The wintertime can be beautiful and adventurous if you keep your dog safe during the colder months. We’ve gathered useful tips on winter dog care that every dog owner should know.
Not all dogs love the cold and prefer to stay indoors and cozy up (don’t mind if we do, too!). There is nothing wrong with that if we offer them a suitable space, just the right amount of dog food they need and plenty of indoor exercise if we lessen the outdoor time.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that all dogs prefer the indoors – some are very active and would go stir crazy being cooped up inside all day. Venturing outside needs some more pre-planning during the winter months, perhaps even more accessories than we are used to, and special vigilance on safety, as there are quite a few special circumstances involving lower temperature and poor visibility.
Table of Contents
The best winter dog care
20 tips on how to take care of your dog during the winter:
- Be mindful of increased health risks (dogs are susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia) due to low temperatures (especially for older dogs, puppies, and dogs with pre-existing medical conditions).
- Groom their fur and keep them clean and dry to maximize their insulation.
- Do aftercare when back from walks (clean them of snow, dirt, salt, and chemicals and carefully dry them and warm them up).
- Keep special attention to their paws and pads and moisturize them if needed.
- Dress them up in nice winter wear if they seem too cold or just give them some booties to protect their pads and if you venture out in the dark, make sure they are visible.
- Keep their indoor accommodations dry, warm, and cozy (they shouldn’t sleep on a cold floor), draught free, and away from dangerous not pet-proofed space heaters and other heat sources.
- Limit access to places with toxic chemicals and pet-proof the area (especially antifreeze in the wintertime as it is toxic to dogs).
- Remove snow from rooftops and away from the fences so they don’t climb over them. When they are outside also monitor their water bowl so the water doesn’t freeze over.
- Monitor your dog’s food intake and create a winter dog diet plan catered just for them as each dog has their own needs (some burn extra calories in the winter and some exercise less).
- Add extra supplements to their diet to ensure they get enough vitamins and minerals they need in the winter.
- When the temperature drops and the weather is not suitable, arrange indoor activities that stimulate the mind as well as provide the needed exercise. While doing so, offer them enough toys and socialization so they don’t get stir crazy.
- Use indoor dog facilities the community offers such as doggy sports classes and doggy daycares.
- When it’s the holiday season, be mindful of fireworks and elevated anxiety levels.
- Plan outdoor activities and winter walks in advance and pack appropriately. Be mindful of temperature drops.
- Try to venture on winter walks during late mornings or early afternoons and take advantage of sunny days.
- When going outside in the dark, be especially vigilant, be sure to be visible, walk well-known paths, don’t get distracted, have someone know where you are, keep your mobile with you, and if you can don’t go on a walk with your dog alone.
- If the weather permits, do your usual outdoor routine.
- Avoid bodies of frozen water and unknown paths that are covered in snow.
- If letting your dog off the leash, be sure they have good recall and are microchipped.
- Never leave pets locked and unattended in the car.
The tips mentioned above are grouped and quite shortened, but you can read about them in more detail in the continuation of this article.
Dog health risks in the colder months
One would think that because of the voluminous amount of fur some dogs have, they are completely fine with cold or even freezing temperatures. In some cases that is true (especially for certain dog breeds like Huskies, that have physically demanding outdoor jobs mostly on cold, snowy surfaces. But in most cases, our pets are used to a more temperate climate and being indoors.
When wondering if your dog is cold, it’s good to remember that if you are cold, there is a good chance they are as well. If you can’t stand on your threshold without a warm coat, then it’s reasonably too cold for your doggo to stay outside for longer periods of time. If you notice them shivering or whining and searching for a shelter, you should bring them in immediately.
Prolonging their exposure to cold can cause unnecessary and preventable medical conditions ranging from mild to severe (such as skin irritation, chapped paws, and can become disoriented and get injured). It can also cause major health risks like hypothermia, frostbite, and even freezing to death.
Dog hypothermia – abnormally low body temperature in dogs
Just like humans, if your dog spends too much time subjugated to cold temperatures, they can develop a medical condition known as hypothermia. It is a very serious winter weather health concern for dogs.
Hypothermia in dogs can occur because of:
- prolonged exposure to cold temperatures,
- prolonged submersion in cold water,
- wet skin and fur,
- as a common side-effect of anesthesia,
- as a result of several medical conditions or diseases.
Hypothermia in dogs is defined as:
- mild if their temperature falls between 32 and 35°C (89.6 – 95.0°F),
- moderate between 28 and 32°C (82.4 – 89.6°F), and
- severe if it falls below 28°C (82.4°F).
Based on the type of dog hypothermia (mild, moderate, or severe) the symptoms may vary. Usually, the first signs of hypothermia in dogs are:
- pale skin,
- cold ears and feet,
- (strong) shivering,
The symptoms progress and present as muscle stiffness, slower breathing, lower heart rate, and non-responsiveness. It is life-threatening if left untreated.
Dog frostbite – a medical condition in dogs as a result of exposure to extreme cold
Frostbite in dogs (and humans) is damage caused to the skin and other tissues due to extremely cold temperatures. Dogs are quite susceptible to frostbite and can develop frostbite in as little as 30 minutes.
It starts when the body is cold and pulls blood from extremities to warm up the center of the body (ears, paws, or tail are the first to go). It is not easy to determine frostbite in dogs. Interesting bonus fact: if only the surface skin is frozen, it’s called frostnip.
Signs of frostbite in dogs:
- tenderness and/or pain when touched,
- swelling in the affected area,
- pale, blue, or gray skin or other discoloration in the affected area,
- skin cold to the touch,
- stiffness or clumsiness,
- blisters or skin ulcers,
- areas of blackened or dead skin.
Increased health risks in colder months due to existing medical conditions
Some medical conditions flare-up in the winter due to lower temperatures, such as dog arthritis (osteoarthritis). Arthritis in dogs can’t be cured, but we can make them comfortable and lessen the symptoms.
Besides medication, supplements, and regulating their weight, we have to ensure regular dog exercise, albeit mild to prevent further damage. Mild to moderate exercise minimizes stiffness in joints and muscles (that frequently accompanies arthritis, particularly during cold weather) and keeps them limber.
Suitable dog exercises, for medical conditions as mentioned above, are easy walks and especially swimming if you have access to a suitable body of water. You should keep in mind that cold water during winter is a no-no and you have to be very careful of slippery surfaces to prevent any injuries. A lot of snow can make it difficult to walk as well, so the time and energy spent on such a walk should be thought about and incorporated in the pre-planning (or even avoided altogether).
Additional care for older dogs in winter
The aforementioned medical conditions (arthritis, stiffness and pain in joints and muscles) aren’t exclusive to older dogs, but they do present the majority of them. On top of that, older dogs, in general, can have additional medical conditions and require special care, especially in the winter months.
Changes your dog faces when aging:
- they begin to slow down and sleep more,
- aren’t as active due to arthritis and joint pain,
- can gain weight as they don’t burn calories as they used to but still have a healthy appetite,
- get cold easier because regulating body temperature is tougher,
- their senses dull – they can’t see or hear as well as before,
- can be a little more anxious and have a harder time handling stress,
- can become more clingy or want to be left alone more,
- can get confused sometimes because of the decline in cognitive abilities,
- bathroom accidents may become more common,
- may need extra care in grooming because of changes in skin, coat, and nails, as well as changes in frequency and ability to self-groom.
A rule of thumb is, when keeping all of the changes in mind whilst still ensuring a regular (yet mild) dog exercise, older dogs should be kept indoors more frequently during the cold weather. It should be noted, that like older dogs, puppies have issues with regulating their body temperature as well, so they too should be monitored more closely.
Did we mention that cuddles are an amazing way to keep your doggos warm and cozy? No? Well, they are and we love them too!
Winter is coming – the cold does bother them and careful winter dog care helps
The double whammy of a title right? Silly puns aside, the winter is not the friendliest time for your fluffy companion, as most of them have long forgone life in the wilderness, where extreme winters were a normal, even though a harsh(er) occurrence. Being able to sleep on a soft pillow, next to a fireplace does get one to be content a bit quickly, doesn’t it?
Dog grooming needs during colder months
Some dog breeds with thicker fur are at an advantage when it comes to colder temperatures, but not all of them are as lucky and may need some additional clothing. To ensure their coats are properly insulated, they need to be cleaned and well-groomed.
Even if we like the look of our dogs with shorter hair or shaved down to the skin, we shouldn’t take their protective layer when the temperatures are colder. A longer coat will provide them more warmth and lessen the chances of frostbite and hypothermia. If needed, we can trim them a bit to prevent clinging ice balls on their underside and accumulation of dirt, salt, and any possible de-icing chemicals on their paws.
Bathing your dog during the winter should be limited and after each bath time, they should be thoroughly dried and warmed up (especially if venturing outside). Frequent washing can remove essential oils from their skin and can cause irritation and flaky and dry skin.
Dry and cold weather outside and dry heat emitted from central air systems or furnaces indoors add to the issue in the winter months. Even though in general the damaged skin gets naturally replaced, prolonged exposure to such an environment without additional treatment can cause skin irritation to be present during the whole winter. If accompanied by relentless scratching, it can cause serious skin problems.
We can help to moisturize their skin and ease the symptoms with special moisturizing shampoos and adding skin and coat supplements to their food. Additionally, we can use natural oils, such as coconut oil, on their skin and even their paws, ears, or tail if we notice they are dry or cracked.
Protecting dog paws in winter
While grooming your dog’s coat, you should inspect their paws and pads. If they have long hair growing between their toes, the foot fuzz should be carefully trimmed to prevent snow and ice build-up, as well as accumulating any unnecessary dirt, salt, and chemicals. If the pads on their paws are cracked they should be treated too (using special creams approved by your vet or natural paw salves or oils).
Salt and de-icing chemicals on the streets during the winter are quite common and can burn your dog’s pads (and can be overall toxic). After each walk, you should carefully clean your dog’s paws and remove any accumulated snow or dirt, use pet-friendly ice melts if necessary, wipe them down or rinse them with warm water, thoroughly dry them and apply aftercare if needed.
To prevent discomfort and abrasions while walking on frozen and salty surfaces, you may massage petroleum jelly or other paw protectants into their pads before going outside. Alternatively you can simply dress them in booties (no worries, Iditarod sled-dog teams wear them too!) and simultaneously prevent dirt and salt getting between their toes.
It is recommended that you bring a towel or a rag with you on long walks to intermittently wipe their paws and lessen any irritation and stinging. Protecting dog paws in winter is quite important.
Cold weather dog fashion and winter clothing
As not all dogs are graced with a thick furry coat and are well acquainted with the benefits of the amazingness of a warm and cozy indoors, they simply don’t do well out in the cold. Luckily, the solution is as pretty as it is useful – cold weather dog fashion! We have previously extensively written about dog accessories and the history of dog fashion, but there is a special place in our hearts for dog winter clothing (so stinkin’ cute ^^).
As you probably like to put on a warm jacket before venturing out on winter walks, your doggo also deserves a nice sweater, or even better – a coat (especially if they are short-haired and for some of them you can even say it is regulation winter wear). Their winter clothing should offer sufficient coverage by having a high collar or a turtleneck to protect their necks and go to the base of the tail, as well as protect the belly underneath when the temperature drops.
Such winter wear doesn’t protect the ears, tail, or feet, so you should be mindful of the danger of frostbite and limit outdoor time for small, delicate, short-haired dogs and dogs that need special attention.
Some days waking up in the pitch-black of the morning and venturing out in the freezing cold to catch a glimpse of some morning sunshine doesn’t sound so appealing. And some days you simply don’t have enough time to catch some needed daylight but you still need some fresh air. In those cases, the only option left is to go out when it’s dark.
Going on winter walks with your doggo in the darkness can be dangerous and it’s important to make yourself, your surroundings, and your dog visible. Luckily, dog winter clothing can accommodate that. Dress your pup in some reflective clothing, or neon clothing if you want to make a fashion statement simultaneously, and add some reflective accessories, light-up dog collars, or a small light on your dog’s collar to make them stand out even better. All the advice written here applies to you as well (how about some matching outfits?!).
Indoor accommodations during cold weather
As your dog needs to be cleaned up and thoroughly dried when coming back indoors from an adventure outside, it is equally important that their accommodations indoors are well cleaned, dry, cozy, warm, and away from any possible draughts.
They shouldn’t sleep on a cold floor when the temperature drops. Thick or raised beds from the cold tiled floor can ensure they stay warm, as well as any warm blanket can make it extra cozy and snug. For older dogs, puppies, and dogs with arthritis and joint pain, heated pet beds are also recommended.
As having them in a warm environment is necessary, they shouldn’t be too close to space heaters and other heat sources to avoid them getting burned. They shouldn’t be left alone and unsupervised near fireplaces or wood stoves. Any access to a heated surface that can cause an injury should be limited and pet-proofed.
As home space heaters and other heat sources often emit dry heat which can cause skin irritation it’s recommended to keep your home humidified and offer your dog proper skin and coat winter care.
You should always be careful with keeping toxic chemicals around your home, especially if you have a curious and active doggo. In the cold months, we often use antifreeze and can be complacent with its placement. As antifreeze and coolant are extremely toxic and can cause major health risks as well as can be fatal, it’s imperative you keep them away from your dog. Pet-proof the area you keep it in as well as limit your dog’s access to that place.
Antifreeze can sometimes be found on the street as well, so be vigilant when out on walks and seek medical attention for your dog immediately if you think they have ingested it. Signs of antifreeze poisoning include panting, drooling, thirst, vomiting, lethargy, and seizures.
Heavy snow is not so much an indoor issue, but rather the backyard and around-the-house issue. While shoveling snow and piling it near fences it’s recommended to make a parameter check to ensure that your dog can’t climb over the fence because of it. A potential hazard is also snow and ice accumulated on the rooftops. Make sure to clean them regularly so it doesn’t slide off on your dog and cause an injury.
Overweight dogs, dog obesity, and winter dog diet plan
Overweight dogs and dog obesity, in general, is a serious global concern with 40% (or more) of dogs being overweight. It causes many health risks and can reduce a dog’s lifespan considerably.
If you don’t know if your dog is overweight and would like to learn more about dog obesity and tips on how to help your dog lose weight, check out our blog 5 tips for an overweight dog and dog weight loss.
Monitoring your dog’s food intake and keeping them in shape in winter
Keeping your dog fit in the winter is quite similar to keeping them in shape overall. Here are 5 easy steps to ensure your dog is in shape during winter:
- make a dog diet plan to accommodate their needs during colder months and ease them into it gradually,
- keep a dog food diary,
- limit treats and snacks,
- ensure a regular dog exercise,
- measure and monitor their progress.
Keeping a dog food diary, tracking snacks, keeping a dog exercise journal, and monitoring their progress can be easily done with the PAWSM dog diet and nutrition mobile app.
You might also be interested in knowing that as a part of our PAWSM tools project we offer the PAWSM Food Similarity Tool that helps you search for foods similar to the one you use or are simply curious about.
The tool uses the PAWSM dog food database we created for our app that includes the ingredients contained in each dog food. With that in mind, you can create a fresh new dog diet plan you can use in the winter, but still have similar dog food to the one you already use.
Balanced dog diet during winter months
Managing the right amount of dog food and knowing how many calories a dog needs per day in the winter can be tricky. We’ve learned that older dogs can gain weight easier as they don’t burn as many calories as they used to, but hopefully still have a healthy appetite. Keeping dogs indoors more often and not making sure they get the same amount of exercise also keeps them at risk of gaining weight.
On the other hand, pets burn extra energy in the winter just by trying to stay warm. If you feel that your dog is losing too much weight and has lower energy levels, monitor them closely and try adjusting their seasonal dog diet plan and add a little extra to their meals, but still be wary of overfeeding them.
We as well as our dogs are more susceptible to colds and other ailments during winter so a balanced dog diet is especially important. Making sure your dog gets enough vitamins and minerals is a must and you can even look into adding extra supplements to their dog diet. Be sure not to overdo it though. If you are not sure about the amount recommended, check in with your vet as they will be happy to help.
Hydration is very important even in winter as dogs can get dehydrated just as fast. Eating snow is not a sufficient substitute for fresh water, which should be made available for them at all times. In the colder months make sure to check that the water provided in their outside water bowl hasn’t frozen over.
Careful dog exercise during winter
Some of us tend to hibernate in the winter and we tend to be more lenient with the frequency and amount of exercise we and our dogs get. Studies have shown that 56% of dog owners exercise their dogs less during cold, winter months.
In some cases, limiting outdoor activities is also preferred – mainly for older dogs, puppies, and dogs with pre-existing medical conditions. Even the fluffiest dog can catch a cold in the winter and there are higher health risks during those months.
When the temperatures fall to the extremes, the time spent outdoors should be limited even to the more outdoorsy and healthy dogs to prevent frostbite and hypothermia. When your dog shows that they are ready to go back inside, even if the time is less than what you had planned, trust their judgment and let them in.
If they are outside alone, make sure to check on them regularly and ensure they take frequent indoor breaks for water and warming. If their water bowl is outside check it regularly to make sure the water isn’t frozen.
Indoor dog exercise and activities in the winter
Sometimes it’s not just you, but your pooch doesn’t want to go outside either. It’s good to provide them with access to the outdoors anyway or try to convince them (never force them) to take a short walk around your place if you can. Not all outdoor walks should be supplemented with indoor activities – you and your dog need some fresh air and mental stimulation.
Short outings can also help them acclimatize to the temperature changes when winter comes. When outdoor activities lessen you need to provide enough stimuli and dog exercise indoors even if you would prefer to just cuddle your time away with them under a soft warm blanket. A lot can be done at home when the weather is just too horrible to venture out in or you don’t like the darkness when you couldn’t find the time during the daytime hours.
So they don’t go stir crazy when at home, make sure to offer them enough toys and socialize with them to keep them and their minds occupied (and away from your shoes and furniture). You might even look into some fun new interactive games to try out with them.
Using the time together with your dog for training is beneficial to their mental state and simply gives you both something to keep the winter depression away. Being mentally stimulated, seeing progress, and having a sense of achievement are quite important when the world around you slows down.
If you don’t have enough space at your place or just feel your dog needs a bit extra room to roam and perhaps mingle with their peers, we recommend looking into alternative indoor options. One of them might be doggy sports classes or other places that offer indoor areas for dogs or even doggy daycares.
Late fall and the wintertime also come with several holiday celebrations. Be mindful of the dangers those present as well and how to prevent anxiety during those times.
Outdoor dog exercise and activities in the winter
Some doggos simply love snow and can’t stay indoors for long. If you can, try to time your outdoor activities with your dog in the late morning or early afternoon as the temperatures are a bit warmer and there is enough daylight. Take advantage of sunny days as sunshine is beneficial and provides your dog with the vitamin D they need to stay healthy and active.
In wintertime, as days get shorter and nights get longer, the temperatures get lower and visibility decreases due to nightfall and winter weather (snowstorms and blizzards are quite a hoot when you’re trying to get some needed exercise and fresh air). Sometimes you won’t be able to avoid going out in the darkness.
We have mentioned the need to be visible in darkness with reflective clothing and shiny accessories, but it is also important to know well the paths you will take and have explored them in the daytime. If you can, don’t go out alone with your dog and make sure someone always knows where you are and when to expect you back.
Choose well-lit paths that are often frequented. Avoid listening to music so you don’t get easily distracted and don’t let your dog off the leash to avoid them getting lost in the dark. Keep your mobile with you in case of an emergency.
Pre-plan your outdoor activities and pack appropriately. On longer outings, pack a towel or a rag to help clean your dog’s paws and pads if needed to avoid stinging or irritation. Pack enough water and make sure it doesn’t freeze. Have enough appropriate clothing for yourself and your dog if they need it and pick safe roots you know well.
If the weather is appropriate you can exercise as you and your dog are used to. Take your dog to the dog park to play in the snow with their peers so they can exercise and get their fair share of socializing. Agility parks, if there are any in your area, are also great for getting in that needed exercise. Alternatively, if you have a yard, you could also improvise and make your own agility course.
Keeping a watchful eye on your dog and your surroundings is equally important. Avoid bodies of frozen water and thin ice that can easily break or you can slip on. Keep them leashed if they are likely to jump in, or if you are in an unfamiliar area and you can’t determine if it’s safe to walk around with the added layers of snow.
If you do let your dog off the leash be sure they have a good recall so they don’t get lost if the weather changes and visibility reduces. Having them microchipped also helps reunite with them.
We find it important to point out that you should never leave pets locked and unattended in the car. No matter if it is winter or summer. In the summer, the temperatures are sky-high and can be fatal for your dog, while in the winter, they can equally drop very quickly.
Leaving the car running is not a solution as there is a higher risk of carbon monoxide poisoning if in an enclosed space or your dog can move around in the car and accidentally turn off the breaks and cause an accident. It’s best to take your dog with you or simply leave them at home.
In the little wintertime we have left, we hope these tips help you take care of your pooch. Are they anything like what you usually do? What are your personal tips you would recommend?
And as always – stay awesome, use PAWSM 😉