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Winter Time! Taking Care of Your Dog in the Cold

dog wearing crochet scarf with fringe while sitting on winter snow selective focus photography
“I need more clothes than just a scarf!”

Yay! It’s snowing!

Dogs can have a blast in the winter, exploring and frolicking in freshly fallen snow. But dogs (well, most dogs anyway) particularly love a snowy terrain. They like to bound and dig in their giant, new, snowy playground and never seem to want to go inside no matter how ready their humans are to leave the cold and wet outdoors behind.

However, frozen precipitation and colder temperatures can also be dangerous for dogs if their owners don’t take proper precautions. If you’re a new pet parent, or simply unsure of the best way to care for your pet during the winter months, it’s important to get acquainted with the do’s and don’ts of keeping your pet safe and healthy out there.

Keep Them Bundled Up

black and white dog on snow covered ground in winter
“I know I look dapper in this sweater!”

Even if the temperature is above freezing, pets’ extremities, just like our own, are extremely susceptible to wind chill. They can get hypothermia and frostbite on their exposed paws, noses and ears. While dogs don’t typically wear hats for long, you can help protect them from the cold by putting them in insulated sweaters and jackets, and covering their feet with waterproof paw booties. Those booties will also help keep their paw pads from cracking from the de-icing salt on roads and walkways.

Wipe Them Down as Soon as They Come Inside

Small wired dog covered in a towel getting dried off after being in winter snow.
“After you dry me with the towel, can I go back outside?”

As a form of precipitation, snow can leave pets cold and very wet at the end of a snowy play session, and if they remain like that for a while, they could get a cold or hypothermia (your furniture will also take a beating). In order to avoid all that, make sure to towel them off as soon as they come inside. You can keep a designated pet towel by the door so you never forget this important step.

NEVER Leave Pets Outside Overnight or For an Extended Period of Time

Dog, Dog In The winter Snow, Tibetan Spaniel
“Are they ever going to let me in? I’m starting to get balls of snow stuck to my fur.”

According to the Humane Society, you should never leave pets outside for long periods of time when it gets cold. In fact, leaving a pet outside alone in temperatures below freezing for more than 30 minutes is considered neglect, which is a punishable crime. Even if you have a typically outdoor cat, they should be able to get inside somewhere warm whenever they need to.

If your pet has to spend a significant amount time outdoors, they should have access to a dry, insulated shelter that’s large enough for them to move around in and maintains their body heat.

Eating and Drinking Guidelines

Dog standing in winter snow drinking from a plastic water bottle being poured by human.
“Is this melted snow?”

Dogs especially expend more energy when they’re running outside in the cold. You can help them make up for that by feeding them a bit more food so they can replace the energy/calories they lost playing. You may also want to consider exchanging your metal food and water bowls for plastic ones if you keep them outside as a warm dog tongue could easily get stuck to them.

Keep Pets From Eating Rock Salt

Man pouring rock salt on walkway that is winter snow.
DO NOT LET DOGS EAT SALT ROCKS

Pets suffering from salt poisoning, unfortunately, becomes much more common in the winter months. Rock salt is regularly used to de-ice the roadways and walkways they walk on. If they ingest it, either while on a walk or by licking it off their paws, it can be fatal. The best way to prevent salt poisoning is to keep an eye on your pet and if you notice they’ve eaten salt, wash their mouth out and call the pet poison hotline. If you’re not sure whether or not your pet has ingested salt, here are some warning signs of salt poisoning to watch out for:

  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • lethargy
  • not eating
  • excessive thirst
  • and/or urination
  • incoordination
  • tremors
  • seizures

There are safe alternative products to use on your slippery walk and driveway that are pet safe.

Take Them for Their Annual Vet Visit

Dog at veterinary clinic with a veterinarian checking the dog over.
“You said this was just a check-up. If I feel any shots, I’m pooping in your car!”

Right before winter hits is the perfect time to take your pets in to see the vet, because you’ll learn if they have any new conditions that might make winter a bit tougher on them. For example, chronic illnesses like diabetes, heart disease and kidney disease can lower a pet’s cold-temperature tolerance. And, of course, new or worsening arthritis can make for stiffer joints during cold snaps.

Shorten Walking Times

Puppy being walked in the winter snow by two humans.
“I wish I had some fancy boots to keep my paws warm.”

It may be tempting to let your pet play in the snow for hours on end, but like us, they have cold weather limits, they just aren’t as aware of them. So if it’s below freezing, you should limit playtime to under 30 minutes, especially if you have an older pet or one that’s compromised in any way.

Cold Temperature Guidelines for Dogs

Black and white dog outside in winter wearing a hooded sweater with scarf.
“I don’t whether I want to look silly or be cold.”

In general, cold temperatures should not become a problem for most dogs until they fall below 45° F, at which point some cold-averse dogs might begin to feel uncomfortable. When temperatures fall below 32° F, owners of small breed dogs, dogs with thin coats, and/or very young, old or sick dogs should pay close attention to their pet’s well-being. Once temperatures drop under 20° F, all owners need to be aware that their dogs could potentially develop cold-associated health problems like hypothermia and frostbite.

Don’t Leave Your Pet in a Cold Car

Small dog looking out car window in winter snow outside.
“Ummm, I think you forgot to roll up the window.”

Just like how a car left in the hot sun can heat up fast and basically become an oven for any living thing inside it, cars left out in the winter become like refrigerators. So the general rule of thumb is don’t take your pets on errands if you know you’re going to be leaving them in a car for longer than five minutes, especially if it’s balmy or freezing outside.

Pet-Proof the Inside of Your House

Dog laying near a fireplace that's lit.
“I could sleep here all day with that warm fire.”

Since your pets should be spending more time indoors in the winter, it’s a good idea to secure all of your heating devices that could be susceptible to a bounding and/or large creature. For example, if you’ve set up a portable heater in your living room, make sure you have a barrier around it so that your pet doesn’t knock into it or knock it over and potentially start a fire. And if you have radiators that can get hot, you might want to put a barrier around them as well so that pets don’t burn themselves.

Frankie Hated the Snow, Chloe Loves the Snow!

Pug, Dog, Winter, Cold, Pet, Cute
“I don’t want to go into that crappy snow! I’ll just poop inside!”

In his younger age, Frankie would tolerate being in the snow to potty, but he never played a whole lot. He just went out to do his business and wanted to come right back inside the house. As he got older and developed diabetes, his litter paws couldn’t take the cold any longer. He would walk out alright, but then he would hop around until someone would pick him up to go back inside.

Chloe standing in the winter snow.
“Throw me another one of those snowballs!”

Chloe on the other hand could play in the snow forever! She loves running through the snow and being goofy. She especially loves when I make snowballs for her and throw them. It’s funny when she instantly freaks out because she can’t find it in the snow! Then I let her lick a snowball so she knows its a real ball!!

2 thoughts on “Winter Time! Taking Care of Your Dog in the Cold”

  1. Our fur kids love to lick the snow. I think Dixie tolerates it and Bailey likes sticking her nose in it to see if she can smell anything.😁

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