How to Keep a Dog Warm When It's Cold Outside

By Stephanie Dube Dwilson

Winter weather presents a unique set of challenges, but with a little preparation, there is no reason you and your dog cannot enjoy the winter weather. Provide your pet with a dry, comfortable place to stay sheltered from the weather, adequate food to use as fuel, and regular attention to ensure he is in good health, and he should sail through winter in good health.

Keep His Home Comfortable

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Outdoor dogs need protection from cold, wet wintry weather. A doghouse, either one you have made yourself or purchased, is a good place to start. Add bedding material to insulate your dog from drafts. Cedar shavings, hay, straw or an old blanket make good insulation. Check on these bedding materials frequently, to make sure they are dry. If the bedding materials become damp, it can make your dog cold and he will have trouble staying warm.

Attention to Diet

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The process of keeping warm burns calories, so your dog may need additional food in cold weather. If you can see ribs or hip bones, he probably is burning too many calories trying to stay warm. In addition to increasing his ration, improve his shelter or consider bringing him into the home so he stays warm. Young puppies and older dogs, as well as toy breeds, have particular trouble staying warm in harsh conditions.

Exercise is Important

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Cold weather doesn't put a stop to your dog's need for exercise. While many dogs enjoy frolicking outside in wintry weather, others are less than thrilled about the idea. If you are able to let your dog off leash for exercise, you may be able to boost his enthusiasm by playing a game of fetch or tug of war. If he needs to stay on a leash, you can entice him by slipping some treats in your pocket to dole out on your walk.

Your dog is much more likely to enjoy his time outdoors if he is prepared properly. Short-haired dogs, toy breeds, or young or elderly dogs who are more sensitive to cold weather, will benefit from a sweater or jacket. Be sure the clothing you select covers the belly, not just the back. Also, if your dog seems uncomfortable walking around outside, consider getting a set of booties to protect his feet from the cold and ice.

Special Considerations

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During freezing weather, it is important to check your outside dog's water dish several times a day. It can be easy to forget about his need for water in the cooler months, but your dog needs regular access to fresh, clean water. The dish you fill up in the morning may be frozen in a few hours. Make sure you check his dish several times a day, adding water as necessary.

It is also important to check your dog's feet regularly. If he is both an inside and outside dog, cleaning his feet when he comes in should be enough to ensure he doesn't develop sores from ice balls forming between his pads or from salt residue. If he stays outside all the time, check his feet daily for ice balls and signs of irritation.

Emergency Conditions

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Even dogs with heavy coats can run into complications from spending too much time outdoors in frigid conditions. Frostbite is a concern that is rarely fatal, but can indicate the dog is not dealing well with the cold. Frostbite is most common on areas with little protection from the coat. Unusually pale, white or blue skin, perhaps accompanied by areas of ice crystals on the skin, is a sign of frostbite. Warm the affected area by covering it with a towel warmed in the dryer. Don't rub or wrap the area, just slowly return it to normal body temperature. Expect the skin to turn red as it warms up, as well as swell and peel. If the skin turns dark, rather than red, consult your veterinarian.

Hypothermia can develop after prolonged exposure to cold weather, particularly if your dog is wet as well. Hypothermia is a serious health condition and can be fatal. Signs of hypothermia include excessive shivering and lethargy. If your dog's temperature is below 98 degrees F, contact your veterinarian immediately. Otherwise wrap your dog in warmed towels or blankets and offer warm liquids. Once your dog's temperature reaches 100 degrees F, you can discontinue active warming, but keep him confined to a warm room.