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German shepherd with snow on ears

Your dog’s ears are pretty amazing. You might have noticed they can pick up on the sound of a cheese wrapper opening when they’re dead asleep two rooms away. But when it comes to temperature, your dog’s ears can get pretty chilly.

Before you panic, it’s important to remember that your dog’s ears are far from their heart. Since blood circulation takes a while to get there, their ears are one of the first parts of their bodies to feel cold. Your dog’s ears, along with their paws and fur, are also likely to get wet when your pup plays outside in rain or snow. But there are some additional reasons why your pup’s ears might feel cold, too.

6 reasons your dog’s ears feel cold

Circulation issues. If your dog has issues with their circulatory system, they might get cold ears. Blood flow to their ears helps keep dogs warm, so poor circulation might be one reason your pup’s ears are cold to the touch.

Frostbite. Tissue damage can occur after prolonged exposure to cold weather. If your dog’s ears feel really cold or you notice other symptoms like swelling, blue or gray skin, or blisters, you should contact your vet ASAP, as these are all signs of frostbite. In severe cases, your dog’s skin may be black.

Hypothermia. While hypothermia or low body temperature can be caused by spending too much time in the cold, it can also be an issue for small dogs that just had surgery. If your pup has cold ears and is shivering, check your dog’s temperature with a digital thermometer. A low temperature in dogs is anything below 99°F. Prolonged hypothermia can be life-threatening, so if this is a possibility, it’s important to seek veterinary care.

Age, breed, and size. These are all factors that impact how quickly a dog’s ears become cold. Senior dogs, puppies, small dogs, underweight dogs, and dogs with short fur tend to get cold easier than other dogs.

Hypovolemic shock. Generally the result of an injury, hypovolemic shock occurs as a result of low blood volume due to a hemorrhage, dehydration, or an issue related to fluid distribution. Loss of whole blood may be caused by an external wound or internal bleeding.

Parvo. If not treated early, this type of viral illness is highly contagious and often fatal in puppies. Symptoms include bloody diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration, loss of appetite, and lethargy. If your dog has a severe case of parvo, their entire body (and not just their ears) will be cold due to dehydration and poor blood circulation, the latter of which can eventually lead to shock.

Diagnosing causes of cold ears in dogs

Since a number of conditions can cause your dog’s ears to be cold, it’s important to take your pup to the vet to properly diagnose and determine the cause. Your vet will likely ask you questions about when you first noticed your dog’s cold ears, what they’ve been doing, and how long they were outside.

Once they’ve conducted a physical exam and performed any necessary diagnostic testing such as blood work or a urinalysis, they’ll then be able to discuss possible causes and treatment options with you.

Taking your pup’s body temperature

If your dog has cold ears, you might need to take their temperature to rule out hypothermia. It’s important to remember that dogs run a lot warmer than us humans. What’s considered a fever in humans is normal for dogs. A dog’s body temperature is generally between 100 and 102.5°F, but some dogs can fall slightly above or below that range.

If your dog’s temperature is above 104°F or below 99°F, you should call your vet, as this is generally cause for concern.

To take your dog’s temperature, you’ll need to use an animal-safe thermometer. The most accurate method for getting your pup’s body temperature is to take it rectally, since temperatures taken by ear aren’t always accurate. Pet parents can also take their dog’s temperature by placing the thermometer in their dog’s armpit. You’ll want to avoid using an infrared, contact-free thermometer, as these can be prone to inaccurate readings.

🚨Never use a mercury thermometer when taking a dog's temperature. This type of thermometer can easily break, exposing your pup to the toxins inside.

Signs your dog is cold

While cold ears may be cause for concern, your pup may be trying to tell you it’s time to turn up the heat or grab a blanket! If you notice any of the following symptoms, your pup could be chilly:

  • Shivering
  • Whining, whimpering, or barking
  • Hunching over or tucking their tail
  • Appearing uncomfortable
  • Seeking shelter
  • Chattering teeth
  • Weakness
  • Muscle stiffness

Treating your pup’s cold ears

Treatment will be dependent on the root cause, so you’ll need to first understand why your dog has cold ears.

If your dog has circulatory issues or a history of heart problems, your vet may provide treatment to help improve circulation and ensure adequate blood flow to their ears.

If your dog is experiencing frostbite, make sure you don’t rub their ears to warm them up. Call your vet’s office for instructions, as treatment will depend on how badly frostbitten your pup’s ears are.

Tips for safe play in the wintertime

For some pups, there’s nothing more fun than a good frolic in the snow. To keep your dog safe while having fun, you’ll want to make sure they don’t get too cold. Follow our tips below to make sure your dog stays safe and warm in the winter.

Make sure your dog is healthy enough for outdoor play — Young puppies, senior dogs, and dogs with arthritis, circulation problems, heart conditions, or infections may not enjoy playing outside when it’s extremely cold out.

Consider a jacket — Some dogs like the extra layer of insulation and others don’t. Defer to your pup’s breed, size, age, and preferences when deciding whether or not to put them in a doggie jacket. If you have a Husky, Alaskan malamute, or a related dog breed, it’s probably best to skip the extra layer.

Limit outdoor playtime — If you’re cold, your pup is likely cold. Consider keeping outdoor play sessions brief when the temperature drops. Swap the time outside with some fun indoor activities instead to make sure your dog is getting enough exercise.

Provide shelter — Give your dog an option to get out of the cold. This could involve setting up a dog house or simply taking them inside if they’re running back to the door. Never leave your dog unsupervised outside when it’s cold.

Put them in high-visibility gear — In the winter months, it often gets dark early. Make sure your dog can be seen when you’re on a walk or in your yard. Reflective or LED collars or leashes are great options to try.

Beware of black ice — Slipping and falling on black ice can be a danger to both you and your pet. Watch for slippery patches and move slowly when walking in slick conditions, especially since black ice can be difficult to see.

Wash off salt and chemicals — The salt and chemicals used to melt ice can keep sidewalks from getting slick, which is important in the winter months. But these chemicals can also be irritating to your pet or make them sick if they attempt to lick it off their paws. When coming in from the cold, remember to clean any potential irritants off their bellies and paws, or use dog booties.

Frequently asked questions

Should my dog have warm or cold ears?

Your pup’s ears should be the same temperature as the rest of their body. Ears that are too warm or cold may be an indication that something’s wrong.

Is it bad if my pup’s ears are cold?

Not necessarily. But if your dog’s ears are very cold and you see signs of swelling, discoloration, trauma, or other issues, it’s best to have them checked out, especially if you have a puppy or senior dog. Other times to be concerned include if your dog is on certain medications or recovering from surgery.

How can I tell if my dog is cold?

If your pup avoids the outdoors, shivers, or walks more slowly in certain conditions, there’s a good chance they’re cold. Limit outdoor time in extreme weather and consider giving your pup a jacket or protective layer for added warmth.

What does it mean if my pup’s ears are cold?

It could mean nothing or be a sign of a more serious issue. If you’re concerned about your dog’s cold ears, give your vet a call.

Is it normal for dogs’ ears to feel cold?

Yes, it can be. A dog’s paws and ears are furthest from their hearts, meaning they’re the first areas on a pup’s body to get cold.