How to Keep Your Dog Warm When it’s Cold Outside

Written by: Sondra Wolfer

Puppies are particularly susceptible to the cold, so limit their outside playtime when the mercury drops.
Photo by Erin, Forked River

All that fur can fool you into thinking your dog can head outside as-is on cold days. But depending on your dog and the weather, your best friend may need to layer up with a dog coat or keep his frosty al fresco romps to a minimum. Here are some easy tips to ensure your dog stays warm and safe when it’s wintry outside.

Does Your Dog Need a Coat?
Let your dog be your guide. If your best friend shivers within a minute of being outdoors in winter, he definitely needs a dog jacket to protect him from the elements and help maintain his body temperature. If he shows signs of discomfort or shivering at the tail end of your usual winter walks, he should also sport a coat, and you should shorten your walks accordingly. When you hit the point of shivering in the cold, your focus turns to warming yourself up immediately. When your dog begins shivering, he depends entirely upon you to provide the warmth he needs.

Winter dog jackets or coats are also essential if your dog:

  • Is a small breed
  • Is light-bodied
  • Naturally sports a thin or short coat (a Greyhound or Whippet, for example)
  • Has a long coat you keep groomed short
  • Is chronically ill
  • Is a senior with a weaker immune system

Frigid temperatures are going to affect short-haired, small, and light-bodied dogs, including puppies, as quickly as if you went outside sans coat. They simply don’t have the long, thick coat or the body mass to protect themselves from the elements. For older dogs and sick dogs, it’s important to avoid the extra stress keeping warm puts upon their frail bodies.

Small, short-hair dogs often do best with a coat to keep them warm.
Photo by Stephanie, New York

Hypothermia in Dogs
Your dog is at risk of hypothermia after prolonged exposure to cold temperatures, freezing winds, and skin contact with ice and snow. The core body temperature of dogs with hypothermia drops abnormally low and must be returned to normal quickly to avoid complications, such as irregular heartbeat, trouble breathing, loss of consciousness, and, in severe cases, death.

Signs of Hypothermia in Dogs:

  • Shivering that won’t stop
  • Whining and anxiety
  • Excessive weakness
  • Shallow breathing
  • Slower-than-normal movements
  • Ice caked on body
  • Seeking a warm place to burrow (such as under a porch or bush)

If your dog exhibits any of these symptoms after time spent in the cold, bring him to a warm place, wrap him in a blanket, and call or visit your veterinarian immediately.

Frostbite in Dogs
The same conditions that cause hypothermia can lead to frostbite in dogs, however the visible symptoms can take several days to develop. As with people, the extremities that receive the least blood flow in colds conditions are most vulnerable. Frostbite often occurs on the ears, tail, paws and snout.

To prevent frostbite, take short winter walks and don’t leave your dog outside in extremely cold, snowy or icy conditions for very long. Dog coats and dog boots can also protect your best friend from developing frostbite.

Signs of Frostbite in Dogs:

  • Area of pale skin
  • Skin tinged bluish/white
  • Skin caked in ice
  • The affected skin turns red and painful when warmed

If you notice any of these symptoms on your dog, warm a towel in the dryer or on a radiator and press it gently on the affected area. Do not squeeze or rub the skin. Press with warm, not hot water. If the area turns dark instead of red, seek immediate medical care as this indicates possible death of the tissue. Dogs with frostbite may require antibiotics to prevent infection.

Be aware: When frostbite coincides with hypothermia, the hypothermia must be managed first.

Some dogs just love the snow, but owners should be on the lookout for signs of trouble.
Photo by Linda, APO

Keep Your Dog Warm Indoors, As Well
If you lower the thermostat overnight while you sleep snug under a comforter, or turn the heat down while you are at work during the day, make sure your dog has the means to stay warm while you are gone. A dog bed provides a cozy nest elevated above the chilly floor and a dog blanket offers extra insulation. This is especially important in rooms without rugs.

No Dog Should Be Left Out in the Cold
No matter how thick your dog’s coat appears to you, or how hearty his breed, no dog is meant to be outside in the cold for extended periods of time. Robust, winter-ready dogs like the Siberian Husky, the Alaskan Malamute, the Saint Bernard and the Newfoundland will be comfortable outside for longer stretches than most breeds, but they still need regular returns to hearth and home to normalize their body temperatures. It’s the same reason you long for a warm fire or cozy blanket after being outside even in your warmest winter gear.

If the temperature is at or below freezing, the wind is blowing, or there is snow cover on the ground, keep a constant watch on your dog when he’s outside and shorten his time outdoors.

Keep Your Dog Dry in the Cold
Your dog should never go outside in cold weather when his fur is wet or his dog coat is wet from a previous excursion. Wet fur will become cold or freeze quickly, dropping your dog’s body temperature rapidly. The insulating properties of dog coats and jackets are also lost when they are wet. Dry your dog’s jacket thoroughly between walks or backyard visits, and keep a backup coat handy so you always have a dry one.

Don’t let any of this scare you off enjoying a cold or snowy day with your dog. Knowing your particular dog, symptoms to watch for, and being properly geared up with a dog coat and dog booties, can help you embrace winter frolics more fully, knowing you’ll be keeping your best pal safe and sound.

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