Extreme weather is often detrimental to humans in a number of ways—power outages can not only be annoying but a lack of heat in the winter can be deadly for certain adults; traveling in inclement weather can be highly dangerous; however, for humans, when precautions are taken, extreme winter weather is rarely fatal for healthy adults.
The same can not be said for animals. Extreme temperatures can be fatal for dogs regardless of age or health. In fact, simply being a certain breed of dog can ramp up one’s risk of being adversely affected during extreme winter weather.
So, the question remains: how do I properly prepare my outside dog for winter? Do I have to bring Fido indoors during cold temps? It IS possible that, in the event of very low temps, pet parents may need to bring Fido in and let him sleep in the utility room or in a mudroom indoors. However, pet parents can usually prepare their pets’ outside dog house to keep Fido warm and toasty during the winter.
1. Pet parents must understand their dogs.
Not all dogs are the same. Consider the dogs descended from the sled dogs of the Yukon and the upper Northwestern area of what is now Canada and Alaska. The Siberian Husky, the Samoyed, the Alaskan Malamute—each of these dog breeds is outfitted with a double coat that protects the dog’s body from extremely cold temperatures. In fact, some of these dogs are known for burrowing in the snow in order to keep warm. Therefore, this type of dog can typically stay outdoors in even the chilliest of temperatures safely.
Then, consider dogs like the Chihuahua or the Saluki (a type of hound). These dogs have a single coat, and they will have difficulty keeping warm in colder climates.
Some dogs are more sensitive to cold than others. The Chihuahua is one breed that carries this characteristic, but larger dogs such as the Boxer and the Doberman are also more likely to need human assistance when it comes to keeping warm during the winter.
So, first, look at your dog and its propensity to tolerate cold weather before determining exactly what to do to keep him warm.
2. Dress Fido for the weather.
We, humans, dress properly for the outdoors and very hot or very cold temperatures, so why wouldn’t we use this logic in our care for our fur babies? Smaller dogs, or those with a known sensitivity to cold weather, will benefit greatly from adding some adorable clothing to Fido’s winter wardrobe.
Chihuahuas especially will benefit from wearing the best dog sweaters or dog winter coat during cooler temperatures. Plus, if you’ll be walking Fido outdoors during cold temps, make sure he wears the best dog boots and other footwear you can purchase so that your dog’s feet aren’t damaged in the cooler weather.
Keep in mind that there are also jackets and parka for dogs that can protect your pooch from cold temps, and some pet parents even find headgear for Fido (and some even knit and make these items themselves). These gears keep a dog’s body heat.
3. Keep Fido’s paws clean.
If you live in an area that doesn’t routinely get snow—and perhaps you think it’s best to forgo doggie booties for this reason—then it’s a good idea to check your dog’s paws after every outdoor adventure. Ice can scratch or puncture your dog’s paws, making walking difficult for your pup. Plus, some cities utilize a lot of deicing materials as well as salt on sidewalks. These materials can adversely affect your pup’s paws too. In fact, if Fido licks his paws after walking somewhere where these materials were used, he could be licking poison.
Every time you and Fido return from a walk, be sure to wipe down his paws as a part of getting settled back indoors . Also, look for the buildup of ice and remove any observed. Finally, it is imperative to keep Fido’s nails trimmed to a proper length during the winter months—use the best dog nail grinders for this task.
4. Dogs shouldn’t be left alone for long periods of time during very cold winter temperatures.
Ok, let’s talk about dogs that stay indoors for the majority of their lives first. Keep in mind that they are not accustomed to weather changes, and leaving them outdoors to play could be very detrimental to their health.
You may need to shorten your dog’s typical walk time during days when temps fall very low. However, you’ll still want to provide exercise for your dog. Be sure to keep mental activity toys for this time of year. A food puzzle toy works wonders for keeping Fido busy, and, you can always play a game of fetch if you have the room indoors. Very little room indoors? No problem! You can still provide fun games for Fido! One great idea is to get a small kiddie pool, fill it with balls as you’d see in a ball pit, then throw a few treats in the balls. Fido will go after the treats, get some exercise, and work off any nervous energy from being stuck indoors.
Ok, now let’s focus on dogs that usually stay outdoors. When temperatures start to fall below twenty degrees, it may be a good idea to prepare your spare bathroom, a utility room (NOTE: if your utility room is detached from the house and does not have heat, you’ll need to consider a heat lamp in order to keep your dog warm), or a mudroom ready for Fido to stay overnight. You’ll want to provide a blanket or two or some old towels for Fido. Better yet, provide a nice dog bed or a comfortable dog crate, and, of course, be sure to provide ample opportunities for your dog to relieve himself so that she doesn’t make a mess inside.
5. Let’s discuss heat lamps.
Some heat lamps are specifically made for livestock, and these typically pose less danger to animals when used properly. These heat lamps can be hung far enough away from Fido so that it doesn’t injure your dog; instead, he just stays warm and toasty.
Be sure that you properly attach any cords (extension cords) to the heat lamp. Make sure that these cords don’t touch blankets or towels you’ve placed in the dog house for Fido.
You WILL want to avoid placing a space heater in Fido’s dog house; you’ll also want to avoid this when setting up a room for Fido to stay in overnight during very cold temperatures. Dogs could turn over the space heater, causing a fire.
6. How do I get my dog’s outdoor shelter ready for extreme winter temperatures?
First, look at how the building is designed. The dog house should possess a sloped roof, offer a soft place for Fido to lie comfortably and rest, and be secured to the ground.
Next, let’s talk about preparing the inside of Fido’s dog house for winter weather.
The dog house must be insulated, no matter where you live and what your normal winter temps are. The floor of the dog house must be at least four inches off the ground so that water doesn’t seep into the house. A wet dog can become very chilled much more quickly than a dog in a dry dog house.
Some pet parents will use straw in order to insulate Fido’s house, and, most of the time, this is a good idea. Good news! There are multiple ways to insulate your dog’s house that does not involve using straw or hay. (NOTE: Some pet parents have concerns about pests such as fleas and ticks infesting the hay or straw. Pet owners have provided this type of insulation for dogs for decades; the choice is completely your preference.)
Pet parents can use old carpet—remnants can often be purchased from the local hardware store—to insulate Fido’s dog house. Some pet parents use fiberglass insulation built into the structure of the dog house much like we’d use in our own homes, while others use expandable foam spray to get the job done. Then, throw in a blanket or two, and Fido can be cozy and warm in his dog house.
Of course, if temps drop into the teens or below—and they’ll stay there for several days in a row, you may want to consider bringing Fido indoors for the duration of those low temps.
7. Keep Fido hydrated and fed during very cool temperatures.
This seems like a no-brainer, but it happens more often than one would think. Pet parents must remember that dogs’ outdoor water sources can freeze over in very low temperatures. Be sure to keep water bowls full, and, if you notice that they are frozen, break up the ice so that Fido has fresh water.
You’ll also want to keep plenty of food available as well. Food can possibly freeze during very low temperatures as well, so keep a check on it just as you would with Fido’s water.
You can also purchase heated bowls to prevent water and food from freezing.
8. Be sure to bathe Fido indoors during the winter (no matter how “warm” those winter temps may temporarily be).
Some pet parents deal with winter temps that are normally 30 – 40 degrees for the high, while others deal with temps in the 50s or 60s. Even those 65 may feel warm to you as a pet parent, rest assured that it is chilly to Fido.
Even if you normally bathe your dog outdoors most of the year, you’ll want to bathe her indoors while it’s cold outside. Be sure to allow your dog to dry thoroughly before sending her back outdoors as well.
9. Extreme cold means bringing Fido indoors.
Yes, we’ve discussed briefly how to handle keeping Fido warm indoors. Again, when temps fall into the teens overnight, your dog – no matter the breed – is in danger of freezing outdoors. So, when temps fall to this rate, it is best to bring your dog indoors.
10. Be aware of signs of frostbite and hypothermia in dogs.
Yes, dogs can experience frostbite too! Look for blisters or skin ulcers (or the presence of both). Look for skin discolorations as well as wincing in pain when you touch the affected body part.
Be sure to call your vet if you suspect your dog is experiencing hypothermia or frostbite.
When is it too cold for dogs?
Any time the temperatures fall into the teens or near zero, it is time to consider bringing your dog in, especially overnight.
When daytime temps are near zero and struggle to reach the teens or even mid- to high-twenties, then it’s best to have a room dedicated to Fido’s warmth, such as a mudroom or a utility room that has heat.
How can I keep my dog warm in the winter?
You can insulate the outside house, provide extra blankets, and be sure to bring your dog indoors if the temperatures get very low.
However, when walking your dog (regardless of whether he is indoors or outdoors primarily), it is a good idea to provide some outerwear that keeps your dog warm and protects him from frostbite.
How can I keep my outside dog warm?
Provide insulation in the dog house or a heat lamp. Dry blankets are always good for outside dogs. However, remember, when temperatures reach extreme lows, you may need to bring your dog in, at least overnight, until those temperatures rise to a more tolerable level once more.
How can I keep my dog warm at night?
Be sure to keep the dog house insulated. Provide dry blankets. Prevent water from entering the dog house by keeping it four inches from the ground.