How to Care for Dogs in Cold Temperatures

When the temperature is below freezing, dogs need to come inside.
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Your pup needs extra attention when the temperature drops precipitously. Dogs left outside in harsh weather can become uncomfortable at best, or suffer dire conditions like hypothermia, frostbite and death. Even dogs who live outdoors full time need respite from cold conditions. Older dogs and those with health conditions need extra loving care to help them remain healthy, safe and warm in cold temperatures.

Adequate Shelter and Bedding

Dogs require windproof, waterproof shelter with warm bedding during cold temperatures. If temperatures drop below freezing, access to the indoors is vital. Position the entry to the house away from prevalent wind directions. Use wood shavings or straw for warmth and change bedding frequently to ensure its absorbency.

Water and Food

Use a heated dog bowl for outside dogs to ensure they have continual access to a clean, fresh water supply. Your dog can't just lick ice or eat snow to get the vital ater he needs every day. Talk to your vet about increasing your outside dog’s diet slightly during cold winter months. Your dog can expend more calories trying to keep warm in the cold, and extra food can help provide the fuel that's necessary to do that.

Foot Care

Even though the pads of your dog’s feet are relatively tough, they’re subject to cold weather conditions. Consider dog booties to protect against ice and rock salt used for melting ice. Wipe off your dog’s paws when he comes inside and periodically check pads for scratches and cracks. Massage with petroleum jelly to prevent cracks from becoming painful or infected.

Frostbite Protection

Freezing weather conditions paired with blowing winds can lead to pet frostbite. The areas on your pup most susceptible are the tail, ears and toes. While prevention is the best medicine, if you suspect frostbite -- evidenced by skin ulcers, blisters or pain and swelling -- the first course of action is to remove your pup from the cold weather conditions, slowly rewarm the affected areas, and consult a vet for treatment right away.


Small dogs and dogs with thin coats lose heat faster than large dogs with thick coats, and they are more prone to develop hypothermia, exhibited as extreme shivering, shallow breathing and weakness. If you suspect hypothermia, get your pup to a vet right away. The vet will likely warm your dog using heated blankets, warm foods and possibly IV fluids.

Elderly or Ill Dogs

Older dogs who suffer from arthritis or stiffness that can be exacerbated by the cold should not be subjected to prolonged frigid conditions. Help older pups, short-haired dogs and those with medical conditions stay comfortable in cold temperatures by employing dog sweaters and heated dog beds. Don't allow these dogs to be outside unattended for long periods of time, and monitor how well they’re able to walk on slippery surfaces. If you are outside and become cold, chances are your dog is cold, too.