How to Care for Your Dog in the Winter

An important guide to winter care for your dog. Learn about what winter protection your dog needs even if the only time it goes outside is to pee. How to keep a dog warm in the winter.

If your winter temperatures do not plummet beneath freezing then you (and your dog) do not really know what winter is. If, however, you live in a place that actually gets a winter, you need to be aware of some concerns that may face your canine companion. All dogs are descendants of wolves, but that does not mean they are prepared for the cold sting of winter.

Inside Dogs

Many pet dogs are kept inside, going out only for bathroom breaks and walks. So you might not think these dogs require any special winter care, but they do. Houses are typically cooler in the winter, so a small dog who is kept clipped, might require a dog sweater when in the house. The winter air tends to be drier in many places, and in others it is more damp. Your dog will be affected by this. In areas where winters are drier your dog may experience more dander problems. Dander problems may be helped by more grooming or better food, (one with no filler such as by-products). In areas where winters are more moist and rainy, ringworm is a concern.

Sometimes people are surprised when their dog starts shedding at the beginning of winter. This, however, is typical for many dog breeds, you can either spend many days vigorously brushing the loose hair out, or take the dog to a groomer to have them “blow out” the coat. At this time you should have the dog groomer trim the straggly hairs on the dog’s tummy, legs, and tail. These hairs tend to catch snow which may form balls that will pull on the dog’s skin.

Outside Dogs

A dog who spends most, or all, of his time outside certainly needs a warm dog house. The dog house should be large enough for the dog to stand up and turn around in, but not much larger than that. Too big of a house will lose too much heat. The door way needs to be just big enough for the dog to enter and exit. The dog house should have an insulated bottom and be raised off the ground, so that snow does not blow into it.

The sides and top of the dog house should be insulated. You should put straw, or blankets, down as bedding. Wooden dog houses are warmer than plastic ones, but wood cannot be properly disinfected. In extremely cold areas you can have a 25 or 40 watt light bulb inside from the ceiling, to help keep the dog house warm, making sure it is protected behind a wire cage, and that all wiring is safe for outdoor use in cold weather.  There are special heating pads made for outdoor use inside doghouses.  

An alternative to a dog house would be access to the garage, with a bed for the dog; and all chemicals out of the dogs reach, as some chemicals can be toxic to dogs.

A dog who spends a lot of time outside should be given extra food, or higher protein food. Make sure you have a water bowl so the dog can get fresh water rather than eating snow. This is the one time where a plastic bowl is okay, as a cold steel one can stick to a wet tongue. There are some excellent electric water bowls, or for the environmentally concerned dog owner, you might try to find a solar powered one.

Be aware dogs with thin or upright ears, may be more prone to frost bite. Puppies sometimes have such a good time playing they forget it is cold out, you need to monitor your pets time outside.

Photo Source Wikimedia Commons

On Walks

Even in the winter, a dog requires regular walks. As an owner you must be prepared for this. When temperatures are extreme you should shorten the distance or play in the backyard instead, but make sure you do provide exercise. If you raise your dog correctly as a puppy it will enjoy some outside time in the snow. You will find many dogs love trying to catch soft snowballs, or plowing around in the snow.

To get a a dog to enjoy the winter outdoors, an owner simply has to be willing to go outside and play when the dog is young. It is all to easy to be lazy and put the dog out… let it pee… then let it in. Sure that is fine some times, but if you do not get your dog used to being happy outdoors you will find the dog will get stressed from missing out on outdoor play time, which provides mental stimulation. This will be especially true of the higher intelligence breeds like Border Collies or Jack Russell Terriers.

Bigger dogs are less likely to be affected by the snow and cold, Huskies love winter. Smaller dogs may require a winter jacket or sweater, and booties. Some big dogs though, are real babies about the cold, there is nothing wrong with putting a doggie coat on them. In wetter winter climates make sure the material is water repellent.

The cold sidewalk, road, or ice, can be really hard on the pads of your dogs feet. For this reason dog boots are really good for anyone who takes their dogs for lots of walks or outdoor play time. Not only will boots help keep your dogs paws protected from the cold, but save them from the painful ice ball build up that can happen, and they make coming inside less messy tracking in snow and ice. Try to select boots that have sturdy bottoms so they last longer. Do not leave boots on an unsupervised dog, the dog might try to get the boots off without your help.

You can buy Zinc lotion, for babies, to use on your dogs paws, either before or after a walk when you do not have boots. Before the walk it will help protect the pads, and after it will soothe them.

Older Dogs

Older dogs may have arthritis and may be in considerable pain in the winter. They do not need as many walks as a younger dog, so you should just keep them comfortable and stick to doing what they want to do, making sure they do not over exert themselves. There are several good, heated, mats for older dogs to help with their pains related to aging and cold weather. As well it is recommended that you provide a food that contains glucosamine/chondrotin. An old dog should be kept indoors or at least in a warm garage, with a bed.

Don’t worry, spring is just around the corner!

Other Dog Care Links

How to Deal with a Destructive Dog

Basic Information on Dog Health

How to Prevent Frostbite in Pets

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