A common myth about dog caretaking is that no matter the breed, dogs “will do just fine” being outside in the cold weather.
This may have been true hundreds of years ago before we started domesticating dogs while selecting animals with shorter, thinner hair than their wolf cousin. Today, you really must be aware of your dog’s coat type and tolerance to cooler weather.
Dogs can have one of 2 main coat types. A double coat consists of a top layer, called the top coat, that has stiff and naturally water repellant hairs that protect the dog’s skin.
A bit shorter than the top layer is an almost fleece-like layer, called the undercoat, used to insulate the dog during the cooler and warmer months (yes, the undercoat acts as an air conditioner during the summer; it holds in cool air).
Most herding, working and sporting breeds have a thick double coat. The single-coated dogs have only the top coat and typically don’t do too well in the cold. The maltese and field spaniel, for example, have long, single coats; and the doberman, greyhound and most hounds have a short single coat.
Winter Dog Care Tips
No matter the coat type, the best way to keep your dog comfortable during the colder months is to have him inside.
However, if your dog is strictly an outdoor dog, I suggest having a designated area with adequate shelter insulated with straw or blankets to retain the dog’s body heat. To avoid having your dog’s water bowl freeze, use a heated water bowl. Don’t use heat lamps or space heaters — they not only cause a fire hazard, but they can easily burn your dog.
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Most pet supply stores will carry a heated mat for the dog to sleep on; you can place this under a dog house. During the cooler weather, outside dogs may require more food for energy and maintaining adequate body heat.
Your Dog May Need a Jacket
The dog’s hair type is not the only thing to consider when evaluating how your dog will tolerate the cold weather. Even if your dog has thick, Husky-like fur, he may not enjoy the cold weather and will need a doggie coat when he goes outside.
The best way to evaluate your dog’s tolerance is to watch his behavior. If as soon as you open the door to go outside, he turns around and tries to go back inside or shivers uncontrollably, he will need a jacket.
I suggest finding one that suits what you would want to wear in that weather. For example, if it’s fall, he may just need a sweater, but if it’s winter and snowing, he will need a thicker jacket.
A dog with a thin single coat may be the most comfortable if he has a few jacket options depending on the weather.
Dog Paws and Ice Don’t Mix
When you are walking your dog outside during the snowy months, chunks of ice or snow can get stuck between your dog’s paw pads. If your pet is more tolerant of discomfort, he may not let you know that he is in pain.
Clipping the hair between his paw pads will help decrease the amount of ice collecting in the paws. If you have trouble clipping the hairs near the toes, consult a groomer. Salt and de-icers that are put on roads cause paws pads to become dry, chapped and cracked. If the paw pads are painful, the dog will most likely lick the pads that are covered in salt and de-icers; eating those chemicals can cause vomiting and stomach irritation.
To avoid chapped paw pads, buy a paw balm that you apply to the paw pads. This helps strengthen them. If he does happen to walk on these chemicals, thoroughly wash his paws with warm water.
In the case that your dog will not tolerate coldness on his feet, you can look for doggie boots (affiliate link). These may need some getting used to for the dog. At first you may see a “high-stepping” action, so this will require a bit of training for the dog to accept.
More Winter Advice About Pets
Check out this video for more tips:
No matter what kind of dog you have, be aware that certain dogs will enjoy the cold more than others. Remember to take the proper precautions when venturing outside in the winter and monitor your dog’s tolerance to winter weather.