When the temperature plummets, your dog becomes vulnerable to the elements and susceptible to outdoor winter hazards. It’s your responsibility to ensure your dog is safe and protected from frigid conditions. Dogs left exposed to the elements run the risk of frostbite, hypothermia and even death.
Always provide your dog with warm, dry shelter from frigid temperatures. Ideally, your dog should have access to the indoors when the temperatures drop below freezing. If your dog is outdoors only, give him a shelter that is raised off the cold ground, is enclosed and has a flap to keep out wind and blowing rain or snow. Provide warm bedding such as straw or hay and change it frequently to ensure it does not become wet or frozen.
While some dog breeds tolerate cold temperatures better than others -- for example, Labradors are bred for cold water conditions and have an oily double coat -- others are not so lucky. If your dog must be outdoors during frigid conditions, dress him in a dog coat and booties or foot protection. Keep in mind, dogs who are new to a cold climate need gradual acclimation. If it's uncomfortably cold for you, it's uncomfortably cold for your dog as well.
Special Needs Dogs
Frigid temperatures can wreck havoc on puppies, dogs who are older, small breeds or dogs who have compromised immune systems or health issues. In particular, older dogs that suffer from arthritis or joint disorders are particularly uncomfortable in the cold and may potentially slip and fall on icy patches. Very small dogs or hairless breeds are also likely to become more easily chilled in freezing temps and require extra protections. Clear paths for elderly dogs, lift them onto high or low surfaces instead of making them jump and carry or guide them slowly on stairs, or avoid stairs altogether.
If you let your dog out of doors during cold weather, stay with him and make the trip short. If you play with your dog in the snow or take him for a hike in cold conditions, have lukewarm water on hand for him to drink -- never let a dog rely on snow to quench his thirst. Wipe off paw pads after your dog has been outside to protect against frostbite and abrasions or burns that can come from contact with ice or rock salt.
In addition to inhospitable elements, dogs can potentially lose direction and wander away during blowing snow storms. Shelter from these conditions is crucial. Also keep your dog away from lakes and ponds with thin ice to prevent accidental drowning. Small dogs can get caught in snowdrifts, so keep tiny pups on leases when they are in these conditions.
Treating Cold-Related Ailments
If your dog has been subjected to freezing temperatures and develops skin ulcers, peeling skin, red or white, tough skin patches -- especially on his ears, nose or tail -- he may have suffered frostbite and requires immediate medical attention. Dogs who show signs of severe and uncontrollable shivering, weakness and shallow breathing may be suffering hypothermia. Cover your dog in a blanket and seek medical attention right away.