get her to go potty just outside my front door before she runs back in to be by the fire.

CattleDogPrincess, Colorado

Each ACD owner emphasized watching out for signs of hypothermia and other cold-related symptoms. Also recommended was checking their paws for cracking pads from cold or salt on public sidewalks or streets.

There’s additional information and tips in the related post Can Australian Cattle Dogs Live Outside?.

Signs Your Cattle Dog Has Been Outside Too Long

If you see any of the following signs, it is time to take your ACD inside to warm up. 

  • Raising paw(s) off the ground
  • Slowed movement
  • Shaking or shivering
  • Hunched-over body
  • Any other unusual behavior

Please note: signs your Australian Cattle Dog is too cold can develop even if they appear to love the cold weather and snow. The effects of cold weather can occur quickly and unexpectedly.

An Australian Cattle Dog may choose to stay outside doing an activity with you instead of seeking a warm place, so it’s up to you to take charge when temperatures drop too low and bring your ACD indoors to warm up if they get too cold.

Hypothermia is a real concern in freezing temperatures and can become a medical emergency. Signs of hypothermia include: weakness, dilated pupils, shallow, slow breathing, slow pulse, lack of mental alertness, lethargy, and unconsciousness. If you notice any of these signs, please contact your veterinarian.

Exercise Indoors in Extreme Cold Weather

During extremely cold weather, it’s possible to provide your cattle dog with adequate exercise through indoor activities. It may not get their heart pumping as much as outdoor exercise, but it is a great way to keep them active during winter. 

Here are some examples of indoor play activities:

Final Thoughts

Australian Cattle Dogs are bred to handle long hours of outdoor activity in all seasons, including winter. Their thick double fur coats will keep them warm while hiking or playing in the snow. However, that protection has its limits. Cattle dogs will need shelter to warm up from time to time. 

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