Paw-Some Winter Care: 15 Winter Tips for Your Dog

Key Points

  • Consider your dog's breed, coat type, and individual needs to implement these winter tips for your dog.

  • Limiting exposure to cold weather is always the best practice for your pup's health during the winter months.

  • Ensure your dog is warm and safe from wind chills by outfitting them with appropriate outer clothing and feet protection.

  • Remember to adjust your dog's caloric intake during the wintertime, depending on their activity level.

  • Always check if your pup experiences dry skin or irritation from cold weather.

Winter is a challenging season for everyone's canine companions. With the cold weather, shorter days, and fewer outdoor opportunities, dog owners must provide the necessary attention and care to maintain their dog's optimal well-being. Use these winter tips for your dog to ensure your pet is happy and healthy throughout the colder months.

If you're a first-time dog owner, you may feel overwhelmed by your pet's current required maintenance. Don't worry! Even experienced dog owners may not know how to keep their pups safe and comfortable during winter. Here are 15 essential winter tips for your dog to maintain their well-being and safety.

dog and owner in winter

Understand Winter Care for Dogs

Winter poses unique challenges for dogs of all shapes, sizes, and coat types. Understanding their needs is crucial to provide the best care for your furry friend. Although some winter care tips are suitable for all dog breeds, there may be breed-specific needs that you need to consider.

1. Provide Adequate Shelter

When the cold winter weather sets in, providing your dog with a comfortable, sheltered space to seek refuge from the harsh elements is crucial. Owners who usually make their dogs stay outside may wonder how to keep pups warm in winter.

Not All Breeds Are Suitable for Winter Outdoor Living

The American Humane Society states, "It's a common misconception that dogs and cats are more resistant than people to cold weather because of their fur." All pets are susceptible to the cold, especially small dogs with thin coats and short noses, such as French bulldogs and pugs. Puppies and senior dogs are also highly unsuitable for the harsh outdoor weather as they're more prone to hypothermia and other health issues.

Check on your state's laws regarding animal cruelty codes before considering housing your dog outside during winter; many states acknowledge that leaving animals outside unattended during extreme weather is inhumane, and pet owners who violate these laws may face hefty penalties or even jail time.

Outdoor Shelter Minimum Requirements

If you must place your dog outside in the winter months, provide a warm, insulated shelter with plenty of bedding and blankets for them to snuggle. The doghouse or shelter must be large enough for your dog to stand, turn around, and lie comfortably. The shelter also requires a solid roof to prevent rain, snow, or sleet from entering.

To enhance the coziness of the shelter, consider using a heated pet mat or pad designed for outdoor use. These mats provide gentle warmth and help prevent your dog from feeling the effects of cold ground. Stow any electrical cords out of your dog's reach and away from water. Self-heating pet beds are also available and avoid cable and battery problems.

Indoor Suitable Shelter

For indoor dogs, designate a warm, secure area within your home where they may retreat when they need a break from the cold. This place may be a specific room or a cozy corner with a comfortable bed and blankets. Elevate the bed slightly off the floor and keep it away from doorways to prevent drafts and provide extra insulation.

If you use a fireplace in winter, install a protective guard to protect your puppy from sparks and embers. It also helps to have a bowl of water near the fireplace so that the condensation from the heat helps reduce the risk of drying out their skin and nose.

2. Limit Outdoor Time

While letting your dog frolic in the winter wonderland is tempting, be mindful of their exposure to the cold weather. While the winter breeds, such as the Siberian huskies and Samoyeds, have a natural affinity for the snow, limiting their time outdoors is still beneficial, particularly during extreme weather conditions.

When you take your pup outdoors, constantly monitor their behavior. Understanding their limits is critical to ensuring their well-being during the winter season. Winter outdoor conditions pose many risks to your dog, including frostbite, joint discomfort, skin irritation, and hypothermia.

Creating a balance between outdoor enjoyment and protecting your pup from extreme cold is essential. If the conditions are severe, minimizing outdoor time and engaging your dog in stimulating indoor activities is best. Puzzle toys, interactive play sessions, and other mental stimulation exercises help occupy their minds and prevent boredom.

dog in jacket

3. Proper Outdoor Gear

When your dog needs to go outside, outfitting them with appropriate winter gear is practical and provides an excellent opportunity to showcase their unique style. Dogs with short coats or who are naturally sensitive to the cold require extra protection to stay warm and comfortable. Consider investing in dog sweaters or jackets to provide additional insulation and help your pup retain body heat.

Jackets Are Necessities

Some breeds withstand brutal winter conditions, and some have evolved to adapt to the tropical, hot conditions of their native origins. Breeds like chihuahuas, Chinese crested, Xoloitzcuintlis, and Basenjis must wear thick jackets and protective gear to protect them from the cold.

Dogs with naturally slender bodies and minimal body fat, such as greyhounds, whippets, Afghan hounds, and Great Danes, are especially prone to feel the winter chill and need sweaters and hoodies to protect their bodies and ears from frostbite.

Eye Protection for Active Dogs

Although snow is beautiful, it's also blinding. The sun may reflect off a snowbank, causing eye irritation in your dog. Goggles are a great way to help them see clearly and protect their eyes from UV light, snow, ice, and other debris. If you plan winter activities for your pup, like snowshoeing and sledding, consider investing in a pair of goggles.

dog in boots

4. Pamper the Paws

Your dog's paws are their primary mode of transportation, so don't forget to protect them. Ice, snow, and salt are harsh on their delicate pads. While many larger breeds have thicker coats and benefit from their natural insulation against the cold, there are shorter-fur breeds that need extra protection against wind chills and cold temperatures. Due to their oversized paws, they're susceptible to ice balls forming between their toes and causing frostbite.


Dog booties come in various sizes and designs, providing a physical barrier between your dog's paws and the elements. In general, booties use durable waterproof materials and have a non-slip bottom to allow your dog to benefit from good traction when walking or playing on icy or wet surfaces.

Additionally, booties protect your furry friend from salt and other irritants on the ground.

Picking the Right Size

When choosing dog booties, check that they fit snugly but comfortably. They must cover the entire paw, including the pads and the area between the toes. Opt for booties with sturdy soles and adjustable straps to keep them securely in place.

Easing Your Pooch Into Booties Takes Time

You probably have seen videos of dogs trying on booties for the first time: They always walk in an amusing, clumsy way. Don't worry about your dog walking in this manner. It usually takes them a few days of practice to adjust to the feel of wearing the booties.

Let your dog wear their booties around the house to make the transition easier and gradually increase the time they have them on.

Pedicure for the Pooch

Even though the paws seem tough, they're just as susceptible to dryness, cracking, and discomfort when your pup constantly stays outdoors. If your dog hates wearing booties, pet-safe paw balms is an alternative solution that moisturizes and protects your dog's pads by creating a barrier between the paws and the harsh surfaces they encounter.

Before heading outdoors, apply a thin layer of the balm to your dog's pads and massage them gently. The protective layer also prevents dryness, cracking, and discomfort, ensuring your dog's paws remain soft and supple throughout the winter.

5. Adjust Your Dog's Diet

Many owners think that they need to feed their dogs more so that they have enough fat to keep them warm during the winter. Even though cold weather may increase their energy expenditure because they work harder to maintain their body temperature, most dogs in 2023 are no longer laboring in outdoor environments like their ancestors and don't need extra calories.

If your puppy lounges more at home during winter, you must decrease their calorie intake to avoid weight gain.

On the other hand, if your dog remains active outside during the winter months, they may need to eat more to sustain their winter metabolism. Instead of guessing how much food they need, consult your veterinarian and ask them to formulate how many calories your dog needs.

Don't Forget the Supplements

The cold weather, dry air, and lack of outdoor activity may wreak havoc on your furry friend's health and well-being. They're more prone to joint problems, dry skin, and winter allergies. Boosting their omega-3 intake does wonders for their itchy, dry skin during the colder months.

These healthy fats fortify their skin's protective barrier, and their anti-inflammatory properties significantly reduce skin irritation problems.

Supplements for Joint Care

Another common problem dogs endure during the winter is joint pain due to poor blood circulation. Add joint support supplements to your pup's meal to combat this issue. Glucosamine, chondroitin, and methylsulfonylmethane are popular options that promote healthy joints and reduce inflammation.

6. Quench Your Dog's Thirst

While it's easy to associate hydration concerns with hot summer months, proper hydration is equally important during the cold season. Dehydration may still occur even when the temperatures drop, making it vital that you give your dog full access to fresh water at all times.

The major problem is that your dog may not feel as thirsty in the winter as they do during summer, and indoor heating may quickly put them in danger of dehydration. Be attentive to the signs, including dry or sticky gums, sunken eyes, lethargy, loss of skin elasticity, and decreased urination.

Water for Outdoor Dogs

Consider using a heavier, non-tip water bowl for outdoor usage. Some insulated double-layer water bowls prevent freezing in colder temperatures. If you worry about your dog's water freezing, consider using a heated bowl or frequently replacing the water.

If you're spending time outdoors with your pup, always bring a portable water bottle and a travel bowl. Even during winter activities like hiking or playing in the snow, your dog might still become thirsty and require hydration to stay healthy.

You may wonder why you need to give your dog water when there's plenty of snow to eat. Although consuming a small amount of snow is fine, a large amount may irritate your dog's stomach. At the same time, you don't know if the snow contains harmful chemicals.

7. Protect Your Dog From Antifreeze

While antifreeze may seem like a harmless winter necessity, it poses a significant danger to your canine companion. Antifreeze contains a chemical called ethylene glycol that is highly toxic to dogs. Once ingested, the chemicals bind with the calcium in your dog's body, turning into crystal chunks that severely damage your dog's kidneys.

Even in tiny amounts, it leads to permanent damage or even death.

Where Can Your Dog Come In Contact With Antifreeze?

During wintertime, antifreeze prevents car radiators from freezing. It's also used in windscreen de-icers and brake fluids. When vehicles leak these fluids, they end up on the street, sidewalk, driveway, or ground. Unfortunately, this product has a sweet scent that may entice your dog's nose, ending up with them lapping it off the ground.

Some antifreeze products use propylene glycol, a chemical often found in other household products. Although less toxic than ethylene glycol, propylene glycol causes involuntary muscle movements, low blood pressure, seizure, and cardiovascular collapse.

Symptoms of Antifreeze Poisoning

The symptoms of antifreeze poisoning are hard to detect, and by the time owners see these signs, it may be too late. When a dog first ingests antifreeze, they may exhibit unsteady movement. The chemicals cause the kidneys to fail within two to three days. During this time, the dog may feel extremely tired and refuse to eat before they slip into a coma.

Although there are two antifreeze antidotes, your dog must receive treatment as soon as they ingest the toxic chemical. The longer you wait, the less effective the treatment becomes, as the antifreeze quickly destroys the kidneys. If you think your pup suffers from antifreeze poisoning, visit your closest animal hospital immediately, as they're more likely to carry the antidote than your vet.

Protect Your Dog From Antifreeze Poisoning

Instead of letting your pup go through this horrible ordeal, here are some tips on keeping them safe from antifreeze:

  • Store antifreeze securely in locked cabinets.

  • Clean up spills promptly, even if it's only droplets on the ground.

  • Dispose of old antifreeze responsibly.

  • Don't let your dog eat snow or lick puddles.

8. Regular Grooming Is a Must

Maintaining your dog's coat during winter is more important than just aesthetics; regular grooming ensures their skin is healthy and their coat is in optimal condition. Besides keeping your dog clean in winter, brushing also helps promote healthy blood circulation.

Never Skip the Brushing

Regular brushing is crucial winter care for dogs with longer, thicker coats, such as Siberian huskies, Golden retrievers, and poodles. These breeds have a dense undercoat that insulates them in cold weather. However, their coats quickly become matted without proper maintenance, leading to skin irritation, hot spots, and extreme discomfort.

Another benefit of brushing these furball monsters daily is avoiding the pollutants that collect in your air vents and on household surfaces. During summertime, you might open the windows for a constant stream of fresh air and never notice the difference in the air quality. However, you'll quickly see the difference when you recirculate indoor air in winter to retain the heat.

When fur and dander become airborne, they clog up your HVAC system, and you breathe in all that allergen particles. Over time, everyone in the household seems tired and sick, with a runny nose and itchy skin. Regularly brushing your furry friend allows the air in your home to stay cleaner for longer and minimizes the risk of your household members suffering from dander allergies.

dog in winter

9. Nurture Your Dog's Skin

Just as humans suffer from dry skin during winter, dogs may experience skin irritation due to cold weather, low humidity, and indoor heating. To prevent skin problems, give your pet a thorough check every time you brush.

Look for any dryness, redness, hot spots, or itching all over their body. Remember to check the more delicate areas, such as ears, under their legs, and their paws.

Choose Pet-Safe Moisturizer

Consider incorporating a pet-safe moisturizer into their winter care routine to alleviate itchiness. Don't try to use human moisturizers, as they often contain perfumes and ingredients that may harm your dog if they ingest the lotion.

Your veterinarian can recommend specific brands that target your dog's trouble areas.

Using Coconut Oil as Moisturizer

Coconut oil is an excellent moisturizer because it's natural and safe for your dog to eat. It boasts antifungal and antibacterial properties that protect the skin from infection and tone down skin irritation symptoms. Additionally, coconut oil contains lauric acid that improves brain functioning and the immune system. So even when your puppy licks the coconut oil, it benefits their teeth and immune system.

Avoid Frozen Water Surfaces

Frozen water surfaces are dangerous to dogs in three ways. Firstly, these surfaces may break. In most cases, the dog weighs less than the human; if their weight is enough to crack the ice, you'll likely fall through it when you try to save your pup.

Secondly, the frigid water temperature is too harsh, and your pup may suffer from hypothermia and respiratory system problems from water becoming trapped in the lungs. These severe issues may become deadly for dogs that already have compromised health or are prone to respiratory problems.

Lastly, icy surfaces are incredibly slippery. When your pup walks on these surfaces, they may slip and break their legs, which may become life-threatening if you don't have the strength to pick them up and carry them. So even though the frozen water surface looks magical and fun, it's best to lead your pup away from the potential hazard.

10. Monitor Your Indoor Humidity Level

During winter, the indoor heat often makes the air too dry, causing discomfort to humans and pets. A dry environment may irritate your pup's skin, eyes, and respiratory system, leading to itchiness and other health problems. To combat this, maintain a moderate humidity level indoors, preferably between 30-50 percent.

11. Stay Active with Mental Stimulation Activities

Lots of dogs suffer from depression during the cold season because they have very little time to work off their physical and mental energy. Just because it's chilly outside doesn't mean your dog has to suffer from doggie boredom. Here are some mentally stimulating activities to entertain your dog all winter.

Nose Work Games

Dogs have an incredible sense of smell, and there's nothing more stimulating than going on a sniffing adventure. Instead of directly giving your puppy their treats, turn it into an easter egg hunt; do the same with their favorite toys.

Hide them in different places around the house so they can exercise their sense of smell. When they find these "treasures," it gives them a great sense of accomplishment.

Indoor Agility Course

Agility courses provide your pup with mental and physical challenges. Set up an obstacle course in your home using household items, like paper towel rolls, boxes, and chairs, so they have to weave through these objects or jump over them to reach the destination.

Doggy Dance Training

Some owners create a dance routine with their furry friends, which is a beautiful bonding experience and obedience training for your dog. Put on some of your favorite tunes and guide them through the steps; you can even make it up as you go.

Teaching your dog these new tricks is a wonderful way to exercise their brain, coordination, and balance. If you both get good enough, consider joining canine freestyle dancing competitions.

Puzzle Toys

When you need to run errands, leave your pup some puzzle toys to occupy their attention. These games usually allow you to fill them with treats or kibble and let your dog figure out how to access the goodies. This way, they spend their energy on the toy, not destroying your home.

dog i the snow

12. Watch for Signs of Cold Allergies

The summer is finally over, and you may think your dog is safe from all pollen and grass allergies. Unfortunately, some dogs develop cold allergies to winter weather conditions. Although uncommon and usually affects short-haired dogs, these unfortunate dogs develop severe hives on their bodies and faces.

In extreme cases, their faces swell up from the chill exposure. If you notice these symptoms, your vet may prescribe antihistamines and other remedies to reduce your pup's allergy reaction.

If you notice that your pup tends to scratch themselves a lot after coming back from outdoors, there is a possibility that they exhibit mild symptoms of cold allergies. Even in small doses, allergies are irritating for your pup. Limit the time they spend outside in cold weather, and ensure they wear an appropriate winter jacket or sweater to protect their bodies from wind chill.

13. Never Leave Them Alone in the Car

Leaving your dog inside the car during winter can be deadly. Many pet owners make the mistake of leaving their pets inside the car, thinking it's safer than outside in the cold. However, leaving your pet inside the vehicle during winter still exposes them to hypothermia.

Even if you leave the car engine running, leaving your puppy alone inside the car is never a good idea. The temperature inside the car may drop quickly, and dogs develop mild hypothermia once their body temperature drops to 99° Fahrenheit. Puppies, small dogs, short-haired breeds, and seniors are most susceptible to hypothermia.

Symptoms of Hypothermia

As soon as you see your dog shivering and whining, take action to warm them; these are signs that your dog is getting hypothermic. Other signs that your dog is getting too cold are:

  • Curling into a tight ball to trap heat

  • Pale gums

  • Cold feet, ears, and tails

  • Increased heart rate

  • Rapid shallow breathing

  • Acting sluggish and depressed

  • Dilated pupils

In extreme cases, your pup may lose consciousness and slip into a coma.

Tips on Warming Your Dog in the Car

Bring plenty of blankets and warm clothes if you take your pup for a ride in the cold. Dress your dog in a sweater or coat before leaving, and turn on the heater and radiate the hot air in their direction. Avoid directly blowing hot air in your dog's face, as it may dry their nose and skin.

If you need to leave them in the car while you run errands, consider having a self-heated mat on the seat for your dog to lie on instead of leaving the heat on and the engine running. Fill a hot water bottle so your dog may curl up against it for warmth when necessary, but test that the water bottle isn't too hot, as it may burn your dog's skin on contact.

Wrapping a hot water bottle in a protective cover drastically minimizes this hazard and allows the heat to radiate across the body.

14. Prepare a Winter Emergency Kit

Winter is a time of unexpected power outages and heat system failure. Prepping a winter emergency kit is one way to secure your dog's safety during weather emergencies. Ensure you have all the necessities: Food, water, and necessary medications are must-haves. Your kit should also include any documents that may be beneficial in an emergency.

Emergency Warming Gear

Even if your dog doesn't usually wear outer coats, having a jacket and warm booties ready for emergencies is always a good idea. Self-heating mats, emergency heat-trapping blankets, and hot water bottles are all excellent options for your winter emergency kit.

Other Essential Items

Your winter emergency kit must contain other essential items such as a flashlight, emergency light sources, first aid supplies, and extra pet-friendly cleaning products. If you live in an area where the temperature drops extremely low, consider investing in an animal health monitor to check your pup's body temperature, ensuring they don't suffer from hypothermia.

15. Use Caution When Operating a Backup Generator

If you live in an area constantly suffering from power outages, you likely already have a backup generator. Remember that generators produce carbon monoxide, so keep your pup away from the generator as they may inhale too much carbon monoxide, and install a carbon monoxide detector for your pet's safety.

dog in the snow

Have a Happy and Safe Winter!

From understanding their dietary and maintenance needs in winter to providing them with extra warmth when they go outdoors, there are many things that pet owners must do to keep their beloved animal(s) safe.

As the winter season sets in, these 15 winter care tips allow you to safeguard your dog and let them be warm, happy, and comfortable throughout the colder months. Remember that winter care isn't a one-size-fits-all approach.

Consider your dog's breed, coat type, and individual needs. Being mindful of their specific requirements ensures you and your pup will enjoy a safe and healthy winter season.

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