Do Outdoor Dogs Need More Food In Cold Weather?

When you're snug and warm indoors in cold weather, it's easy to forget that your outdoor dog might not be as comfortable, or that she might need extra food to help keep her warm. For outside dogs, the climate in the region, the dog's type of coat and the kind of shelter she has all come into play. Your dog's food requirements in cold weather depend on a number of factors, including her age, state of health and levels of activity.


Dogs typically have a shiver response to cold, which helps to keep their bodies warm through movement. The response uses more energy for oxygen consumption, however, than if they don't shiver. If your dog spends much of her time outdoors or is a working animal, she will need up to 15 percent extra calories for every 20-degree F drop in temperature. This will help her to produce the energy necessary for keeping her body temperature regulated, according to the Utah Humane Society's website. You can supply the additional calories by giving her more food, or feed high-performance food that contains more fat and protein.


Dog food with high fat content is beneficial only for working dogs that spend lots of time or live outdoors, such as sled dogs, sheep herders and other farm dogs. If your dog spends her time in a fenced yard or run, a diet high in fat could make her gain weight or get ill instead of warming her. For working dogs needing a high-fat diet, Dr. Ben Sheffy of Cornell University recommends using between 30 and 33 percent fatty protein. This includes protein sources such as roasted chicken with the skin, lamb, fatty beef cuts such as chuck, sirloin steak and organ meats like beef heart or brains.


If your dog needs a high-protein diet to survive outdoors in cold weather but she is not as active as sled dogs or other working animals, lean, human-quality meat, poultry or fish protein will serve her needs. In his book "The Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats," Dr. Richard Pitcairn recommends using lean meats such as chicken or turkey meat, beef liver, poultry giblets, lean chuck or hamburger meat. You can use these meats interchangeably with rabbit, mackerel, tuna or other types of fish.


During cold weather, feed your outside dog more often than you do in warm weather. This helps to keep her energy levels high enough to stave off the cold. Divide your dog's daily quantity of food into three or four portions and feed her at intervals throughout the day. This helps the dog to generate enough energy to maintain her body heat. Avoid feeding your dog less than an hour before or after exercising her, because this may give her indigestion. In large or deep-chested breeds, feeding too soon before exercise can lead to complications such as gastric dilatation, commonly known as bloat.

By Tracey Sandilands

References 10 Ways to Keep Your Pet Warm this Winter
Clinical Science Study: Cooling Responses in Shivering and Non-Shivering Dogs During Induced Hypothermia; C.D. Auld et. al
Human Society of Utah: Cold Weather Care for Dogs
Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats; Richard H. Pitcairn et. al
ScienceDaily: Vet Says Owners Should Exercise with Their Dogs Based on Specific Needs to Prevent Obesity

About the Author
Tracey Sandilands has written professionally since 1990, covering business, home ownership and pets. She holds a professional business management qualification, a bachelor's degree in communications and a diploma in public relations and journalism. Sandilands is the former editor of an international property news portal and an experienced dog breeder and trainer.