Dogs and Cold Weather

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People are not the only ones who can suffer from cold weather.  Dogs and cold weather can also be a problem.  Cold temperatures can bother us all!  Plus, time spent outdoors in frigid weather can be exhausting.

Most people are under the misguided idea that because dogs have fur coats, that cold temperatures do not bother them.

There is some truth in that statement. Most dogs prefer a little bit of cold air over extreme heat.  And their fur coats shield them from some of both heat and cold.

Very few dogs are “built” for the cold weather anymore.  Sure the Alaskan Malamute and the Siberian Husky were genetically bred to withstand even extreme drops in temperature, and many of them are still used in some parts of the country to drive sleds as part of their job.  These dogs spend almost all of their time outside.

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When I was 18, I knew a couple that lived in a tiny cabin on the top of a mountain in Wyoming.  They had about a dozen Alaskan Malamute/Husky mixes that lived outside all year long.  Their dog houses were made to rise with the snow in the winter time so that they could still provide cover.  These friends literally couldn’t get back to their home without the help of their sled dogs because their vehicles couldn’t make the trip during the most extensive parts of winter.  They would park their cars several miles away and take their dog team back and forth when they needed to make their way down the mountain and into town.

Although this would not be how I would have or treat my dogs, I can assure you that these dogs did quite well in cold weather because they had adjusted to it, spent all of their time outside, and never knew anything else.

When I used to compete in obedience and protection sports in summer, it was always easy to tell which dogs spent more time outside.  These dogs didn’t suffer in the heat quite as badly.  I for one have a dog that is very temperature sensitive, and so I can only compete outside if conditions are right for her and her health problems.  For me, it all depends on the amount of time she will have to spend outside in the heat or the cold.

Working dogs (police dogs, guide dogs, and service dogs) are also usually better at dealing with temperature differences because they spend a great deal of time outside working.

The Difference

The difference is that most pets no longer live outdoors.

As a veterinary technician, I see a lot of health problems that abound from dogs and cats that live outside.  Did you know that the average lifespan of a cat that lives outside is three years?  However, cats that live inside can live upwards of 20 years!  Living outside is difficult on the body and spending all of your time outdoors can age your body quickly. So, I am all about keeping your pets inside with you.

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But, this means your dog isn’t used to freezing temperatures or rough weather for long periods of time.  His tolerance to the cold is much less because he is indoors enjoying the temperatures in which you desire to live.

Climates also change.  I have lived in Wyoming, Wisconsin, Colorado, Georgia, Virginia and now Maryland.  Each has a little bit of a different climate distinct to the area.

I remember schools being closed in Wyoming because the windchill factor was dangerous to be out for mere minutes.  And, Wisconsin pretty much stayed blanketed in snow from fall to spring.  Know your area and the specific dangers that it poses to you and your pets.

Know Your Breed

Obviously the longer the fur on your pet, the higher his tolerance to winter weather.  Bernese Mountain Dogs, American Eskimo Dogs, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, and other exceptionally large dogs can combat a colder wind chill and colder temperatures.

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Medium sized dogs and smaller dogs, even if furry, struggle more with cold air.   Most have less body mass and are shorter to the ground.  If your undercarriage drags through the wetness and snow, you are going to suffer more from freezing temperatures. Building a sturdy shelter can help these guys avoid lots of snow.

Brachycephalic dogs also struggle more in extreme climates.  Having a broad, short skull and very little snout makes breathing in extreme temperatures very difficult.  I recommend that dog owners of these breeds go outside with these guys both in extreme cold and extreme heat so that they can monitor their dog’s health and response to cold air and weather changes.

Dogs with little to no fur, like the Xoloitzcuintli, should also be closely monitored and left outside for as short a period as possible.

Does Your Pooch have an Undercoat?

Interestingly, some dogs have double coats or undercoat which insulate them from extreme cold and extreme heat.  Most pet owners don’t know that Labrador Retrievers are one of these breeds which make them extremely adept in the cold and cold water while they hunt.  But again, take into account, if your dog isn’t outside often, or out hunting often, extreme temperatures will still bother him.  Undercoats will only help to a degree!

Alaskan Malamutes, Akita, Siberian Huskies, Norwegian Elkhounds, Chow Chows, Belgian Shepherds, Leonbergers, and even Pomeranians have an undercoat which makes them more suited to being outside when it is cold. Dog owners for these breeds don’t have to be as concerned as dog owners of breeds like Greyhounds and other dogs with very short or little fur.

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Age Matters

Old dogs and very young puppies can also be more sensitive to weather changes and cold.  Older dogs have a hard time dealing with any significant change when it comes to weather.  Cold hurts old and arthritic joints and can cause significant pain.

It is critical for old dogs to stay warm.   Old dogs can be very fragile. If in doubt, go outside with him to ensure his safety.

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Puppies have very little body fat, so it is also important to keep these guys as warm as you can.   I also recommend going outside with your puppy to ensure that he is going potty outside.  I think potty training is more difficult for people in winter because humans don’t want to go outside with their puppy every few hours.  However, just this one thing can be critical to your puppy’s potty training success.

Cold weather, whether you go by degrees Fahrenheit or Celsius, can also make potty training a bit more difficult.  Obviously, if it is below zero outside, many new puppies are not as psyched to be out going potty.

When I used to compete in obedience and protection sports in summer, it was always easy to tell which dogs spent more time outside.  These dogs didn’t suffer in the heat quite as badly.  I for one have a dog that is very temperature sensitive, and so I can only compete outside if conditions are right for her and her health problems.

Be sure to keep your puppy and dog warm as much as possible!

Body Condition Matters

The thinner the dog, the more difficult it is to get and stay warm.

Heavier dogs can stay warm longer and can regulate their body temperatures better.  However, this is not an excuse to have a fat dog!  Fat dogs have difficulty doing a lot of things it is especially difficult on their joints and their internal organs.   You wouldn’t want to be 500 pounds, and you shouldn’t want a dog that is the human weight equivalent of a 500-pound person.

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Exercise can also help.  When you are out walking or working, or sledding in the cold, your temperature raises as you exercise.  If your dog needs to burn off some steam, take him out and get that body moving so that the cold won’t bother him.  Be a good pet owner and go play with him!

Frostbite and Hypothermia

Frostbite and hypothermia CAN happen to your dog if he is left out long enough, or left out too long in extreme conditions or with severe wind chills,

Symptoms include weakness, shivering, lack of mental alertness, low blood pressure, low or shallow breathing.

Normal dog temperatures should be between 100 and 102.5 degrees.  If you are concerned that your dog has hypothermia, use a thermometer and take his temperature rectally.  Unfortunately, ear thermometers are not effective in pets.

If your dog is suffering from some hypothermia, care should be taken to warm him up.  Movement should be minimized to prevent further heat loss and a potentially deadly irregular heartbeat.  You can use blankets and even a hair dryer set on medium with care taken to move it rapidly so that it doesn’t burn him.

If your dog likes to be outside during the winter time, be sure you provide him with shelter, and a cold weather insulated dog house.  And, again, don’t leave him out for long periods if you are not checking on him.

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Know the signs and what to look for to keep your pet safe.

How to Combat the Cold and Help Your Pet

There are some tricks you can use to help acclimate your dog and make your life easier!

Take care of his feet.

Your dog’s paw pads are at much more risk in winter because of course they aren’t covered in fur.  His paw pads can get cold fast!  You can get your dog used to wearing booties, or you can use disposable paw savers, or you can even use paw protector gel.

Also, shave your dog’s feet if he is going to be going outside or going on long walks.  I used to love walking one of my dogs when the fresh snow was falling, but he had hairy legs and feet.  After a mile or so balls of snow would begin to form around that fur.  I would have to shave in between his paw pads and about ¾ of the way up his leg.

Dress him up.

If severe cold bothers your dog get him a coat or a sweater.

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Coats and sweaters aren’t just for looks.  They can really take the edge off of the cold for your dog.  Search for a coat or a sweater that has some warming qualities and wasn’t just made for the  “cute” factor.

And, really short hair dogs like Greyhounds, Italian Greyhounds, French Bull Dogs, and hairless dogs need coats so that they don’t get hypothermia when they are outside to go potty.

Shovel and Ice Removal

Be sure to shovel a pathway, especially if you have small dogs.

They even make ice melt that is safe for dog paw pads.

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CLICK HERE to buy this pet safe ice melt on Amazon

I like to go out and make sure that the yard has a nice path for my dogs to go potty.  The last thing I want is a dog that refuses to potty outside when it is cold.  I like my dogs to be potty trained.  If in doubt, go out with them.

*Hints

You can use a kennel and cover it with a tarp so that there is an area with little to no snow for your dog to use.

You can also put out a tarp the night before it snows and bend a corner up so that in the morning when you get up, you can just peel the tarp and the snow away (unless you get several feet of snow) and your pooch can have a clear area with very little effort.

Provide Appropriate Water

Obviously, in winter, water buckets can freeze, and it is essential for your dog to have access to fresh water all of the time.  You can buy animal water buckets that plug in and prevent the water from freezing temperatures.

Also important to note that warm water freezes faster than cold water.  So if you are filling his water bowl, opt for cold water over warm water. Ice water is too cold, but tap water should work just fine in most circumstances.

Know what you are dealing with this winter and help safeguard your pets against the dangers of winter weather and cold temperatures.  Keep his body temperature high enough that he is not at risk!

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There are 23 Comments

  1. Brandy says:

    I used to live in SLT and we would get lots of snow. At the time I had two toy poodles who loved playing in the snow! Because they were so close to the ground their little undersides would get frozen! I kept a towel by the door that they would dry off and then I would use a hairdryer on them! I couldn’t keep them out of the snow if I tried! They just loved it! So we would only go out for 15-20 Max! Very important not to let them over due it! After all Mom knows best!

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  2. Although I live in North Texas (Fort Worth). It rarely snows but we have a few cold fronts with temps as low as 5 to 10° along with wind and hail and freezing rain. A young couple, newly married, bought the house next door. They got a Bassett Hound and kept him outside year-round with a dog house. At first they were good about playing with him and taking him for regular walks and asked me for guidance and advice. But then the baby came. He was left to himself and the elements. On freezing nights, it drove me crazy knowing he was left out there. I called them and begged them to at least put him in the laundry room with a blanket on those nights. They would do it one or 2 nights and then put him back out.

    I then boticed his dog house had no door or flap and faced North. I finally got them to turn the dog house to face South and to nail an old blanket to the door for his protection from rain and wind and they put old blankets inside. I had reached the point of warning them I would call the Humane Society to come get him if they refused. I am not a nosy person and this was not in my nature. But I love dogs (I had raised 3 Labs that slept with me on the bed or rug next to the bed). I could not let their neglect go. I don’t recall where I read that a dog house should never face North and should have a protective flap in cold weather but that one change helped him a lot.

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  3. Karin Bulger says:

    I love to take my cattle dogs and ridgie out for long hikes in the winter, but I worry about their paws. They go crazy if I try to put boots on them. Is there a gel that would help ? I get so worried about their paws that it kind of ruins the fun. They go off leash and run into the woods and deep snow.

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  4. Tonya Heers says:

    Thanks for all the great tips!
    Always good to be reminded of how to take great care of furry friends this time of year. Bless you and Merry Christmas 🎄🎁

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  5. Kathleen says:

    Thank you for your fine advice & recommendations!
    Great article!

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  6. Robert Black says:

    Please prove that warm water freezes faster than cold water. Since the water has to become increasingly cold in order to freeze, it is not possible for warm water to freeze faster than cold water. This is an old wives’ tale that has lasted way too long.

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  7. Kathryn Styres says:

    Can Scottish Terriers be outside dogs?

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    Minette Reply:

    Not for long in the cold or heat

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  8. Kim Danowitz says:

    Thank you! As a professional dog walker and student dog trainer , this info was very helpful to have and share.

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  9. Bonnie Moore says:

    Excellent article! Thank you so much for the information!

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  10. Wendy says:

    Thank you so much for this article! My husband and I have been battling with each other about this. We have Lab, Saluki, Catahoula mix puppies and he is wanting me to make them stay outside all of the time. First of all, they are too little, second, there’s no shelter for them even! I am making him read this NOW!

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  11. charlene kamenicky says:

    I liked your article. very informative

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  12. Charlotte Feck says:

    Very excellent article it explained a lot ..some common sense knowledge to top it off. Thank you

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  13. Vivian says:

    Very helpful article! I will definitely pass thisi info along to my friends who have dogs

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  14. Judi says:

    Question – I have a mutt (Pitt, Rott, Boxer, American Staffordshire Terrier, Australian cattle dog, miniature schnauzer and Shetland sheepdog). We live in San Diego, so heat and cold are not an issue, However, we are going to Breckenridge, Co for Xmas. We have booties for her but for her breeds is there anything else I should be concerned with? Thank you for your help

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    Minette Reply:

    Just don’t leave her out for long periods of time

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  15. J. R. says:

    Very informative!
    Always remember, If you aren’t comfortable. Your pet probably isn’t either.

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  16. Charlie says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful and caring article. I use Musher’s Secret gel on my Yorkie Poodle mix’s foot pads when we have cold or hot weather. He is used to my doing this before we go for a walk when the temps are extreme and does not seem to mind. I am careful to not walk him in the coldest or hottest periods of the day during those times. These precautions for my little companion’s safety give me peace of mind, too.

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  17. Debra says:

    Try prove it yourself. Get 2 ice cube trays put cold water in one put hot water in one put them in a freezer flat of course shut the door of the freezer set the timer for 1 hour go check your ice cubes you tell me which one grows faster. There you have it you solve your own Mystery. You’re welcome.

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    Minette Reply:

    🙂

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  18. Debra says:

    Wow!! I was addressing a post where someone wanted to know how we know that hot water freezes quicker than cold water so I told him how I know. How this reply got onto the dog training page is beyond me. somebody’s messing with my system here!!! ” Hackers suck”!!!

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    Minette Reply:

    actually I was just agreeing with you via emoji unless you got other responses that was just me who wrote the article

    [Reply]

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