Some of us thrive in winter climates, while others of us prefer warmer temperatures. The same can be said for dogs. A common misconception among dog owners is that because dogs have fur, they have a built-in jacket and can reasonably handle cold weather. However, this isn’t necessarily the case. While some winter-loving breeds thrive in the colder months, it’s important to take the proper precautions to keep your dog safe during winter.
Your dog’s ability to stay warm—and safe—during the winter months depends on a variety of factors including breed, age, weight, and coat. Generally, dogs will be fine in temperatures above 45°F, though some may start to feel uncomfortable and seek out ways to stay warm. Small, short-haired, and elderly dogs, along with dogs with preexisting health conditions, should avoid going outside unless absolutely necessary when the weather drops below 32°F. Once the weather is below 20°F, be extra careful when taking your pup outside regardless of his age, breed, or health in order to avoid winter risks of frostbite and hypothermia.
In addition to the temperature, consider the wind chill, precipitation, and whether the sun is shining. Consider movement too: if your high-energy pooch loves running around outside, he’ll likely stay warm longer than a dog who likes to relax in one spot.
As dog owners, there are several precautions we can take when it comes to keeping our dogs safe in the winter months:
Keep Them Warm
This one seems… obvious. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that you keep your dog indoors for several months out of the year—dogs need exercise and sunshine. How you keep your canine cozy when you venture into the cold can vary.
For some, such as owners of small, toy, and miniature, and short-haired breeds such as Chihuahuas, this might mean investing in another winter coat to layer over your pooch’s existing fur coat. Lean dogs such as Greyhounds can also use an extra layer to stay protected from the cold. The ideal canine coat reaches from the neck to the base of the tail, protecting the tummy area as well.
Keep in mind, though, that a coat won’t make your dog immune to freezing temperatures. Be especially aware of the exposed areas, such as the ears, feet, and tail, and limit your time outside to prevent frostbite.
Limit Time Outdoors
Hypothermia is a serious winter concern. In mild cases, you may notice your dog shivering, with cold ears and feet. As it worsens, your dog may exhibit signs of depression (link to mental health blog), such as a decrease in energy and appearing less alert. Other symptoms of hypothermia include slow, shallow breathing and a slowed heartbeat.
If you feel cold standing outside without a coat (or even with one), your dog probably does, too. Once you notice your pooch shivering or appearing anxious and losing interest in playing and exploring, it’s a good idea to go back inside. Fortunately, there are several ways to keep your pup active without leaving the house.
Sun’s Out, Dog’s Out
If possible, try to take your dog for walks or to play outside in the late morning or early afternoon hours, when the sun is at its peak. In addition to warmer walks, sunshine can also provide Vitamin D, which is valuable for both you and your four-legged friend!
Create a Cozy Sleeping Space
Just like humans, dogs like to be warm and cozy when they sleep. Offer warm blankets, or even heated pet beds for dogs with especially stiff joints. Keep the bed away from drafty areas and cold, uncarpeted floors.
If you absolutely must keep your dog outdoors, make sure to have a warm, comfortable doghouse, free of drafts, wind, and rain. Even with the most comfortable doghouse, though, it’s best to bring your pet indoors if the temperatures are below freezing level.
Stay Away From Space Heaters
Space heaters may seem like the ideal solution when it comes to providing a warm environment for your furry friend in the winter months. However, a dog seeking warmth may snuggle up a bit too close to a space heater and end up overheating, or even with burns. To avoid harming your pet, consider purchasing a heated bed and/or installing baseboard radiator covers for added protection.
Avoid Thin Ice
While most pet owners wouldn’t hesitate to rescue their pup from icy water, no one wants it to come to that point. Avoid the risk by staying away from frozen ponds or lakes. Even if the ice is thick, a slip could lead to muscle injury and just be unpleasant overall.
Antifreeze and winter go hand in hand. Antifreeze and dogs, however, do not. Because antifreeze tastes sweet to dogs, they will happily lick it up, unaware that as little as a teaspoon of antifreeze can be toxic. Keep your dog away from areas commonly containing antifreeze, such as the garage or driveway.
Symptoms of antifreeze ingestion include drooling, vomiting, seizures, extreme thirst, panting, and lethargy. Contact your vet immediately if you think your dog has been exposed to toxic chemicals.
Keep Skin Healthy
Just like humans, dogs’ skin becomes dry, itchy, and flaky in the winter months. You don’t need to bathe your dog as frequently in the winter as you do in the summer. In fact, excessive baths will strip natural oils from his coat. When bath time comes around, use moisturizing shampoos.
Keep your pup hydrated during the winter months, too—snow is no substitute for drinking water. Skin health supplements are helpful as well. PetHonesty’s Salmon SkinHealth Chews help to fight inflammation that causes dry and itchy skin, and promote shinier, healthier coats.
Pamper the Paws
Rub some paw balm on Fido’s feet to soothe any dry, cracked paw pads. Winter salt, which can be toxic, can also harm a dog’s feet, so be sure to wipe them clean after going for a walk to keep your pup from licking it off. It may be worth investing in some dog booties to protect your pup’s paws (and provide some extra warmth).
If Fido has furry feet, trim the fur that grows between his paw pads. This will prevent ice buildup which can be cold and uncomfortable.
Special Senior Care
Elderly dogs have a more difficult time keeping their body temperature regulated, so pay extra attention to your senior pooch during the winter months. Also, cold weather can aggravate medical conditions such as arthritis, so it may be worth investing in some joint supplements to ease any discomfort. PetHonesty’s Senior Dog Joint Mobility Booster 3-Pack can help to reduce inflammation, improve mobility, and ease joint pain.
If you’re well-prepared, winter doesn’t need to be a season of hiding from the cold. Of course, canine cuddles are never a bad idea to keep both you and your pup warm!