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How to Care for Your Dog in Winter

Nicole Cosgrove

It’s something you don’t think about ahead of time, but caring for a dog in the winter can be more involved than looking after them the rest of the year. Many little things need to be done if you want your pooch to weather the cold without difficulty.

If you’re not sure what to do to help your pup stay comfy and cozy when the mercury drops, this list will walk you through everything that you need to know.

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Remember That Indoors Is Always Better

bulldog lying on the carp_heathergunn, Pixabaye
Image Credit: heathergunn, Pixabay

The best way to help your dog navigate the cold is to keep them inside with you, where it’s nice and toasty. This will spare their bodies from the bitter cold and keep them happy because they get to be close to their favorite humans.

We know that this isn’t always possible, but if you can, keep your pets indoors as much as possible. Even a spot in the garage is preferable to being stuck out in the elements all winter long.

Only Go Outside When It’s Relatively Pleasant

man walking dog_Jaromir Chalabala, Shutterstock
Image Credit: Jaromir Chalabala, Shutterstock

Try not to take your dog outside before the sun comes up or after it goes down, and definitely limit the amount of time that you spend outdoors if it’s raining or snowing. While it can still be freezing cold while the sun’s shining, being outdoors on a clear day is vastly preferable to trudging through a blinding storm.

Not only will the weather be more agreeable on a sunny day, but you and your dog will also benefit from a little dose of vitamin D.

Bundle Them Up When You Head Out

Even though your pooch has more hair than you do, they still need bundling up before being exposed to harsh weather. This might mean booties on their feet or a sweater around their necks, depending on where you live.

Some cold-weather breeds, like Bernese Mountain Dogs, might not need any extra warmth unless it gets treacherously cold outside, but most other dogs will appreciate the extra layers.

dogs_Susan-Schmitz_Shuttetstock
Image Credit: Susan Schmitz, Shuttetstock

Keep Their Feet Clean

Dogs can get snow packed in between their toes after a walk. Not only is this uncomfortable, but it can also lead to frostbite if not taken care of. Always check their feet after taking them outdoors.

You should also look for salt and other grit that they might have picked up along the way. These things can irritate your dog’s skin, so you want to rinse them off as soon as you can.

Make Them as Visible as Possible

Whether it’s due to rain, snow, or just the fact that there’s less daylight than usual, it’s harder for others to see your dog in the winter than it is in the summer. As a result, you should load them up with as many reflectors as you can when they go outside, as that will increase the odds that a motorist sees them before it’s too late.

You can buy reflective leashes, reflective collars, and even flashing lights that attach to them in some form or fashion. All of these make your dog (and whoever’s walking them) much easier to see from a distance, regardless of what the weather’s doing.

Don’t Let Them Off-Leash

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Dog
Image Credit: Alexas_Fotos, Pixabay

No matter how visible you make them, letting them roam around off-leash is a bad idea. They may get lost, or they may wander into traffic or another area that they’d otherwise be able to avoid. Smaller dogs may become targets for predators as well (after all, they can see them better now!).

If you absolutely must let your pup off-leash, make certain that their recall skills are top-notch. If they don’t come back immediately when called (especially when there’s a distraction around), then they’re not ready to be let off their leash.

Give Them Someplace Warm to Hang Out

dog in bed_FurHaven, Chewy

Warm bedding is essential during the wintertime. Not only is the ambient temperature much lower, but the ground is also colder, and that can be extremely hard on dogs with arthritis or other painful conditions.

A soft, warm bed and maybe a few blankets will keep your best friend nice and cozy, even if there’s a blizzard raging outside. Then again, you could always just let them climb in bed with you.

Don’t Let Them Get Too Close to the Heater

Dogs get cold, same as you, and they’re just as likely to want to curl up next to a space heater or fireplace. Unfortunately, they can get too close sometimes, leading to painful burns.

Try to make it so they can’t get close enough to any heat sources to hurt themselves. This may take effort on your part, but it will be well worth it if it saves you from an expensive vet trip.

Keep Them Moisturized

Your dog’s skin can get cracked and flaky during the winter, same as yours. In order to prevent this from getting out of hand, you may want to rub coconut oil on their paws, noses, and anywhere else that you deem necessary. They’ll probably lick most of it off, so make sure there isn’t anything inside that could be toxic for them.

You might also want to add a skin and coat supplement to their diet. Something high in omega fatty acids (like fish oil) is a good idea, as they can do wonders for your dog’s epidermis.

Watch Their Diets

dog food_Jaja Fekiacova_Shutterstock
Image Credit: Jaja Fekiacova, Shutterstock

Many dogs put on a few pounds over the winter, as they spend more time indoors and less time running around. We can understand if you’re less interested in taking them for a walk than usual, but you should still try to keep that extra flab at bay, as being overweight is horrible for their health.

Try to give them indoor exercise, or failing that, cut back on their rations until you can start giving them their regular workouts again. They may grumble a bit, but if it adds a few years to their lives, it will be well worth it. Of course, if your dog is losing weight due to trying to stay warm, you can add extra to each meal instead.

Check Their Water

dog water bowl frozen in winter
Image credit: sherwood, Shutterstock

If you have an outdoor dog, you should check to make sure that their water bowl hasn’t frozen over. Many dogs will eat snow to fill in the gaps if they run low on moisture, but it’s no substitute for a good drink of fresh water.

You may also want to add water to their kibble as well. This will help keep them hydrated, and if the water’s warm, it will also unlock some of the aroma inside the food, making it more enjoyable for your pooch.

Change Their Grooming Routine

If you have a dog with long hair that you typically shave or cut, let it grow out in the winter. After all, it’s there for a reason: to keep them warm. It doesn’t make much sense to give them a haircut and then put a sweater on them.

You can likely cut down on the bathing as well, unless they’re visibly dirty. Not only will this make them cold and wet, but it can also dry out their skin, as it strips it of essential oils.

Don’t Leave Them in the Car

Most people know not to leave their dogs in the car during the summer months, as they can quickly become overheated and die. However, this causes many people to believe that there’s no danger in the wintertime. Quite the opposite is true: Many dogs freeze to death every year from being left inside a car.

If you’re going to be gone for a few minutes, try to leave your car on and the heater running. If you’re going to be gone longer than that, take your dog with you (or leave them at home).

Airedale terrier in a car in winter
Image credit: Annette Shaff, Shutterstock

Don’t Let Them Walk on Ice

Your dog will be tempted to scurry over a frozen lake or river, but you shouldn’t let them. They may not be good judges of how thick the ice is, and they could plunge to their deaths in the frozen water underneath.

Some dogs can judge the thickness of the ice, but they may just be thinking about whether it can support them. If you try to follow, you might be the unlucky soul who plunges into the drink. It’s better to leave all frozen surfaces alone.

Brittany dog in snow
Image Credit: doloresa burd, Pixabay

Keep the Snow Clear

If you live someplace where the snow can pile up, you should keep it as clear as you can. If snow piles in your backyard, your dog might be able to use the drifts to climb the fence, allowing them to escape.

Also, if there’s a great deal of snow or ice on your roof, it might slide off when the temperature rises. This could be hazardous to your pup if they’re lying in the wrong place when it happens.

Watch Out for Toxins

Many people wait until it turns cold to add antifreeze to their cars. If they have a leak, that antifreeze can pool on the ground, and it tastes sweet, so many dogs love to lick it up.

However, the stuff is extremely deadly for pets, so don’t let your dog lick up mysterious puddles. If your car is the one leaking antifreeze, get it fixed as soon as possible (doing so will be good for both your ride and your pooch).

Give Older Pups Extra TLC

dog medicine_Shutterstock_LightField Studios
Image Credit: LightField Studios, Shutterstock

Winter can be especially hard on senior dogs, as the cold can wreak havoc on their joints. You might want to give them a joint supplement, and you should do everything that you can to keep them as comfy as possible.

You may even want to consider springing for a pet massage if they seem especially creaky. Consider it their Christmas present.

Make This Winter the Best One Yet

Wintertime can be difficult for everyone, but if you follow these tips, your dog should be able to make it through the cold weather months with little difficulty. Most breeds can handle a fair amount of cold, so it shouldn’t be too difficult for them.

With a bit of planning and effort, you and your dog should have just as much fun this winter as you do the rest of the year.

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Featured Image Credit: Pandas, Shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.