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How to Keep Dogs Warm in Winter: 8 Proven Methods

Kristin Hitchcock

By Kristin Hitchcock

a white havanese dog barking outside in the snow

Jackets, knitted hats, and show shoes – all readily available items to help us stay dry and warm in the winter. But what about our dogs?

Some dogs are perfectly capable of staying warm with little help from us. Think about Siberian Huskies, for instance. Other dogs? Not so much. A Chihuahua will not survive very long in three feet of snow. You can do nothing to make a Chihuahua as unsusceptible to the cold as a Siberian Husky. However, there are quite a few things you can do to help.

Keep reading below for eight proven methods of keeping any dog warm outside in the cold.

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The 8 Methods on How to Keep Dogs Warm in Winter

1. Dog Clothes

They make warmer clothes for people, which is why many of us can stay warm far beyond our natural ability. But they also make warm clothes for dogs.

Some practical dog owners may scoff at the idea of dressing their dogs up. However, it can be beneficial for some breeds.

For instance, Greyhounds have minimal fur. There isn’t much insulation there. Add on a sweater, and suddenly your dog can stay much warmer.

You may never replicate the massive coat of a Malamute, but your dog may appreciate the extra warmth a sweater or jacket provides.

After all, would you rather go outside in the snow with nothing but your underwear or with a heavy winter jacket?

Some clothes are more helpful than others, though. If it is snowy or damp where you live, choose something waterproof. They make all sorts of waterproof jackets and shoes for dogs.

In dry areas, your dog may do just fine with a sweater of some sort. Just be sure that it isn’t going to get too dirty. Some dog clothes are designed without a practical purpose in mind. Avoid these outfits.

Sometimes, doubling up may make sense. You can put a sweater underneath a waterproof jacket for some extra warmth.

The same winter dressing rules apply to dogs and humans:
  • Use wool as a base layer
  • Aim for three layers at least
  • Outside layer should be waterproof
  • Wool and synthetic material are best

2. Keep Dog Paws Dry

Can you imagine walking on snow and ice barefoot? You’d get cold very quickly. People wear shoes for a reason.

If you want your dog to stay warm, it is crucial to consider purchasing them shoes. They make all sorts of snowshoes for dogs.

It doesn’t particularly matter what pair you purchase. Anything is better than nothing. But you should look for a pair that is practical and durable.

You’ll need to give your dog plenty of practice wearing the shoes indoors before he tackles any slippery steps. Many dogs can get used to shoes, but they probably won’t like them at first. Starting them out during puppyhood is your best option, as puppies are far more adaptable than adults.

There are some other reasons you should consider adding shoes to your dog’s winter wardrobe – beyond just the fact that it’s cold.

Many areas use rock salt during the winter months. Salt is essential for preventing ice formation over roadways and sidewalks. Plus, it helps the snow melt faster too.

But it isn’t so good for our dog’s feet. It can dehydrate them and make them crack, especially when added to the already cold weather. Some dogs have even needed their paws wrapped by a vet after walking a bit too much on a salted pathway.

This salt is also toxic for pets. It is pretty uncomfortable to walk on, prompting many pets to lick it off. Ingesting this salt is a quick way for your dog to get sick.

Even regular salt can be harmful and cause salt toxicity.

Be sure to wipe down your dog’s paws and shoes after every outing. Water should be plenty to remove much of the salt. Many people carry wipes in their bags to quickly clean their dog’s feet during winter walks.

paw and hand
Image Credit: Pezibear, Pixabay

3. Accept Dog Limitations

Even with the best gear, you can’t stay outside forever. The same is true for our dogs.

You can purchase the best gear, but your dog still shouldn’t be left outside for much of the day. Consider how long you would like to be outside, and don’t leave your pup out for longer than that.

Of course, you should also consider their breed.

Have a Siberian Husky? They are fine in colder temperatures for the most part. Chihuahuas and Greyhounds? Not so much.

If you have multiple dogs of different breeds, your winter preparations for each dog may differ. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution here.

Don’t expect your Pointer to go on a ten-mile winter hike.

4. Utilize Warming Stations

Ensure that your canine has a few places they can warm up. Preferably, these should be indoors. A heater and cozy blanket should do.

However, if your dog is spending ample time outside in the backyard, consider having an outdoor space that can help them warm up.

Several commercial heated blankets are designed explicitly for this purpose. Put one in an enclosed area to protect it and your dog from the weather; if your dog gets cold outside, she can utilize these spaces to warm up.

Most of these blankets do require electricity – which reduces where you can effectively use them. Garages are common areas, as are sheds with power sources.

golden retriever under blanket
Image Credit: Prystai, Shutterstock

5. Provide Adequate Shelter

Adequate shelter is necessary anytime you leave a dog in the cold for an extended period.

A simple plastic dog house isn’t going to work. You need something that can withstand snow and ice while keeping your dog’s body heat inside.

Some dog house with insulation is the best option. You can build these yourself pretty quickly or purchase them commercially.

Preferably, add a heater to this house if it gets frigid in your area. Avoid heaters that get hot to the touch or aren’t automatic. You don’t want the heater constantly going on a 50-degree day.

The top of the doghouse should be slanted to encourage drainage. Snow will build upon a flat roof and potentially cause a cave-in – the last thing you want with your puppy inside!

Place the front door away from the prevailing wind and ensure that it is just large enough for the dog to fit in. A big door will let in much of the cold, outside air – ruining the point of the shelter.

6. Add Bedding for Dogs

There is a reason dog houses were once filled with hay and straw – they’re excellent insulators!

You may also want to consider adding in some soft blankets. However, we recommend adding these on top of straw or hay. These materials insulate better.

Plus, it is straightforward to change out the straw when it becomes dirty.

Check often for moisture and mold. Change it more often than you think you need. If your dog is relying on hay for warmth, the hay should be top-notch.

Image Credit: Aanton Herrington, Shutterstock

7. Trim Your Dog’s Paws

Dogs can wear shoes when out on walks. But most dogs will not appreciate wearing shoes all the time outside. If your dog is romping around in the backyard, shoes may not be the best option!

In these cases, be sure that the fur on the bottom of your dog’s paws is well-trimmed.

Removing fur may seem a bit counterintuitive. After all, won’t the fur on your dog’s paws keep them warm?

More often than not, the fur between your dog’s paws traps snow and ice. Tiny balls of ice can form on the bottom of their paws. Not only can this be uncomfortable, but it can also be freezing!

8. Meet Your Dog’s Needs

If your dog is hungry or thirsty, he may be unable to keep himself warm properly.

Many dogs need increased calories during the winter to make up for the energy they’re burning to stay warm.

Your dog’s best friend on a cold day is his body heat. If they can’t produce it properly, no sweaters and straw will help them stay warm!

Dogs that don’t have access to fresh water may be tempted to eat snow, bringing their overall body temperature down. People may know that eating snow while you’re trying to stay warm is a bad idea – but you won’t have much luck trying to explain this to your dog.

Remember, water freezes in cold weather. Your dog’s water is likely to freeze too.

You may need to invest in a heated water bowl if your dog spends lots of time outside. A good rule of thumb is that your dog can only go an hour without water. If your dog is outside for longer than an hour, you should consider figuring out a solution for his water bowl.

dog eating from bowl in kitchen
Image Credit: Pixel-Shot, Shutterstock

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How Cold is Too Cold for Dogs?

Even with all of the precautions in this article, your dog may be unable to stay warm forever. In many cases, you should bring your dog inside if it becomes too cold.

If you’re cold outside, your dog is probably cold too. Any temperature that is potentially dangerous for people can also be dangerous for dogs. Keep an eye on the weather, especially warnings about dangerous, cold conditions.

Keep an eye on your dog for potential warning signs. A dog that is shivering and refusing to come out of the kennel is probably too cold. Otherwise, obedient dogs will often stop following commands altogether.

Your canine may appear tired or like they aren’t paying attention to what’s going on.

Frostbite is a significant concern for dogs. They often don’t wear as many clothes as we do. Even if your dog wears a coat and boots, their ears, nose, and tail will be exposed. They don’t make tail pouches – yet.

Cold weather can make it difficult for your dog’s body to maintain proper circulation, leading to frostbite. Typically, this only occurs if your dog is left outside for a long time. Short periods outside, followed by warming periods, typically don’t cause a problem.

Frostbite is severe and requires veterinary attention ASAP. Sometimes, the extremity cannot be saved. The dog may need part of its tail amputated since the dead tissue can cause infections.

chihuahua with blanket
Image Credit: Ebowalker, Pixabay

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Final Thoughts

There are several ways you can keep your dog warm during the winter. Invest in a good jacket and pair of boots. Have your dog practice with the boots when it isn’t so cold outside so that they are prepared to tackle slippery conditions with them on.

If your dog is staying outside for some time, consider their shelter. A dog house is absolutely necessary, but not just any dog house will do. Insulation is essential – whether you’re installing insulation into the walls or adding plenty of straw.

Consider how your dog will drink outside, especially if they are staying out for more than an hour at a time. Dogs may also need to increase their caloric intake, as much of their energy will go toward making body heat.

In the end, though, you should accept your dog’s limitations. If it is too cold for a person to spend much time outside, it is also too cold for your dog. They may have the best-insulated dog house out there and three layers of coats – but they may still be unable to keep themselves warm.

In the cold of winter, many dogs will be spending much of their time inside. When they do head out, be sure to outfit them just like you would yourself.

Featured Image Credit: Peter Mayer 67, Shutterstock

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