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A Guide to Surviving Cold Temperatures With Your Dog

Updated on January 8, 2018

Winter is here. With freezing temperatures in many corners of the world, dog owners have to deal with snowfall, icy surfaces and clattering teeth. It's a common misconception that furry animals are sufficiently protected against any temperature, simply because of their coat! This guide discusses tips and tricks to tell if it's safe for you and your dog to go on a walk during the winter.

1. Use the 'How Cold Is Too Cold?' chart

You are certainly not the only one wondering about the freezing temperature and dog safety. Dr. Kim Smyth, a vet working with Petplan, receives this question all the time during the chilly season. She created a chart that shows when temperatures become a danger to dogs. It takes into account the size of your dog, the weather conditions and how well your dog is used to the cold. Most of us keep their furry friends inside, where it's nice and warm. These dogs are a lot less acclimated to the cold than a dog who sleeps outside in a kennel.

Petplan encourages to use your common sense when taking your pet outside. Even though the chart provides a good guideline, it can be wrong. You are the person who can best assess the situation. Follow your gut feeling!

 Petplan's Temperature Chart
Petplan's Temperature Chart | Source

2. Paw Care

Your dog's paws are very sensitive to the cold and toxic substances of salt and de-icers. Exposing them without proper care puts your dog at risk for dryness, cracked paw pads or frostbite.

Hair Trimming

Before anything, make sure the hair between the paw pads is level with the pads. Hair around the paw should be trimmed if it makes contact with the ground when walking. Long hair will trap snow and ice to form clumps on your pup's paws. This can be painful and cause injury to your dog. I use a small men's trimmer that works on batteries. It's easy to get between the pads and my dog doesn't hate it. (She doesn't love it either, but with some treats its very manageable.)

Nail Clipping

Clipping you dog's nails is important year-round but especially in snow season! Long nails will cause the pads to spread, giving snow and ice the chance to get caught in the paws. Spend some extra money on a good nail clipper and reward your dog with treats to make the process run as smoothly as possible.

Balm Smearing

Smear Bag Balm or Vaseline on the paws before leaving the house. This protects the paws from salt, de-icers and snow. Make sure to wipe the paws when you're back home!

Keep those paws clean!
Keep those paws clean!

3. Consider a sweater or booties

Though I don't personally use these, dog boots are a good option to protect the paws. Full disclosure: your dog will NOT love these the first time. For your entertainment I have added a video of dogs wearing their booties for the first time.

You can pick up a pair of dog boots at your pet supply store or online. Make sure they fit snug around your dog's paw, but not so tight that they restrict movement. Don't forget to make a video and post it in the comments please!

A dog sweater can be a great option for short-haired dogs. Older dogs and small dogs may also greatly benefit. If you know your dog well, you can assess if a sweater is a good option.

Hilarious video of dogs wearing boots for the first time

4. Dog Supervision

The thick layers of snow may invite your dog to go wild with enthusiasm. Make sure to keep a close eye on him if you're walking in unfamiliar areas. This will prevent wandering off to frozen ponds or areas treated with toxic de-icers.

On that same note, don't let your dog eat snow!

The snow could have toxic substances that can make your pup very sick. Besides, you have no idea what's hiding beneath the snow!


5. Hypothermia and Frostbite

Taking good care of your pup is important to prevent these two winter dangers. A large number of animals are taken to the vet each year with signs of these conditions.

Firstly, let's talk about frostbite. This condition occurs when blood flow is restricted in areas furthest away from the core. Ears, nose, tail, paws and legs are affected by frostbite. Symptoms of frostbite are:

  • Discoloration
  • Cold to the touch
  • Dog shows signs of pain when touched
  • Swelling

If your dog shows any of these signs, gradually warm up the area with warm water. Don't rub the area or use direct heat as this will damage the tissue further.

Hypothermia is defined as 2o Celsius below normal body temperature. For dogs, this is 38o Celsius or 98o Farenheit as dogs have a higher body temperature than humans.

Exposure to water will speed up the process tremendously - being cold and wet draws out body heat much quicker than just being cold. So keep your dog out of the water when it's cold!

Symptoms of hypothermia are:

  • Shivering
  • Rapid breathing
  • Increased frequency of urination
  • Cold ears, feet or nose
  • Hair standing on ends

When any of these signs show, bring your dog inside and offer fresh lukewarm water. Warm your dog with warm towels and some extra blankets. If hypothermia progresses, your dog will become lethargic and unresponsive to stimulation. Consult a vet immediately if this happens!

Having fun with your dog during the winter season is absolutely possible. By taking good care of the points mentioned above you and your canine friend are ready for this year's winter wonderland!


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    • jennzie profile image

      Jenn 11 days ago from Pennsylvania

      Great information that all dog owners should be made aware of. We have a Hairless Chinese Crested, so we have to sometimes dress her up in layers if she is going outside in very cold temperatures- even if it's only for five minutes!

    • Penny Sebring profile image

      Penny Sebring 13 days ago from Fort Collins

      Well-written and timely article! That tip about trimming between the toes is so important, particularly with the thick-furred breeds that otherwise do very well in the cold. They can get frostbitten feet too!