If you’re cold, then your dog probably is, too, and it’s important you take steps to keep it warm to prevent sickness and expensive vet visits. This might include dressing your dog in booties and a sweater, keeping walks short, and insulating your doghouse.
The bottom line: Keeping your dog warm during the winter is vital if you want to keep it safe and healthy. Cold conditions can lead to frostbite, hypothermia, organ and brain damage, and even death. Here’s what you need to know to keep your dog warm this winter.
How cold is too cold for a dog?
Cold temperatures can cause your dog’s body temperature to drop below 99 degrees Fahrenheit, which can lead to hypothermia. Hypothermia can result in a host of problems, like cardiac and respiratory failure, brain damage, or even death in some cases.
“It is clinically accepted that indoor pets that are not acclimated to cold weather should not be left outside when the average daily temperature is below 45 degrees Fahrenheit,” says Dr. M.A. Crist, a clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
Still, this is just a general recommendation — there’s no telling the exact temperature that’s too cold for your pet, as cold tolerance varies from one animal to the next. Its level of body fat, coat, activity level, and overall health all play a role.
Generally speaking, dogs with long or thick coats will be more tolerant of cold conditions than short-haired ones. Small dogs, puppies, and older dogs are also at higher risk of hypothermia. Dogs with health conditions like diabetes, kidney or heart issues, or hormonal imbalances may also be less tolerant of the cold.
Any dog can develop hypothermia under the right conditions, though. If your pet is going to be exposed to cold temperatures, make sure you know how to protect it — and what the potential warning signs of cold-related health conditions are.
Learn More: Cheap Pet Insurance for Your Dog
How to keep dogs warm in the winter
You have many ways to keep your dog warm during the winter. Some require a little investment in materials and supplies, while others simply require your diligence and attention.
Keep them indoors
Keep your dog inside the house when possible. Animals are just as susceptible to the dangers of cold weather as people are, despite their fur, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Limit your pet’s exposure as much as you can if you bring it outside. Think 10- to 15-minute increments, and always watch for potential signs of hypothermia or frostbite, such as lethargy, discoloration, and coordination problems. If anything seems amiss, call a vet immediately or bring your pet to a clinic.
Make sure your pet has a warm place to take shelter if it’s going to be outdoors in cold weather, such as a doghouse, a shed, or even your garage. Make sure it’s outfitted with a warm dog bed and thick, dry blankets that you change frequently. You’ll also want to provide fresh water — ideally in a heated bowl that prevents the water from freezing.
Space heaters and heating pads can help warm an outdoor shelter, but they also pose fire hazards. Use these items with caution or not at all.
Dress your pet warmly
Dress your dog for the weather. Dogs can wear coats, sweaters, booties, and more — as long as they’re fitted and hug their bodies snugly. Loose items won’t block wind as well and can make your dog get cold more quickly. Conversely, clothing that fights too tightly can affect circulation, making it harder for your dog to stay warm.
Have an emergency kit handy
You never know what winter weather might bring, so it’s important to be prepared for emergencies like extended power outages or getting snowed in.
This means having plenty of dry dog food and clean drinking water stowed away, as well as firewood and blankets to keep your dog warm. You should also talk to your vet about any prescription medications your pet might need, including heartworm, flea, and tick preventatives.
Feed your dog well
Make sure your pet is getting enough food every day. Being at a healthy weight is vital for withstanding colder conditions (and the health risks those conditions come with), and your dog will also need extra calories during this time of year since it has to work harder to generate body heat and energy.
While it can be tempting to overfeed your pet to help it build up fat stores, the health risks that come with an unhealthy weight outweigh any benefits, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Skip the haircuts
Your dog’s coat helps keep it warm in the winter months, so consider skipping your typical grooming appointments if the weather is particularly cold. Make sure to trim any ice, snow, or salt crystals from your dog’s hair when it comes in from outside. Watch for lingering de-icing materials, too, as these can be hazardous to your animal if ingested.
Learn More: 10 Dog Breeds With the Least Health Problems
How to tell if your dog is sick
It’s important to be able to recognize the signs of hypothermia and frostbite. You’ll need to bring your dog inside immediately, dry it off, and warm it if you spot any of the following signs:
Sluggishness and delayed reflexes
Dogs may get lethargic, sluggish, and start to lose their coordination when they’re becoming hypothermic. They can also have delayed reflexes or stumble around. Eventually, they might collapse or lose consciousness altogether.
Paleness or discoloration of the skin
Paleness and skin discoloration can be symptoms of both frostbite and hypothermia. Your dog’s skin and gums may turn pale, or its paws, ears, or other exposed body parts may take on a gray or bluish tint if it’s becoming dangerously cold. Areas of the skin may even turn black and have blisters or ulcers if the damage is severe.
Increased heart rate or rapid breathing
Put your hand on your dog’s chest if it’s acting oddly. If its heart rate is elevated or it seems to be breathing faster than normal, it could be a sign that its body is getting overwhelmed by the cold. Heart rate will actually slow considerably, and its breath will become slower and shallower as things worsen.
Whining or barking
If your dog whines or barks while outside in the cold, it means it’s distressed or in pain — especially if it isn’t normally so vocal. Things may also be amiss if your dog is acting anxious or panicked. Keep an eye out for unusual behavior.
Shivering is a natural response to cold, and it’s a clear sign that your dog isn’t handling the temperature well. Shivering may stop altogether if it’s cold enough. Bring your dog inside right away if it starts shivering.
Be sure to check your dog’s paws for signs of damage and frostbite when it comes in from outside. Look for cracks or bleeding, and watch for lameness or stiffness. You should also make sure ice hasn’t accumulated in its fur or hair or between its toes.
Read More: How Much Does the Vet Cost?
Is pet insurance worth it?
Pet insurance may be worth it, particularly if your dog is frequently exposed to cold weather. Not only can insurance cover the cost of unexpected injuries and illnesses caused by winter weather, but depending on your policy, you may be able to use it toward prescriptions, preventatives, food, and more — all of which can help keep your pet safe and healthy during the colder months.
Pet insurance typically covers the following expenses, among others:
Emergency office visits
You may also have the option to add wellness care to your policy for an extra fee. It covers things like annual exams, preventative medications, and more, though these come with an extra fee.
Learn More: What Is Pet Insurance?
Keeping your dog warm in winter FAQs
Here are answers to some commonly asked questions about dogs and keeping them warm during the winter months.
How do you keep a doghouse warm in winter?
You’ll need thick blankets and bedding and should change these out often to ensure your dog stays dry and warm. Facing the doorway away from the wind can help keep it warm as well. You can also cover the opening with a light tarp, as long as your dog can easily get in and out. Avoid using space heaters, heating pads, and heat lamps, as they can be both a burn risk and a fire hazard.
When should you spay or neuter your dog?
You should spay female dogs and neuter male dogs before they turn 5 months old, according to the Humane Society. The main exception is giant breed male dogs, which should be neutered between 12 and 15 months — or whenever their growth stops.
What dogs have the least health issues?
Generally speaking, smaller dogs live longer than larger ones. This may be because larger breeds grow at an accelerated rate and therefore develop age-related diseases sooner than their smaller counterparts, according to the American Kennel Club.
The breeds that tend to live the longest are chihuahuas, Chinese crested, fox terriers, English toy spaniels, pomeranians, Australian shepherds, Chinese shar-peis, cocker spaniels, poodles, whippets, Welsh springer spaniels, and rat, Russell, Lakeland, Manchester, and Yorkshire terriers.
What does a warm nose on a dog mean?
Both warm and cold noses can be normal, according to the Humane Society. The main thing you’d need to be on the lookout for is a dry nose that’s flaky, cracking, or red. This could indicate dehydration or sunburn.
- American Veterinary Medical Association. "Cold weather animal safety." Accessed March 16, 2023
- American Kennel Club. "Hypothermia in Dogs: How Cold Is Too Cold?." Accessed March 16, 2023
- North Shore Animal League America. "Winter Safety Tips to Keep Man’s Best Friend Safe and Warm." Accessed March 16, 2023
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. "Cold Weather Safety Tips." Accessed March 16, 2023
- The People's Dispensary for Sick Animals. "Hypothermia in Pets." Accessed March 16, 2023
- Insurance Information Institute. "Facts about pet insurance." Accessed March 16, 2023
- The Humane Society of the United States. "Why you should spay/neuter your pet." Accessed March 16, 2023
- American Kennel Club. "How Long Do Dogs Live?." Accessed March 16, 2023
- The Humane Society of the United States. "Is my dog sick? Try this at-home exam." Accessed March 16, 2023