Cold Weather Care for Your Dog: Protect Fido from Winter

Cold Weather Care for Your Dog
Emily Young
Written by Emily Young

Having a dog to share your life with is a rewarding experience, especially when you can build memories playing outside together. Going to parks, playing frisbee in the yard, or just lounging on the grass with the warm sun overhead are all wonderful ways to spend time with your dog.

However, when the weather starts to get cold, there are less opportunities for you to go outside. It can also be an unpleasant experience for your dog, depending on the kind of breed you have. Some dogs thrive in the cold, but others weren’t meant for such frigid temperatures, and special measures must be taken in order to ensure that they are comfortable. Cold weather imposes health risks of its own to your canine companion.

8 Steps to walk your dog in winter

Here are a few tips for cold weather care for your dog that you should keep in mind.

A trip to the vet

Conducting an annual wellness exam with your veterinarian can do a lot of good for your dog’s health. But there are some conditions, such as arthritis, that can be aggravated by the cold weather. Pets that have diabetes, heart disease, kidney problems or hormonal diseases like Cushing’s Disease, are known to have problems with regulating their body temperatures.

Consider discussing with your vet any precautions that should be taken when the temperatures outside are too cold so that your dog can be healthy and happy throughout the year. If you have a senior dog, then scheduling a wellness exam twice a year can help to discover new conditions and adjust/prescribe any medications that may be necessary to take care of these conditions.

Knowing your dog’s limits

Each dog is different, so it’s important to take note of your dog’s tolerance for cold weather. Signs of discomfort should be taken seriously, and you should get your dog back inside as soon as possible. If your dog is shivering or standing hunched over with his tail between his legs, that it’s time to add some extra layers to help him warm up. If you’re outside, then lying down in the snow or walking slower than normal is a sign that your dog is tired and should be returned to the indoors.

Total heat capacity of dogs

Pushing your dog further than necessary can lead his health being compromised. Even though your dog is equipped with fur to keep him warm, he can still suffer from the effects of hypothermia and frostbite. Always exercise care when engaging in any kind of physical activity, regardless of the weather outside.

Checking the paws

If you live in an area where it snows frequently, it’s likely that your municipal uses salt to clear the road. This salt can be quite detrimental to your dog’s paws, especially if it gets between their toes. Some places use antifreeze or other chemicals to keep the roads free of ice. Licking and ingesting salt or chemicals can make your dog extremely sick, and antifreeze has been known to kill most pets. Wipe their paws and stomach very thoroughly to be sure that his fur is free of these toxic substances.

Dog paws checking

Always check the pads of your dog’s feet for any sign of bleeding or cracking. Limping may be the result of ice ball accumulation between the toes, and can be reduced or eliminated by clipping the hair between your dog’s toes. If you really want to keep your dog’s feet safe, invest in a pair of booties that fit properly. You can seek assistance at any pet store to find the right size and learn how to put them on your dog properly. It will take some time for him to get used to them, but positive reinforcement every time he wears them will help him to adjust.

Want to see what’s out there on the market? We have a great article on the different kinds of dog snow booties and how to find the right ones for your dog.

Let it grow

Cold weather dog care recommends that you don’t trim dogs during the cold season. Their fur is primarily what keeps them warm, especially if you own a long-haired breed. For short-haired dogs, you should provide a jacket or a sweater of some kind when they go outside. It’s helpful to have more than one handy in case one gets rain from the ice and snow, so that you’re not putting a cold, wet sweater back on your dog. Find something that protects the stomach works best, as this area is most exposed to the snow and ice on the ground.

If you do have to bathe your dog during the winter months, be sure that he is completely dry before taking him outside. This can be done with a standard hair dryer, if your dog will tolerate it.

Car rides aren’t necessary

Just as it’s important in summer not to leave your dog in the car by himself, it’s key that you exercise the same rule during the winter months. Despite what you may think, your car can act as a refrigerator and make the cold air even worse. The trapped air within the car can get colder, and end up sending your dog into hypothermia or could even death. Even with the shortest trip to the grocery store, leaving your dog out in the cold is never a good idea. Skip the car ride and choose to leave Fido at home. He’ll be more thankful for his warm bed to stay in while you’re gone.

The younger, the more vulnerable

Cold weather care for your pup is quite essential. Puppies are not able to tolerate the cold as well as adult dogs can. This can make housebreaking quite difficult to do during the winter months, so it’s important that you exercise a little more patience. House training inside is quite possible, if you invest in some pee pads so that he learns to go in the same place every day.

Snow puppy

If this isn’t an option, then you should only take your puppy outdoors so that he can relieve himself and nothing more. Long walks through the cold are not conducive for a puppy’s health, and shouldn’t be attempted until he is more than a year old.

Warm beds

Some dogs can be quite finicky about where they sleep. During the winter time, it’s important that they have a warm place to sleep away from cold floors. Pick a spot that is away from any doors or windows that may have a draft. Dog breeds are different, however, and may have different levels of thermoregulation. Provide a variety of sleeping spots for them to choose from, in case they get too hot or too cold at night.

The orthopedic dog bed with foam

Be sure that you pick a spot that is also away from the vents of your HVAC, as his size not only blocks the warm air that could be circulating around the room, but it could also dry out his skin and lead to itchiness.

Avoid ice

Frozen lakes are tempting to slide across, but it’s not always the best decision. Keep your dog away from frozen bodies of water, as you can’t be sure whether they are able to hold his weight. Extremely cold water can cause hypothermia to set in very quickly, which can make it difficult for your dog to stay afloat and swimming. Your natural instinct is to try and help your dog out, but this can end up trapping you both in the frigid water.

In the event that your dog does fall through the ice, the first thing you should do is call 911. If your dog fell in close to where you are, proceed to lie flat on your stomach in order to prevent you from falling in as well. It’s best that you don’t attempt to rescue your dog, as the rescue professionals have the right equipment to get your dog out safely.

Be prepared for outages

With winter weather come blizzards, freezing rain, and inches of snow. These are all hazards that can lead to the loss of power. Having an emergency kit handy can help you out, but if you’ve forgotten to include your dog in those plans, then he’s likely going to suffer. Have a medical kit prepared for your dog if an emergency injury occurs, and have enough food and water in storage to last for at least five days.

Be prepared

Ensure that any medications are kept in stock and dry, especially if your dog is suffering from debilitating conditions that are made worse by the cold. Adding canned dog food to your dog’s kibble can certainly help to extend the life of a bag of dog food, and will provide him with the protein and crude fat that he needs to stay a little warmer.

Feed well

On that note of ensuring your dog has enough food, it’s important that you help him to maintain a healthy weight during the winter. Because he won’t be going outside as often, it means he’ll be getting less exercise and that can lead him to quickly putting on the pounds. Excess weight can lead to health risks that simply aren’t worth keeping your dog warm.

Try to keep him in the healthy weight range and watch out for any signs of disease, such as excess drinking, needing to urinate more outside, limping, or joints that are hot to the touch.

Pet-proof your home

During the winter months, it can be quite pleasing to heat your home as much as possible to comfortable temperatures. Having a space heater or starting a fire in the fireplace can be quite charming and cozy, but it’s important that you keep an eye on your dog at all times. Space heaters can be easy to knock over, and can start a fire within your home.

Your dog is also at risk of being burned if he wanders too close to them. Don’t leave fires going and turn off space heaters when you’re not at home. Putting your dog in a sweater or jacket while you’re not home can help him to keep warm when you don’t have the heat going.

Outdoor cold weather care for your dog

For those who don’t keep their dogs inside during the winter, extra precautions must be taken. A sturdy shelter should be provided. It should be windproof and waterproof so that your dog can stay warm and dry. The floor of the shelter should be elevated from the ground so that it stays warm, and any bedding that you provide should be thick and dry. Change as often as possible to ensure that your dog stays warm.

If you do purchase a heated dog bed, they should be used with caution, as they can still cause burns to your dog’s skin. The shelter opening should be turned away from any prevailing winds to minimize drafts, as wind chill can make your dog even colder than the temperature outdoors.

Winter tips

Your dog should have access to clean, non-frozen drinking water at all times. Cold, dry air can easily make him dehydrated, so having water can help to minimize this. In order to prevent freezing, change the water on a regular basis or purchase a special heated water bowl that will also warm the water your dog is drinking. If you feed your dog outdoors, it is recommended that you don’t leave any food in the bowl.

Depending on where you live, other wild creatures can be attracted to the smell of the food and decide to stop by. The last thing you want is to have to treat your dog for injuries caused by a hungry wild animal.

Checking your furnace

Scheduling routine maintenance on your furnace can help to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Because your furnace is rarely used during the summer, dust and other things can build up inside it and the filters, making it more difficult for the warm air to get out. Carbon monoxide is odorless and invisible, which can make it impossible to detect without a detector system within your home.

Signs of poisoning can include headaches, fatigue, and breathing problems, and can lead to death if toxin levels get too high. Dogs more easily succumb to lower levels of carbon monoxide than humans.

Importance of the leash

Although your dog may have excellent recall, skip letting him roam in the yard without a leash. Anything can happen — he could take notice of a deer or bunny — and cause him to run off. Due to the snow on the ground, it can be more difficult for your dog to retrace his steps and pick up his own scent.

This makes it much easier for your dog to become lost in the snow, and if there’s an impending snow storm, his chances of returning home are reduced even further. It’s best that you keep your dog on a leash at all times when you venture outside, and ensure that he is wearing his collar with identification in case someone does find him. Having your dog microchipped can also help in getting him returned to you quickly.

Looking for signs of hypothermia

Hypothermia is a serious condition that is the result of your dog being too cold. Whether due to poor health or poor circulation, it can have detrimental effects if your dog is not kept warm enough. In the mild cases, your dog will experience shivering, and will show signs of weakness, lethargy and depression.

If left untreated, your dog may stop responding to stimuli altogether, as his muscles stiffen and his breathing and heartbeat start to slow down. Eventually, this can lead to death.

Dogs hypothermia

At the first sign of these symptoms, you should wrap your dog in blankets and take him to the vet immediately. He can monitor your dog’s vital signs, and provide warm IV fluids if it is necessary.

This is especially important of your pooch is  kept outside. Please read our great article on how to winterize your dog house so that your dog won’t succumb to the cold weather.

Looking for signs of frostbite

Frostbite occurs when the extremities get too cold. It’s the body’s way of preserving itself by withdrawing blood into the main part of the body in order to keep it warm. These include the dog’s ears, paws and/or tail. These parts can get so cold that ice crystals begin to form within, resulting in damage to the surrounding tissue. The problem with frostbite in dogs is that it is not easily detectable.

The signs of damage are not readily visible until days later. In the event that you suspect your dog is suffering from frostbite, you can soak the extremities in warm water for roughly ten minutes in order to restore circulation by melting the ice crystals that may have formed. It’s important that you don’t rub the extremities, as this can cause further damage from the presence of these crystals. Wrap your dog in blankets to increase his core temperature and take him to the vet immediately in order to receive an assessment of his health.

Dog in snow possibily with frostbites

If you’re more of a snow bunny who enjoys going outside when snow’s on the ground, read our list on the top cold weather dog breeds who don’t mind it being a little nippy outside.

Cold weather can be an enjoyable experience for both you and your dog, as long as the precautions are taken to guarantee his health and happiness. Though you may spend more time indoors, cuddling together in front of a fire, you can still have fun with your dog engaging in indoor activities.

Winter temperatures pose just as many risks to your dog as the high temperatures of summer, so exercise care and common sense when it comes to taking him outdoors.

About the author
Emily Young
Emily Young

Emily is originally from China where she graduated from The University of Hong Kong with high distinction learning about fashion and design. During university she opened her own magazine about Dog Fashion as dogs were always in her heart. She was surprised, when she moved to a beautiful British Columbia 10 years ago, to see many great Boutiques with dog's designer clothing and desire of pet owners to make their babies look nice.