Your dog can’t tell you when something’s wrong, so pet parents have to be vigilant. This can lead to concern when you notice something odd, like your dog’s ears being cold. The good news in most cases, it’s nothing to worry about. However, it can be a sign of something serious.
Why are my dog’s ears cold?
You are petting your dog, and you suddenly notice that their ears are cold. Should you be worried?
Your dog’s ears are the area most susceptible to temperature changes. The ears are made of cartilage. The blood vessels in the ears are small and close to the surface.
The inside of the ear is often hairless. This means it doesn’t have the insulation that hair can provide. Fat and muscle also generate warmth and insulation, but since the ears are made of cartilage, they are not insulated.
These factors cause them to get cold much quicker than other areas of the body.
Breed and Size
Breed and size also play a role in how quickly your dog’s ears get cold. Breeds with ears that point up will get cold faster because they are exposed to the elements more than ears that lay against the head.
Dogs with short hair will get cold faster than long-haired breeds, and this includes their ears.
Small dogs get cold quicker than large breeds. They aren’t able to regulate their body temperature like large dogs.
Age also plays a role in how quickly your dog’s ears get cold. Puppies and senior dogs aren’t able to regulate their temperature, as well as adult dogs. Young puppies are particularly susceptible to cold temperatures.
Experience is also a factor. Dogs that haven’t been exposed to the cold before will have a harder time regulating their body temperatures. Young dogs are more likely to not be familiar with colder temperatures.
The most obvious reason your dog’s ears are cold is simply cold weather. You’ve likely experienced this yourself. If you go outside in cold temperatures without covering your ears, they will get cold quickly.
Dogs have the same issue. Your dog’s ears are one of their outermost extremities, so they will get cold much faster than the body. Just like humans, dog’s ears are mainly cartilage. This means they get colder than areas with lots of fat and muscle, which both produce warmth.
As the body gets cold, it prioritizes the vital organs. In the event of life-threatening cold, a body can lose an extremity like an ear or, in humans, toes, and survive. If the vital organs get too cold, chances of survival are very slim.
Even though life-threatening cold is rare, the body prepares for the possibility by routing more warm blood to the vital organs, and less to other areas. Less blood flow is sent to extremities, including the ears, making them further susceptible to cold.
Because your dog’s ears are an extremity, they aren’t a great indication of their overall body temperature. However, if their ears are cold, look for other signs they are cold. If they are shivering, whining, or curled into a ball, they are too cold.
Just like humans, dogs can get frostbite. The ears and paws are at the highest risk, because they are extremities. If you notice that your dog’s ears are pink or pale, they may have frostbite.
Surprisingly, illness can also cause your dog’s ears to be cold. You may expect a dog illness to bring fever. However, many dogs have cold ears when fighting off a cold or flu. It can also make their ears hot to the touch.
If your dog has a runny nose, sneezing, or a cough along with cold ears, they may simply have a virus. Few dog viruses can be spread to humans, so it’s unlikely that you will catch your dog’s cold.
Circulations aren’t a common cause for cold ears, but they are a concerning one. If you’ve noticed your dog’s ears being cold over a period of days or weeks, circulation problems could be to blame.
Just like humans, your dog’s heart pumps blood through the circulatory system. When the system isn’t working properly, extremities like the ears are often the first areas to show signs something is wrong.
If your dog is experiencing circulation problems, you may notice redness around their paws, sensitivity to the cold or shivering, or lethargy. Heart conditions, tumors, severe infections, and anemia can all cause circulatory problems.
It’s estimated that about 10% of all dogs in the U.S. have heart disease, but many owners are surprised to learn dogs can suffer from the condition. 70% of heart disease in dogs is caused by valvular disease. Another 13% are caused by heartworm disease, which is a preventable condition caused by the heartworm parasite.
The early stages of heart disease often don’t show any symptoms. As heart disease progresses to congestive heart failure, it’s clear that there’s something wrong.
Coughing, difficulty breathing, and a swollen abdomen are signs of heart disease. Your dog may get tired easily or avoid exercising. Weight loss, reduced appetite, and difficulty sleeping are also common. In severe cases, a bluish tinge to the skin and fainting can occur.
Anemia occurs because your dog has too few red blood cells or too little hemoglobin in the blood. The symptoms of anemia included lethargy, weight loss, decreased appetite, difficulty breathing, and a faster heart rate. The gums will be pale pink or white.
Anemia causes decreased circulation because the cells can’t get enough oxygen. This causes extremities, including the ears, to become cold.
Anemia can be caused by parasite infestation, internal injury, autoimmune disorder, or severe infection.
Low Blood Pressure
Low blood pressure isn’t a condition most people associate with dogs, but it can cause their ears to be cold. Low blood pressure means circulation is decreased, so not as much warm blood makes it to the ears.
There are several potential causes of low blood pressure. An allergic reaction can cause anaphylactic shock, which causes a severe drop in blood pressure and increased heart rate. Poisoning can also cause low blood pressure.
Another potential cause are medical treatments. Some medications can cause low blood pressure as a side effect. If your dog has undergone anesthesia, you can expect their blood pressure to be lower than average for 12-24 hours.
Why are my dog’s ears cold but the body is warm?
There are a few reasons why your dog’s ears can be cold while their body is warm. The ears can be considered a dog’s early detection system.
An illness can cause the temperature of the body to increase slightly while causing the ears to become colder. This is simply the dog’s body doing what is needed to fight off the virus or bacteria it has encountered.
Exposed to Cold
If your dog is exposed to cold temperatures, you can expect their ears to get cold much quicker than their body. The ears are exposed, with little fur, and they are far away from the heart. All these factors make it possible for the ears to be quite cold when exposed to cool temperatures, even though the body is quite warm.
Because your dog’s ears are an extremity, they will show signs of illnesses before other parts of the body. If your dog develops circulation problems, the ears will become cold. The body is functioning well enough to keep the vital organs warm, but not well enough to properly manage extremities like the ears.
What to do about my dog’s cold ears?
What to do about your dog’s cold ears will depend on what’s causing their ears to be cold.
If your dog’s ears are cold due to cold temperatures, there are some easy solutions. First, use an ear wrap designed for dogs to keep their ears warmer. Just like humans wear earmuffs or caps to keep their ears warm, covering your dog’s ears will help protect them from the cold. You can also put a sweater on your dog to keep them warmer overall.
You’ll need to limit their exposure to the cold as well. How much cold your dog can tolerate will depend on your dog’s age, breed, size, and previous experience with cold.
Once your dog comes inside, you can warm them up. Wrap them with a blanket, or cuddle them. If they are extremely cold, you can add hot water bottles on top of the blanket, and add another blanket on top.
If frostbite occurs, you’ll need to bring them inside immediately. Apply warm, not hot, compresses to their ears and any other affected body parts. Warm their body with blankets and hot water bottles. Once you have them warm enough to travel, you’ll need to visit the vet.
If you suspect your dog has an illness like the cold or flu, the best thing to do is just monitor the condition. Give them plenty of water, and allow them to rest when needed. If the condition gets worse or doesn’t improve within a week, take them to the vet for a checkup.
If you notice signs of circulation problems, you’ll need to take your dog to the vet. Signs of poor circulation include shortness of breath, loss of appetite, cough, and fatigue. Your dog’s paws may be cold as well. If your dog isn’t acting like themselves, it’s wise to get a check-up.
What does it mean if my dog’s ears and nose are cold?
If your dog’s ears and nose are cold and they are otherwise healthy, you don’t need to worry.
Conventional wisdom says that a cold nose means a dog is healthy. In truth, neither a cold nor a warm nose is an indicator of health. However, there are a few reasons why your dog’s nose and ears might be cold.
Why Your Dog’s Nose is Cold
Your dog’s nose is the coolest part of its body. In fact, it’s about 5 degrees cooler than the ambient air temperature.
A dry nose may feel about the same temperature as the air around it, but a wet nose feels very cool. Dogs lick their noses to keep the mucus membranes moist. This improves their sense of smell.
It’s also thought that the nose aids in temperature regulation. Keeping it moist and cool may help your dog keep their body cool.
However, there’s another newly discovered reason your dog’s nose is cold. They use it to detect differences in heat, similar to an infrared camera. Your dog can detect warm-blooded animals based on the difference in the ambient temperature vs their body temperature with their nose.
Your dog’s ears and nose could be cold because they’ve been out in the cold. These two areas of the body are exposed, with little to no fur to keep them warm. If cold weather is the culprit, you’ll likely also find their paws to be chilly.