Canine “Survival” Tips for (Very) Cold Winter Weather

We’ve been having some bitter cold days recently in parts of the country and there are a number of things you can do to keep your dog comfortable — and safe — outdoors. Do not assume they have the “common sense” to come indoors when they begin to get hypothermia or frostbite on their ears or toes. If dogs are running around having a good time in single digit weather in the snow, their exuberance and adrenaline will keep them outside for longer than is healthy. They need “parental guidance” in staying out for only short periods and coming back indoors frequently to warm up again. Think of them as though they were young kids staying in a swimming pool despite having blue lips and chattering — and arguing to stay in when plucked out of the water to be rubbed dry and warm! We need to make good protective decisions for our dogs in the winter.

  • Short-coated and toy breed dogs should wear a sweater or coat to keep them warm when going outside, even briefly. If it’s really cold then you should consider layering their clothes the way human winter sports enthusiasts do: put a sweater or polar fleece on your dog under a jacket, which traps their body heat and gives more insulation.
  • Winter booties really make sense in super cold conditions — to protect feet against the ice-melting products used on sidewalks, but also to give some protection against severe cold. Good brands like Ruffwear boots also have a rubber grippy bottom to give better footing in slippery conditions.
  • If you walk where sidewalks have been sprinkled with salt, booties are the best protection but if your dog refuses to wear them, then you need to smear the bottom of her paw pads with a protectant salve like Musher’s Secret before going outside. You still need to rinse and dry her feet when you get back inside.
  • If it’s icy where you walk then consider using a leash if you don’t already (if you’re a country person like me and are usually leash-free). A dog cannot see ice underneath light snow (neither can we: I’ve fallen backwards and cracked my own head twice on wintry dog walks!) and can take a nasty fall.
  • Stay off icy sidewalks or paths because even slipping can cause soft-tissue damage to muscles and ligaments. If your dog is older with arthritis or elbow or hip dysplasia, a fall can aggravate those conditions.
  • Overweight dogs need to be especially careful in treacherous walking conditions as they are less agile. This is a good time to initiate a weight loss program because your dog is getting less exercise in very cold weather! Reduce the amount you are feeding and substitute a low cal food (Halo’s Healthy Weight Management kibble has been really helpful to me and several of my friends with chubby dogs). If your dog is really fat, write to me on Facebook or to and we’ll consider your dog as our next participant in our Healthy Weight Challenge on The Expert Vet If chosen, you’ll get Dr. Donna Spector’s guidance and free food from Halo for 3 months!

—Tracie Hotchner

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photo credit: Luke with his toy in the snow via photopin (license)