Image via iStock.com/olegosp
By Monica Weymouth
When the weather outside is frightful, it’s your job as a pet parent to keep your pup warm and safe. After all, your Pomeranian can’t quite put on a scarf for his morning walk, just as your Labrador can’t get a ride share home from the frigid dog park.
As the temperature drops, follow these expert tips for how to keep a dog warm in winter weather.
The Dangers of Cold Weather
If you live in an area that experiences harsh winter weather, it’s important to make sure that your dog isn’t exposed to the elements for long periods of time.
“Pets left outside for too long can suffer from hypothermia and frostbite,” says Dr. Ari Zabell, a veterinarian with Banfield Pet Hospital in Vancouver, Washington. “Extremities, like ear tips, paws and the end of the tail are particularly susceptible to cold injuries. If you suspect frostbite, seek veterinary attention.”
So, how cold is too cold? Dr. Lauren Cohn, practice owner and veterinarian at Fishtown Animal Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, advises that pet parents be on the alert starting at 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
“That being said, we all have that friend who is notoriously freezing all the time,” she says. “Some dogs, unless it’s legitimately hot out, will be cold in temps that are a little higher or lower. Pay attention to their cues—if they are dragging you home, refusing to walk or shivering, it may be too cold for them.”
While every pet should be closely monitored in extreme temperatures, puppies, senior dogs, pregnant dogs and dogs with illnesses tend to be the most vulnerable.
Winter Dog Apparel: How to Dress Your Pup
Just as you bundle up for cold weather, your pup may benefit from a winter wardrobe.
“Dogs lose most of their body heat from their paw pads, ears and through respiration,” explains Dr. Zabell. “If your dog is comfortable in clothing, a sweater or coat with a high collar or a turtleneck that covers them from the tail to tummy are ideal.”
Some breeds are more likely to benefit from a dog winter coat or dog jacket than others. Small dogs, short-haired dogs and bully breeds who don’t have an undercoat get chilly faster than winter-ready pups such as a Saint Bernard.
Fit is important when it comes to dog apparel. You want to ensure that your dog isn’t just warm, but safe and comfortable, as well.
“Make sure that clothing isn’t too tight around the neck, armpits and groin,” says Dr. Cohn. “You should be able to comfortably fit two fingers to make sure it’s not too tight. You also want to make sure the material isn’t itchy, and there aren’t sharp edges, zippers or seams that can be irritating as they are walking or lying down.”
If your dog isn’t used to wearing clothes, don’t simply try to pop a sweater over his head on the way out the door. While you’re used to wearing clothing, he isn’t. It’s best to prep your pup for wearing winter dog coats well ahead of time.
“If it’s your first time trying to put clothes on your companion, it’s important to go slowly,” says Dr. Cohn. “Dogs who don’t like things over their heads—especially a lot of smaller breeds—might do better with something they can step into. Use positive reinforcement such as treats or loving words and tones—we don’t only reward with food!”
For the dogs that prefer non-pullover winter wear, you can try dog jackets like Ultra Paws fleece comfort dog coat or Frisco reversible plaid puffer dog coat, which have fasteners across the chest and stomach. This will make getting your pup’s winter coat on and off a stress-free experience for both of you.
Some pups do well with a dog hoodie, such as the Frisco lightweight hoodie. Others, warns Dr. Cohn, don’t tolerate hoods, so pay close attention to your pet’s cues—if he seems uncomfortable, select a different style of dog jacket.
Dr. Cohn also offers these dog clothing safety tips:
Wash clothing as needed in detergent that is free of dye and fragrances.
Make sure there aren’t any ties or edges on the garment that can irritate your dog’s eyes.
If you take your pet to the dog park, make sure that other dogs aren’t pulling at or biting your dog’s jacket—teeth can get caught in clothes.
Winter Paw Care
Winter weather is tough on paws. To protect your pup, consider getting him some winter dog shoes.
“Booties can help protect paw pads from injury due to snow or ice, and also keep salt and other deicing chemicals away from their skin,” says Dr. Zabell.
There are wide variety of dog booties available these days for every size paw. Boots like the Kurgo Step & Strobe dog boots can help keep winter walks fun and safe by protecting your canine’s paws from the elements.
For an extra layer of warmth, dog socks—such as Ultra Paws Doggie Socks—can keep your four-legged friend even cozier.
If your dog doesn’t tolerate footwear, be sure to check his paws for signs of cold-weather injury or damage during and after walks, advises Dr. Zabell. If your dog is suddenly limping, it could be due to an injury or an uncomfortable accumulation of ice between his toes or paw pads.
If your dog is not fond of dog boots, you can try Musher’s Secret Paw Protection natural dog wax. It creates a breathable but dense layer of protection that will keep your pup’s paws safe from sand, ice or snow.
Cold Weather Bedding Tips
Just as you appreciate getting into a cozy bed during the winter, your pup’s bed could benefit from an upgrade once the temperature drops.
“Make sure there is … a lifted surface to keep them off the cold ground—preferably with a bed, warm blanket or pillow,” says Dr. Zabell.
Heated dog beds can be a good option for some pups who are vulnerable to cold temperatures. The K&H Pet Products outdoor heated dog bed can be used indoors or outdoors to provide your pet with a cozy place to snuggle up in or just warm up after running around in the cold.
You can also try more portable heating options to keep your pup’s favorite sleeping spots toasty. The Snuggle Safe microwavable heat pad can be tossed into the microwave and then slipped under your pet’s favorite bed to make it cozier on colder nights.
Before using any heating product, consult your veterinarian to ensure that it’s a safe and appropriate product for your pet. Heated dog beds should never be used with animals who may have a hard time getting up and removing themselves from the bed. Your veterinarian can advise on the best way to keep your dog comfortable and safe.
Winter Safety Reminders
In addition to the harsh weather, winter can pose some other doggy dangers. To protect your pet, keep in mind these tips from Dr. Zabell:
Many pets become lost in the winter due to snow and ice, which can mask smells and make it difficult for animals to sniff their way home. Ensure that your pup has dog ID tags and a microchip with your up-to-date information.
Antifreeze can be fatal if swallowed. Many animals will drink it because it is sweet and tasty to them. Keep it in a safe place, and seek immediate emergency care if you suspect you pet has ingested it.
Never leave your pet alone in the car in any weather. Just as dogs can suffer heatstroke in hot cars, cold cars can be deadly.
If you live in an area where blizzards and road closures are common, be sure to always have an emergency stash of dog food, water and prescription pet medication on hand for your pets.