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Winter Safety Tips for Dogs

Updated on February 17, 2021
LindaSarhan profile image

L. Sarhan is an animal lover with an Associates Degree as a Veterinary Technician.

Just because most dogs have fur, not all fur coats are thick and plush to keep them warm during the cold months. Even still, having a thick coat doesn't always protect your dog from long exposure to the frigid temperatures of winter. However, there are a few simple safety tips to consider that will help keep your dog happy, healthy, and warm this winter season.

Outdoor Safety

If you live close to water, such as rivers, streams, ponds, or lakes, it is wise to keep an eye on your dog especially if they are outside for long periods or you are taking them for a walk close to these areas. Your dog could slip or even just jump in without considering the consequences. Having a wet dog in the winter increases the risk of hypothermia, which is sometimes fatal. Whether your dog loves the water or not, consider choosing a different route during the winter months.

Also, double-check the fencing or dog enclosures to be sure your dog won't get loose and wander off. Overexposure to the freezing temperatures of winter can cause detrimental health issues for your dog; even possibly death.

Winter Shelter

If you have a dog that spends most of its time outside, consider bringing them inside your warm home. For some breeds, this is essential so they won't be at risk for hypothermia, frostbite, and other cold temperature-related illnesses. However, regardless of the thickness of the coat, once wet, it limits the effectiveness to protect the dog from freezing temperatures.

If your dog enjoys staying outside a lot, consider winterizing your yard. This simply means ensuring that your dog has adequate shelter. Make sure they have a place to rest that is out of the cold winds, which normally comes with winter. Also, be sure that you place proper bedding, off the cold ground, for the dog to lay on inside the winter shelter. It is even better to have the shelter itself off the ground. Line the bottom of the shelter with fresh hay and change it frequently. You could also lay down warm blankets on top of the hay or have a thick, warm dog bed inside the shelter. Again, check it frequently to make sure it doesn't become wet. It would be a good idea to have extra blankets and bedding to change it out to ensure your dog stays warm and dry.

This doesn't mean, you should leave your dog outside all the time. Generally speaking, if it is too cold for you outside, chances are it is too cold for your dog. Therefore, check on the dog frequently and bring them inside several times throughout the day and let them sleep inside your warm home at night.

Food and Water

Dogs need more food and water during the winter months. Cold temperatures use up your dog's energy storage as their bodies try to keep their internal organs warm. Allowing your dog to consume more calories and stay hydrated will help them stay warm.

If your dog loves spending more time outdoors, even when it is cold, it is essential to increase the amount of food and water because they are more active than inside dogs. Also, be sure to check their water several times throughout the day to make sure it isn't frozen. Another good idea is to use plastic containers instead of metal ones. Not only will the metal containers create a refrigerator effect, but your dog's tongue could stick to it. Although humorous in the movie, A Christmas Story, your dog certainly won't find it funny at all.


Some veterinarians believe it is a good option for some breeds if owners use dog clothing in moderation. Some breeds with little to no fur may greatly appreciate the extra coat. Using a heavy doggie coat and booties to take Fido for a walk is perfectly fine as long as you remove them once back inside the warm house.

Also, don't assume that you can leave your dog outside for longer periods of time just because it has on a coat and/or booties. Clothing will eventually get wet. This will put your beloved dog at an even greater risk of hypothermia and frostbite. Even still, most dogs aren't too thrilled to adorn the latest in doggie fashion or anything at all for that matter. In their struggle to get it off they may injure themselves or worse. As they struggle to take off their extra coat, there is a risk that they can become so tangled that it then becomes a choking or suffocation hazard.

So as a general rule, use common sense when dressing your dog. Don't leave the clothing on for long periods of time unsupervised. Also, even though all dogs need exercise, regardless of the season, shorten the time for daily walks. Again, if it is too cold outside for you, it is probably too cold outside for your dog too.

Dangers of Rock Salt

As the snow falls and the rain freezes on pavements, most people will use rock salt to help minimize the dangers of snow and ice. However, this does not minimize the danger to your dog. In fact, it causes an extra danger to the health of your dog.

The most vulnerable part of your dog during the cold months is its nose and the pads on its paws. The chemicals in rock salt are a painful irritant to the pad on your dog's paws. It is even worse when the rock salt gets lodged between their toes. Not only does this irritate their paws, but as they groom themselves trying to get it out, it can cause mouth irritations as well. It can also cause gastric irritations, making the dog very sick.

Although there isn't much you can do about what neighbors use or what the city uses, you do have control of what you use. Consider switching to pet-friendly de-icers or sand. Some also suggest using cat litter but some cat litters can also make your dog very sick if ingested. Cat litter, especially the kind that has clumping agents, can cause blockages in the dog's intestinal tract.

One way to protect their paws is to use booties designed to protect against the elements of winter. Most dogs do not like things on their paws, so this may take some time for your dog to get used to. Also, it is advisable to wash your dog's paws in warm water after spending time outside. For some breeds, especially those lower to the ground, it is a good idea to use a warm wet cloth to rinse their belly, too. This will help rinse off any irritants. Be sure to dry your dog thoroughly with a warm towel and do not take the dog back outside before it is completely dry.


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Avoid Antifreeze Poisoning

Many animals like the sweet taste of antifreeze; dogs are no exception. According to R. J. Krapfl, DVM, a spokesperson for the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), even a teaspoon of antifreeze can be lethal to your pet. Antifreeze, also known as ethylene glycol, is often used in automobiles during the wintertime. If a spill occurs, make sure you clean it up quickly and properly to avoid accidental poisoning. Also, consider switching to a propylene glycol product instead, which is prospectively safer than ethylene glycol. If this isn't possible, make sure the antifreeze containers' lids are closed tight and placed on shelves out of your dog's reach.

Poisonous Winter Plants

There are many winter plants that pose a poisoning threat to most animals, including dogs. Around Christmas time, many people enjoy poinsettias, holly, and mistletoe. This is fine as long as dog owners place these poisonous plants out of the reach of their dogs. In most cases, these plants will cause vomiting and diarrhea. However, in some cases, it can cause seizures, excessive drooling, and even death.

Winter Grooming

For some breeds, owners will keep their dog groomed with frequent baths and trimming the dog's fur coat. However, some experts suggest switching to a waterless shampoo during the cold winter season. It is advisable to not trim your dog's fur coat during the cold months. They need all the added warmth they can get. However, breeds with long and/or thick coats will need daily brushing to keep the fur from matting. Also keep in mind that as your dog stays inside more, its nails may need to be trimmed more often.

Whether your dog has just had a bath or is wet from being outside, always make sure you dry them thoroughly with a warm towel. You can throw a towel in the dryer for a few minutes to warm it up. Your dog will appreciate the added warmth. Also, never let your dog go outside in the cold air while it is wet. Even if the dog appears to be dry, check to make sure its fur isn't even the slightest bit damp. It is the same concept as to why humans typically do not go out in the cold with wet or damp hair. It is just going to make you colder and put you at risk of coming down sick.

Just as humans modify their daily routine to accommodate the colder, winter weather, you must do the same for your canine companions. They are just as susceptible to the dangers of winter as humans are, if not more so. Don't assume that dogs are immune to the effects of winter just because they carry a fur coat with them at all times. As mentioned before, if it is too cold for you outside, it is more than likely that it is too cold for your dog as well.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2014 L. Sarhan


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