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If you’re cold, then your dog probably is too, and it’s important to 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. Your dog will need a little help staying warm in colder temperatures — here’s how you can keep it warm on cold days.
How to keep dogs warm in the winter
Here are some steps for keeping your dog warm during winter conditions.
1. Understand your dog’s breed
The best care for your dog in the winter depends a lot on what type of dog you have. Your dog’s coat will really affect how cold it gets in the winter. For example, breeds like Siberian huskies and Alaskan malamutes have thick fur and can tolerate cold weather better. Short-haired breeds may be more vulnerable to cold and need extra protection.
You can always ask your vet for advice on how to protect your specific breed during winter chill. Regardless of breed, all dogs benefit from insulated shelters, warm bedding, and appropriate outdoor clothing like a dog jacket. Monitor your dog’s behavior — if it shivers, hesitates to go outside, or lifts its paws frequently, it’s too cold outside.
2. Keep your dog indoors
Keep your dog inside the house when possible, even if it’s normally an outside dog. Animals like dogs and cats are just as susceptible to the dangers of colder 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. Keep exposure to the cold to 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.
3. Provide warm shelter
Make sure your pet has a warm place to take shelter if it’s going to be outdoors in cold weather, such as a dog house, 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 can even buy a self-warming pet mat. You’ll also want to provide fresh water — ideally in a heated bowl that prevents the water from freezing.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. Keep your dog on a leash
Even the most well-behaved dogs should have their leash on when they go for walks in the winter. Snow and ice can impair their sense of smell, making it easy for them to get lost. Leashes prevent them from running onto frozen lakes or roads, reducing the risk of accidents.
In cold weather, visibility might be low due to fog or snowfall, making it harder for drivers to spot roaming pets. A leash ensures you have control, keeping your dog close and safe from potential winter hazards.
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.
How to tell if your dog is sick
Having pet insurance can really come in handy if your dog falls prey to winter hazards. Pet insurance can help alleviate the financial burden associated with unexpected treatments. Pay attention to any potential symptoms caused by cold weather exposure, as prompt veterinary care can make all the difference in keeping your pet happy and healthy during the winter.
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.
How to exercise your dog indoors
Your dog may need walks and outdoor activities in the colder months, but sometimes, it just isn’t warm enough to exercise your dog outside. When outdoor walks or trips to the dog park aren’t possible, you can do some fun indoor exercises to help your pet stay physically and mentally healthy.
Here are some tips for exercising your dog indoors:
Buy interactive toys. In the winter, go for toys like puzzle feeders that can keep your dog entertained for extended periods of time and challenge its mind.
Play fetch. Indoor fetch using soft toys or balls can help burn energy within confined spaces — just be careful nothing breakable is in your pet’s path.
Create an obstacle course. You can use household items like chairs, tunnels, or hula hoops to design your own obstacle course. That way, you can encourage your dog to jump and weave around, promoting agility.
Teach an old dog a new trick. Teaching new tricks or reinforcing existing commands not only exercises your dog but also strengthens the bond between the two of you.
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.6
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.7
The breeds that tend to live the longest are chihuahuas, Chinese cresteds, fox terriers, English toy spaniels, Pomeranians, Australian shepherds, Chinese shar-peis, cocker spaniels, poodles, whippets, and Welsh springer spaniels, as well as rat, Russell, Lakeland, Manchester, and Yorkshire terriers.7
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.8
What temperature is too cold for dogs?
All dogs have their own unique level of cold tolerance, but generally, temperatures below 45°F can be uncomfortable, especially for smaller or short-hair breeds. Prolonged exposure below freezing, 32°F (0°C), poses a risk for any dog — so dress it in protective clothing if it’ll be in cold weather for a while.
Aly J. Yale is a freelance writer and reporter covering real estate, mortgages, and personal finance. Her work has been published in Forbes, Business Insider, Money, CBS News, US News & World Report, and The Miami Herald. She has a bachelor’s degree in radio-TV-film and news-editorial journalism from the Bob Schieffer College of Communication at TCU and is a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors.