While some breeds are better prepared for winter cold, other dogs may in fact get cold in freezing temperatures. Puppies, senior dogs and ill dogs, as well as small breeds are most at risk. Here are some tips on how to keep dogs warm in the winter and prevent frostbite, hypothermia and other accidents.
1. Know When It’s Too Cold to Go Out
The simplest tip on how to keep dogs warm in the winter is to learn when it’s too cold for dogs to go outside. This means considering the temperature outside, accounting for the wind chill factor, and knowing what other weather conditions are expected.
When it’s 20˚ F outside, it’s too cold for most dogs. Above 20˚ F it may still be too cold to walk if conditions are icy, windy, or if your dog is very young, old, or has a compromised immune system. If it is safe to go out, make sure to keep walks short and keep your pup wrapped up warm with their feet protected.
2. Invest in a Winter Jacket or Sweater for Your Dog
Not all dogs will benefit from a sweater or jacket, but many breeds can. Hairless breeds should always wear some type of winter dog clothing. Short haired and small breeds should always wear a sweater or jacket for insulation. Consider getting a jacket or sweater for your elderly dog, sick dog, young puppy, or immune-compromised pet.
3. Protect Your Dog’s Paws
When winter arrives, that means toxic chemicals being spread on sidewalks to prevent icing. These chemicals can absorb into your dog’s paws, irritating the skin, or even end up being ingested if your dog licks their paws when they get home.
Sharp ice pieces or objects hidden under snow can be dangerous to your dog’s paws, too. Protect your dog’s paws with winter booties or protective waxes. If you choose to use paw wax, clean the dog’s paws when you get back home every time after walking.
4. Don't Make Your Dog Sleep Outdoors
A dog should never be made to sleep outdoors. As social animals, dogs want to be close to their family and isolation of being an “outside dog” is mentally damaging to the animal. Freezing temperatures is yet another reason to keep your dog indoors overnight.
Even with outdoor shelter and winter houses, a dog may succumb to the cold or get ill. The best tip on how to keep dogs warm in the winter is to keep them out of the cold and freezing weather altogether.
5. Limit Outdoor Playtime
Some dogs just love to play in the snow, but you should monitor and limit outdoor playtime during the winter, based on the dog's breed. Just like children, dogs can get caught up in playing and forget to monitor their body temperature.
Ideally, your pooch spends about 30 minutes or less playing outdoors at a time. That said, some breeds like Huskies or Malamutes are fine to stay outdoors all day in most winter temperatures. But if temperatures are dangerously low, no dog should be staying outdoors longer than it takes to have a bathroom break.
6. Keep Beds Away From Drafty Areas
Ensure your dog’s bed is kept away from drafty areas of the house. For example, keep their bed away from open chimney flues or doors with large gaps underneath them.
While thick coat breeds won't mind it, small or thin fur ones will be affected. Drafts can not only bring chills, but they can also give your pup a cold. This is one of the most overlooked tips on how to keep dogs warm in the winter.
7. Offer Warming Beds or Mats When Needed
If your dog is extra sensitive to the cold, even when staying inside, you can use a warming bed or a heated pad designed to keep dogs warm in winter months. Some are only indoors, while others work both indoors and outdoors.
Most dog heating mats create additional warmth for the animal without putting them at risk of electrocution as a regular heating pad might and are completely autonomous, meaning you do not need to monitor them all the time.
8. Limit Outdoor Time to When the Sun is Up
The warmest times of the day are when the sun is up, so limit walking or playing outside to those times when the sun can provide extra warmth. Night time potty trips should be short and your dog should always wear a coat if their breed or health requires it.
9. Offer Extra Blankets at Bedtime
If your doggo shows signs of being cold (shivering) or you think they would like a little more comfort, offer them extra blankets. Contrary to popular belief, blankets for dogs can be extremely useful, especially during cold winter months, and most dogs love them. This gives them an option of covering up or burrowing to keep warm if they want to.
10. Remove Excess Snow and Ice from Outside Your Home
Ice and snow can get between paw pads and cause feet to get very cold. Shovel any snow or ice around your home in areas that your dog may walk. This will not only keep their feet from getting too cold, but it will also help you all to avoid accidents. If you're using ice melts, make sure they're pet-friendly.
11. Never Leave Your Dog in a Car
Something that has been said many times, even if you’re just going to be in the store for five minutes and your dog is a Husky with a big fluffy coat, do not leave them in your car alone.
This rule goes for winter, summer, spring, and fall. Your pooch will always be much more comfortable in the controlled temperature of your home where they have access to food, water, and comfortable furniture. In some states, it's downright illegal to do so.
12. Keep Your Pup Dry
To keep your dog warm in the winter, you need to keep them dry. If you go out in the snow or ice, have a doggy towel prepared to dry them off when you come back inside. The longer your dog’s coat stays wet, the higher the chance that they will catch a chill.
Leaving your dog with a wet coat can also result in their skin drying out or becoming irritated if your pup rolled in any ice salt or de-icing chemicals. If that's the case, rinse them off in the shower and dry their coat afterward. Keep an eye on the affected area into the next day to ensure no damage has occurred to the skin.
13. Don’t Go Overboard with Grooming
If you have a dog that requires regular grooming, keep winter weather in mind. That doesn’t mean that you can’t groom your pup in winter, but it does mean that you shouldn’t go for those close-clipped, nearly-naked cuts. Your dog relies on their coat for insulation against the cold and when you remove a large portion of it, they are no longer able to keep themselves warm.
14. Provide Extra Food When Necessary
It takes extra calories to keep dogs warm in the winter. When your pooch spends time playing out in the snow or even if your home is chillier than usual, give them a little extra food. These extra calories will fuel their internal thermostat and help them to stay warm.
You can determine if your dog requires extra calories in winter by tracking their weight. If you notice that your dog begins to lose a pound or two, try adding a little more food to their diet to compensate for the cold weather.
15. Let Your Pup on the Bed with You
Not everyone likes to let their dog sleep on the bed with them, but if you do, there is no better time for snuggles than winter time. One more body on the bed means extra body heat for all of you.
Research has also shown that sleeping with your dog can help to reduce depression, improve overall feelings of well-being, reduce anxiety, reduce high blood pressure, increase the release of serotonin, and improve your health overall!
16. Don’t Go Off-Leash
Even if your dog is exceptionally well trained, never let them off-leash in the cold winter weather. Hidden traps and pitfalls can lie anywhere and result in your dog slipping, sliding, or getting lost and freezing to death.
Keeping your dog on a leash means that you can control where they are. If you do want to give your dog a little more freedom, invest in a longer leash. You can find long leashes as long as 50 feet which will allow your dog freedom while also keeping you in control. We advise sticking with a 15 foot long lead in winter, however.
17. Give Hydrotherapy a Try
Older dogs and dogs with joint concerns tend to have additional trouble in cold weather. Their joints lock up and they tend to have an ongoing chill. Try finding a local hydrotherapy facility for your dog to help them warm up and get some exercise without weight bearing.
Hydrotherapy uses a treadmill underwater in a large tank. The water in the tank is very warm. This allows dogs to exercise with the buoyancy of the water while the warmth relaxes the muscles and joints making exercise pain free.
18. Create a Ring Out of Your Dog’s Blankets
If your pet tends to get cold easily, take their blankets and create a donut shape around them. This creates a ring that holds in warmth and helps your pooch to maintain their body temperature while sleeping.
You can create a donut ring of blankets by simply rolling them up and creating a large O shape around your dog with a few blankets. Just don’t make the circle too large or it won’t work as well for maintaining heat.
19. Do Not Go Swimming
This one may seem like a no-brainer when finding ways on how to keep dogs warm in the winter – there is nothing worse for the body temperature than swimming on a cold day. So avoid lakes, oceans, streams and only let your dog play in water indoors.
If they get wet outside, they will quickly catch a chill and their coat may even develop icicles. This isn’t to mention the dangers of partially icy lakes and ponds where your dog can fall through the ice!
20. Remember That Where You Walk, You Must Walk Back
It’s easy to forget when you are walking that where you go, you must also walk back. This is particularly true in the winter. When you get to your destination, you may feel too chilled or too tired to walk home again. This is why you should always monitor your walk with dogs in winter to make sure that both you and your dog can get back home again.
When looking for ways on how to keep dogs warm in the winter, preparation is key. Take a fully charged phone with you when you go walking in the winter to ensure you can contact someone in case you do find yourself unable to get home or if you have an emergency.
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