Chilly Dogs: Caring for Your Dog in Cold Weather

Just because your dog has a fur coat doesn’t mean he’s an all-weather animal. Get 6 tips to keep him safe and comfortable when the temperature drops.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
4-minute read
Episode #185

The northeastern United States, where I live, seems to be having an actual winter for once, and I’m given to understand the same is true of some other regions as well. Since the weather outside is frightful – at least occasionally – it’s a good time for some advice about cold-weather caretaking for your dog.

Tip #1: Be Sure Your Dog Is Warm Enough

Jackets and sweaters are not wussy. Northern breeds, such as Huskies, and other medium and large dogs with heavy coats are likely to be comfortable even on long walks in all but extremely cold weather. But short-coated dogs, dogs with a single layer of hair and no undercoat, and small dogs will all have trouble retaining heat, especially in wet, windy weather.

The same goes for skinny dogs, sick dogs, old dogs, and puppies. Also remember that arthritic joints are stiffer and achier in cold weather. Ask your vet whether extra pain control might be in order. And what about a warming pad for geriatric Dogalini’s bed?

See Also: Indoor Games for People and Dogs


Don’t let your dog lick ice melter off his feet – it can burn his digestive tract. Wipe his paws with snow instead.

Tip #2: Protect Your Dog’s Feet

Rock salt and other ice melters burn like nobody’s business. Some formulations are labeled “pet safe” (and child safe), and in my experience indeed they don’t sting, but the ASPCA Animal Poison Control website characterizes them as just “relatively safer.” That’s not as reassuring as it might be, is it?  Still, use the “relatively safer” stuff yourself, or consider sand as an alternative.

On walks, guide your dog away from visible ice melter and get it off his feet as soon as you can if he happens to step in it. Encourage him to walk into snow; if he’s reluctant to put down the burning foot, wipe it off with fresh snow. Don’t let him lick the ice melter, because what burns the skin of his feet can burn his mouth and digestive tract as well.

Watch out for those little balls of ice you sometimes see on the ground in wintry weather; they easily catch between dog toes. Not only does that hurt in and of itself, but also remember that ice can easily be sharp enough to cut. And wounds on the feet may take a long time to heal, because they may reopen whenever your dog puts weight on them. Ow, ow, ow.

If your dog chills easily or you live in a rock-salt-and-ice-crystal-rich environment, booties are well worth a shot. Some dogs accept them easily, but others find them annoying. If yours is in that second group, try distracting her with treats and play until she forgets about those weird things on her feet. If your dog won’t tolerate having her feet (or other body parts) handled at all, you may want to work with a qualified behavior consultant.

Tip #3: Watch Out for Antifreeze

Most people know that antifreeze containing ethylene glycol is poisonous to dogs and cats. But exactly howpoisonous is a little shocking. For dogs, the minimum lethal dose is 4.4 milliliters per kilogram. Approximate translation for us nonmetric Americans: 6 tablespoons can be enough to kill a 45-pound dog. If I suspected that my dog had had so much as a lick of antifreeze, I would be headed for the emergency vet, pronto. The more time elapses between ingestion and treatment, the worse Zippy’s odds of survival.

Tip #4: Space Heaters Can Be Deadly

It’s not clever to leave space heaters turned on in your absence anyway; it’s doubly not clever if you’ve got pets. A scorched nose from appliance inspection is one thing, a burned-down house with dead Zippy and Kittychai is quite another. And don’t just turn off the heater, unplug it too. I would be less twitchy on this subject if my wife and I hadn’t once come home to find that our cats had turned on the coffeemaker while we were out. Yes, really.

Tip #5: Parking Your Dog

A car is an oven in the summertime, a refrigerator in the winter. Though your dog may be comfortable on a brisk walk in 25-degree weather, he can get hypothermic quickly if he’s sitting in a cold car. While I’m on the subject of parking dogs in cold weather: I never advise leaving dogs tied up and unattended outside stores anyway, but in cold and especially windy weather it’s just plain mean. ]

See Also: Dogs and Car Safety


I don’t think a day goes by in the winter when I don’t pass some poor dog shivering on the pavement while their so-called guardian picks up a quart of milk or mails a package. Really, people, there’s no excuse. Don’t do it.

Tip #6: Watch Out for Thin Ice

Be super cautious about letting your dog off leash when it’s snowing heavily enough to limit visibility, or when you’re anywhere near iced-over water. That applies even if he reliably comes when called. Dogs can get lost in whiteouts, and as for lakes and ponds, all you need for tragedy is a soft or thin patch in the ice.’Nuff said.

Most of the advice I’ve just given presupposes that your pet dog lives indoors with you. If yours is an outside dog, the cold weather would be a good time to consider bringing him in. Dogs are social animals, and we are their social partners. If you really can’t bring your dog inside, then please make sure he has adequate shelter and warmth. The Utah Humane Society offers guidelines on decent care for outdoor dogs.

I’m The Dog Trainer on Facebook, and you can also write to me at dogtrainer@quickanddirtytips.com. I welcome your comments and suggestions, and though I can’t reply individually, I may use them as the basis for future articles. Thanks for reading!

Dog in a sweater and couple walking with dog in the snow images from Shutterstock.

About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).