Winter Dog Rules


Winter Dog Rules: How to Keep Your Dog Safe and Warm During the Colder Months

Though most dogs have a warm, insulated coat, they can still suffer from a number of winter-related issues if you are not prudent. But with a modicum of care and foresight, it should be easy to get your pet through even the harshest winter with these winter dog rules…

Breed type matters.

If you have a medium-to-large, healthy dog with a lush coat, cold weather should be of little concern. Artic breeds such as the Siberian Husky, Chow Chow or Samoyed will revel in the cold, as will the Newfoundland, Saint Bernard or Great Pyrenees. Mixed breeds that share these same coat and size traits will likewise be quite tolerant of the cold. But smaller dogs such as the Chihuahua, Maltese, or Toy Poodle, or any mixed breed of similar size, will suffer if outside for extended periods, in temperatures below 40 degrees. They simply do not generate as much body heat as do bigger dogs. Medium-to-large dogs with short coats can also be at risk if subjected to frigid conditions for thirty minutes or more.

Age plays a role.

A healthy three year-old dog, due to its optimal metabolism, will tolerate cold weather better than will a puppy or senior dog, so be prudent when spending time outdoors with the young or the old. When temperatures plummet, consider a jacket or sweater for them.

Reduce outside time.

Even heavy-coated dogs can suffer if kept outside too long. Frostbite and hypothermia can affect any dog, given enough exposure to frigid temperatures. Frostbite can damage ears, noses, lips, and feet. Uncontrolled shivering is indicative of hypothermia; if you see this, get inside!

Protect those paws.

If walking your dog on icy, snowy surfaces for long periods, purchase doggy boots, or use a beeswax-based paw balm such as Musher’s Secret, which will insulate your dog’s pads. Reduce the length of your walks, perhaps adding an extra one to make up for the reduction.

Never leave your dog out in the yard all day. In addition to it being ill-advised from a behavioral and safety standpoint, any dog will eventually become hypothermic in freezing temperatures given enough time.

Small dogs need less outdoor time, and a sweater.

Any dog under fifteen pounds, no matter the age, will become cold quickly during winter walks, so use a sweater or jacket!

Beware of road and sidewalk treatments.

Salt or deicer crystals are routinely used to melt ice, and prevent pedestrian injury. These treatments are toxic to dogs, so watch for them. If concerned, use a set of doggy boots, or at least wipe off your dog’s paws with a warm, damp rag when back home.

Walk your dog at midday.

Morning or evening winter walks are significantly colder than lunch time, so if possible, take that walk at the warmest time of day.

Watch for antifreeze!

Puddles of car antifreeze are often found during winter months. It is extremely toxic to dogs if ingested. And antifreeze has a sweet taste that dogs like, so steer clear of it!

Winter driving is unpredictable!

Do not expect cars to stop safely when you are crossing the street with your dog.

Avoid leaving your dog in the car during frigid days.

Just as dogs can overheat in a car during the summer, so too can they become unduly cold during winter months. Limit parked car time accordingly!

Feed less food during the winter.

Even though your dog needs food to create body heat, most dogs get less exercise during the winter, causing potential weight gain. Accordingly, cutting the amount of your dog’s food by five percent will help prevent that winter pudge!

By preparing properly and moderating your dog’s time outside, even the coldest winter should not adversely affect your best friend’s health and happiness, while you both wait for the coming spring!

Author and pet behaviorist Steve Duno has trained thousands of dogs, cats and their owners. His sixteen pet care books address a wide variety of topics, including breed-specific behavior, environmental enrichment, basic obedience training, behavior modification, and nutrition. A former veterinary technician and school teacher, Steve lives in Seattle with his family, and his lovable Rough Collie, Rocco.