Snow, ice, wild winds, and freezing temperatures. Unless you live in warm or tropical climates, you’re probably familiar with the more challenging elements of winter weather. During the coldest months, it would be unthinkable to venture outside without an extra layer or two to keep us warm – and many of the more fair-weather folks among us may end up limiting exposure to the outside altogether when the mercury is in the lowest digits. Why should it be any different for our pets? Just because your dog is wearing a fur coat at all times, this doesn’t automatically protect them from the discomfort and even danger of extreme winter weather. At this time of year, dog owners need to take extra care and consideration with how and when they exercise a dog outdoors.
Naturally, multiple factors affect your winter dog care plan. The spectrum of dog breeds is so wide and varied that there isn’t a one-size-fit-alls approach to winter care. Size, age, body fat, and coat type all play a factor in cold tolerance, as well as mobility and exercise needs. Similarly, dog owners in the city and the countryside have different cold-weather challenges to confront on their daily dog walks. Think about your dog’s physical traits and habits and even consult with your vet about the best approach to keeping them healthy and happy during winter.
Table of contents
How Cold Is Too Cold?
As previously mentioned, health, breed, and age play an important role, while wet weather and wind chill can vastly impact your dog’s cold tolerance. According to PetMD, most dogs will be comfortable down to 45F (7C), at which point certain individuals may begin to feel discomfort. Once the temperatures dip to 32F (0C), thin-coated dogs, smaller breeds, and old, young, or sick animals will not be able to endure long periods outdoors without risk. At 20C (-7C) or below, cold-related health conditions become a real threat to all but the very hardiest breeds. If you notice your dog shivering hard, whining, or attempting to burrow while outside, it’s time to bring them in from the elements. As a general rule, if it’s too cold for you to stay outside for an extended period, it’s too cold for your dog too!
The dangers to dogs left in cars during hot summer weather have been drummed into the collective conscience over time, but did you know that cold temperatures can be just as dangerous? The vehicle creates a refrigerator effect that retains the cold and can be fatal if a dog is left unattended over time.
Dog Breeds and Winter Conditions
One of the most significant factors in your dog’s tolerance to winter conditions is its breed, which can influence the characteristics of the coat, paws, and extremities. Given the long history of canine domestication and the vast reach of domesticated dogs across diverse human cultures, certain breeds have evolved to adapt to specific environments. Naturally, northern breeds will be better suited to winter conditions than those from more temperate climes. Many of these dogs were traditionally selected to guard livestock on mountainside slopes, herding, hunting, and hauling sleds in high-altitude or snowy landscapes like Alaska, Siberia, or Tibet. As a result, the majority of these breeds have developed a “double coat” to provide insulation from extreme temperatures.
If a dog appears particularly fluffy, they likely have a dense, woolly undercoat topped with longer “guard hairs” designed to repel water. Breeds include huskies, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Great Pyrenees, Newfoundlands, Malamutes, and Australian Sheepdogs (double coats also help insulate against extreme heat). A particular advantage for enduring winter weather, these coats also require careful grooming to avoid matting; however, double-coated dogs should never be shaved during the warmer months. The double coat provides cooing insulation and does not benefit from a summer cut.
Other dog breeds designed to tolerate the cold include Akitas, Siba Inu, Tibetan Mastiffs, German Shepherds, Chow Chows, Anatolian Shepherds, and American Eskimo Dogs. In addition to large body mass and thick, insulating coats that resist soaking, these northern breeds benefit from wide paws to help traverse snow and ice and thick, furry ears.
While there are traits that make a dog well-suited to harsh winters, other breeds will suffer more as the mercury drops. Short and thin-coated breeds like pit bulls, bulldogs, and Dalmatians have little insulation to protect them from the elements. Size and body mass also plays a role, meaning breeds like greyhounds, whippets, and Chihuahuas are particularly vulnerable and will begin to shiver at even a slight chill.
Just like humans, dogs can suffer hypothermia and frostbite when exposed to extreme cold – some more quickly than others. Harsh winters can be dangerous for certain breeds or for those that are very young, old, or in poor health. If you’re looking to get a puppy, your local climate should play a factor in breed selection.
Winter Dog Care
There are several ways to protect your pet from all the surprises winter can throw at us. Most important of all is dedicated attention to their health and needs – keeping an eye on behavior changes, coat and skin health, and any dangerous situations. Here are the top tips for winter dog care 101:
Protect the Paws
When worrying about your dog’s warmth in winter, it’s easy to overlook one of the main sources of discomfort: paws. The digital pads (toes) and metacarpal (front pads) and metatarsal pads (rear pads) endure a lot during the winter months when exposed to cold, dry atmospheres, and from walking on frozen ground, snow, and ice. These conditions can lead to cracks and irritation over time. Pay close attention if your dog begins licking or chewing its paws or if you notice red or inflamed spots – particularly between the toes. Dogs with fuzzy paws are at a higher risk since snow can ball up in the hair and cause irritation.
If you live in a city or near any paved area, there’s a high chance your dog will be walking through salt crystals, grit, and even chemicals during its daily walks, which can compound the damage already inflicted by the elements. After every walk, you should endeavor to wash and dry your dog’s paws and even stomach area to remove irritants, before carefully drying them. If your dog seems particularly sensitive to winter feet, you should consider purchasing well-fitting booties to keep them comfortable during winter walks.
Another way to protect the paws – and beyond – during winter is to attend to sensitive skin with specially formulated salves. Vaseline or specifically formulated balms are available to soothe and seal your dog’s pads from the ravages of cold and chemicals.
The extremes of switching between the cold outdoors and the artificially heated indoor environment can take its toll on your dog’s skin, too, causing it to become dry, sensitive, and even irritated and flaky. If possible, reduce how often you bathe your pup between December and March to avoid drying the skin out further. If this proposition is too smelly to be endured, ask your vet about topical shampoos or lotions to help your dog remain comfortable in the dry winter air.
If you have a short-coated or particularly skinny pooch, it’s worth investing in a high-quality dog coat to keep them cozy. Some sensitive pets can even benefit from a fitted sweatshirt while residing indoors, providing coverage from the neck to the base of the belly. Whatever you choose, make sure the garment is properly fitted, otherwise, it can irritate the dogs in sensitive areas like the stomach and under the legs.
If your house remains relatively cool during the winter and you loathe turning up the thermostat, bundle up your dog bed instead. Place your dog’s bed in an area free of drafts and preferably off cold tiling. The addition of extra blankets and pads can make a big difference, and you may even want to consider a heated sleeping pad for particularly shivery pets or for older dogs with joints made stiff by the cold.
Heaters in the Home
When the weather is frigid, some pets are drawn to heat sources like moths to the flame. If your dog gets too close to a heater, whether a space heater, baseboard radiator, or fireplace, they risk overdoing it and burning themselves. A little intervention might be necessary, particularly in the case of wood-fired heat systems. Make sure there are barriers between your pet and the heat, especially while left unattended.
Weather & Walks
Certain dog breeds and canine individuals may be less inclined to remain active during the winter months, while other dogs thrive in the snow. Either way, balance is key. All dogs need some form of exercise. If you have a reluctant companion, choose your walks carefully to time them with sunnier or precipitation-free spells. Short, frequent romps are fine to expend energy without long exposure to the cold.
Some snow-loving pups take great pleasure in bounding through powder, generating plenty of body heat in the process. While their enthusiasm may seem endless, don’t leave your dog outdoors for an extended period without regularly checking in. All but the hardiest northern breeds can succumb quickly to frostbite and hypothermia in extreme conditions. Furthermore, make sure they have plenty to drink during this time. Dogs need almost as much water in the winter as during the summer months, and eating snow won’t cut it. Other outdoor risks to unattended dogs include falling snow and ice from rooflines, snow drifts, hidden obstacles, and the danger of falling through ice on ponds and rivers.
Adjust your dog’s daily calorie intake depending on whether they prefer to spend the colder months loafing or leaping through the snow. An extra layer of insulation should come from a coat, not from fat. A high-quality, high-protein feed will give your pet the healthy coat and energy needed during winter.
Boost your home playtime routine to make up for limited outdoor adventures. Provide them with plenty of toys, particularly problem-solving and stimulating toys to keep them mobile, active, and occupied when confined to the house for longer periods.
Certain chemicals are highly toxic to dogs when ingested, including antifreeze. Because of its inherent sweetness, antifreeze can be very appealing to dogs and even a small amount can prove fatal. Remain diligent in driveways and garages, where antifreeze is most frequently used and spilled.
The long, nights are one of the most challenging aspects of winter. If you are unable to exercise your dog during daylight, make sure they remain visible during evening walks with lights or a reflective collar to keep them safe on the roads (and easy to track down).
Extreme weather is always hardest on the most vulnerable – from tiny pups to sick and senior dogs. Give your furry pal extra consideration during the depths of winter, from extra bedding to CBD supplements to help with stiff, uncomfortable joints. ElleVet’s CBD + CBDA is proven safe and effective in clinical trials for helping dogs by modulating the perception of discomfort. This helps them maintain comfortable joint function.
For any questions about ElleVet’s CBD + CBDA products or how CBD can help your canine friend live their best life, give us a call (844-673-7287) or send us an email ([email protected]). We are here to help.