Cold weather — it’s a very divisive force of nature. Many people absolutely love the cold weather and the snowball fights and warm clothing that comes with it. However, many people also dislike it, finding themselves longing for weather that allows them to enjoy a day out at the beach.
Whether you love or hate cold weather, we can all agree on one thing — we all need to make sure that our dogs are comfortable in the cold. Dogs are dependant on us to provide them with a safe and comfortable living environment, and this may be more difficult if you’re not fully prepared.
Therefore, it’s very important that every dog owner knows how to keep their dog warm during the winter. Below we’ve listed out and explained the top 5 things that you can do to ensure your dog’s wellbeing during a chilly period.
Know Your Dog’s Cold Tolerance
Even though your dog is likely covered in thick fur, they’re certainly not immune to the cold! Knowing the cold tolerance of your dog allows you to best supply them with means to stay within their comfort range. You may be wondering, then, how cold is too cold?
There are quite a few factors that play into your dog’s cold tolerance, such as breed, age, health, coat thickness, nutrition, and acclimation with the cold. Although dogs can generally become acclimated to extreme temperatures in 2 months or less, that doesn’t mean that they’re now immune to the cold.
The infographic above details what temperatures are safe and dangerous for differently-sized dogs. When this information is visualized, it’s quite clear that there isn’t too much of a difference between small and large dogs. Larger dogs can generally handle around 5-10°F colder weather than small and medium dogs. No matter your dog’s size, though, you should keep them inside once the temperature gets to be around 20°F or colder.
If it happens to be a safe temperature for your dog, then they likely will be able to stay outside for shorter periods with little risk. Keeping your dog outside in the cold does require special preparation, though, even if they have a thick northern coat.
Keep Outside Dogs Comfortable
Dogs that have a thicker coat and are more comfortable with being outside in the cold will be able to better handle staying outside in the cold. If your dog fits under this classification, there are a few things that you should do to ensure their comfort and wellbeing.
Provide A Warm Kennel
Dogs kept outside should always be given a kennel, even if they opt not to use it most of the time. This kennel will provide them with much-needed shelter year-round from the sun, snow, rain, wind, and anything else that mother nature has to throw at them.
During cold weather, a kennel is a lifesaver for outside dogs. This shelter should work to keep dogs dry by keeping out rain and snow, and it also keeps dogs warm by insulating the heat. Before leaving your dog’s safety to a kennel, be sure to properly test it to ensure that it is, in fact, watertight and warm.
Many kennels won’t come prepared for the winter so you may need to do some DIY work. The two main alterations you’ll need to make to the kennel will be raising it several inches off the ground and insulating it with a material like straw and bedding.
Ensure A Steady Supply Of Food & Water
Your dog’s food and water consumption should be considered if they’re staying outdoors in the cold weather. Water, of course, freezes at cold temperatures (32°F and colder), so you need to keep that from happening. Fortunately, there are heated water bowls that keep water liquid and drinkable to temperatures well below zero. Even if you have a heated bowl, it’s recommended that you keep a close eye on the water to make sure that it doesn’t accidentally freeze.
Additionally, some outside dogs may need to eat more during cold weather in order to keep their metabolism up. A sudden diet change may be dangerous, though, so make sure to check with your vet before feeding your dog more than they’re used to.
Dress Your Pup For The Weather
Humans aren’t the only ones that need to dress up during colder weather! Dogs, especially smaller or short-haired breeds, should wear some warm clothing to help them power through frigid temperatures. Not only will it make them look adorable, but it helps to insulate their body heat and allow them to comfortably stay outside longer for a nice walk or hike.
The most obvious piece of clothing for your dog is a warm jacket. It’s important that you find a jacket that fits comfortably and won’t restrict your dog’s movement or fall off during a walk. A jacket will cover the better portion of a dog’s body, doing wonders to keep them warm for longer periods.
Another clothing article that’s basically essential is a good set of dog boots. Boots not only keep your dog’s feet insulated and warm, but they also separate the paws from the harshness of the outside terrain. During cold weather, it’s common for snowy sidewalks to be covered with salt and de-icer — both things that can irritate your dog’s paws and cause harm when ingested. Therefore, you either need to avoid contact with these entirely, or clean your dog’s paws as soon as you get back inside.
Make Your Home A Warm Haven
So far we’ve discussed how to make a dog comfortable, warm, and safe while being outdoors in the cold. What if your plan on keeping your pup indoors most of the time? Do you not have to worry about keeping your dog comfortable? While preparations and care for your dog won’t be as intensive indoors as they are outdoors, there are still quite a few things that you can do.
Providing A Warm & Comfortable Bed
Your dog’s bed is perhaps the most important indoor amenity! With dogs spending around 12-14 hours per day sleeping, you need to provide them with a warm place to get their rest. There are a few different aspects to a comfortable dog bed.
First of all, getting your dog up and off the ground is your #1 priority. Have you ever laid down on the ground during a particularly cold day? Even if your house is comfortable, the floor has a tendency to drain your body heat and make you feel cold. Your dog experiences the exact same thing! Fortunately, just providing a simple dog bed for your dog to sleep on nearly eliminates this problem.
You should ensure that a few things are in order when it comes to your dog’s bed, too. The shape of your dog’s bed is quite important, and not something many owners think about. An optimal bed shape is a circle with raised sides, as this allows your dog to curl up in a circle and be insulated on all sides.
On top of the circular bed shape, your dog should be given several thick blankets to snuggle within. These blankets don’t have to be fancy, they just have to be warm and decently clean. My dog absolutely loves to get covered up at night before we both head to bed, and I’m more than happy to oblige knowing that he’s warm and comfortable.
Making The Rest Of Your Home Warm
Most dogs love to be around their owner, meaning that they won’t be as happy just laying in their bed all day away from you. Therefore, it helps to create a few warm spots around your home to give your dog the freedom of choice on where they want to be.
This can be accomplished with space heaters, heating pads, or even just strategically-placed blankets in different rooms. If you do opt to use space heaters and heating pads, make sure that they’re safe and can’t accidentally burn your pup.
Know What To Look For
You may follow all of the steps above and think that your dog is ready to tackle the coldest conditions, but that may not be the case. Dogs are living creatures, and as such there are some unexpected characteristics and health issues that may arise. Because of this, you need to keep a close eye on your dog to make sure that they’re handling the cold as well as you want them to.
Know When To Bring A Dog Inside
Your dog may be comfortable with the cold and boast a thick, full coat, but they may unexpectedly reach their cold tolerance limits. The temperature tolerance chart above is merely a guideline, meaning that it doesn’t present absolute values for what’s safe for your dog and what isn’t.
Keep a close eye on your dog while it’s outside. If you notice that your dog is shivering substantially, chewing on their feet or tail, or is simply being lethargic, it’s generally a good idea to bring them inside. While no serious issues may be present at the moment, it’s always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your dog’s health.
Recognize Health Issues
Cold weather may bring with it a few health concerns that aren’t normally seen throughout the rest of the year. It’s important that you know your dog well so that you’re able to notice and deal with abnormalities right when they start to show.
One big problem in cold weather, especially with older dogs, is joint issues. The cold weather may amplify these issues, so keep an eye on your dog’s activity levels. If it appears that your dog is having trouble moving around, you may need to keep them warmer, have them be more active, or supply them with joint supplements.
Frostbite is also a concern for a dog’s tail, nose, pads, and ears. Dogs that are kept outside for long periods are much more prone to frostbite than dogs that only go out in the cold for a lap around the neighborhood. Dog jackets and booties work really well to help prevent frostbite.
Taking into account everything that was discussed in this post is essential for keeping your best friend comfortable during the chilly times that arise throughout the year.
Zach is a life-long pet owner and enthusiast. He was born into a family of pet lovers, and since then has owned several dogs, mice, ferrets, fish, geckos, and a cat. This experience has given him the knowledge necessary to help others become excellent pet owners on his website Beyond The Treat with detailed gear, housing, and feeding guides for all pets.