How to Keep Dogs Safe, Healthy, and Warm in Winter

Dog in Winter SnowAlthough the days are getting colder, your pet doesn’t have to! Whether you have an outdoor dog that needs protection from extreme temperatures or an indoor dog that you want to keep cozy from cold drafts, here are a few expert tips for keeping your pet safe and warm this winter (click to jump to a section).

  1. Housing
  2. Clothing
  3. Avoiding Toxins
  4. Heating Pads
  5. Nutrition
  6. Grooming

Outdoor Dog Housing for Cold Weather

When keeping your canine outside, your first question will probably be how to keep a dog house warm, especially during long winter nights. Here are some pro tips on outfitting your dog’s shelter for winter:

Dog House Insulation

If possible, choose a good insulated dog house that will stand up to the elements and help keep cold drafts out. If you have a home-made dog house, be sure to properly insulate the walls, door, and ceiling with something non-toxic like hay or EPS foam.

Dog Laying in Shelter

Proper Dog House Sizing

Choosing the right size dog house for your breed will make a big difference in the shelter’s ability to retain heat. Too small and your pet will be cramped; too big and there will be too much extra space to insulate and heat.

A good rule of thumb is that your cold weather dog shelter should be just big enough so your pet can move around comfortably (stand, sit, turn around, etc.)

Location, Location, Location!

Make sure you place your pet’s outdoor shelter out of the way of any strong winds. In addition, make sure it is elevated off the ground a bit to avoid pooling water or slush.

Primary Heat Source

Temperatures that dip below freezing can be dangerous for outdoor dogs that don’t have an alternative source of heat. While electric heaters can be used to heat dog houses, they pose a serious safety risk operating in an enclosed space in the presence of flammable materials like insulation. A controllable heat pad is the safest and most reliable way to provide consistent and even heat for your pets.

Insulated Dog Clothing

Dog in Winter Jacket

Some pets may fuss about it, but just like humans, dogs can benefit from insulated, cold weather clothing that helps them retain body heat. There are many options out there, but choosing a good winter dog jacket and booties can help keep your pooch nice and toasty wherever they may roam.

Avoiding Toxic Winter Substances

When taking your pet for walks or excursions during cold weather, you should be aware of a few common toxic substances that could be an issue.


Antifreeze is the number one toxic substance to be aware of during the cold winter months. Antifreeze (ethylene glycol) smells and tastes sweet to dogs and cats. This deadly substance causes rapid kidney failure. It can take as little as one teaspoon to kill a cat and four teaspoons to kill a dog that weighs less than 10 pounds. To avoid ingestion, make sure that all antifreeze is stored out of your pet’s reach and any spills are cleaned up. If your pet does come in contact with antifreeze, call your veterinarian immediately for proper instructions.

Road Salt

Road salt is another toxin to be aware of. It is scattered everywhere in the winter months, which makes it hard to avoid. It can cause irritation to your pets’ mouth and paws, so if it is accidentally ingested, consult your veterinarian. Road salt can cause drooling, stomach upset, and electrolyte imbalances. If you have a dog, and persistent exposure cannot be avoided, it is a good idea to protect their feet with specially made boots for dogs.

Pet Heating Pads

Dog on heating padHeating pads can be effective and versatile throughout the year, but especially in the colder months. Whether your dog sleeps in a crate inside, in the garage, or in an outdoor dog house, a specially designed dog heating pad is a safe, economical way to provide warmth. An added benefit is that heating pads provide natural relief for dogs with arthritis, hip dysplasia, and other joint issues that are exacerbated in cold weather. In order to ensure safety and comfort, choose a pad that distributes heat evenly, is waterproof (for use outdoors), and temperature controlled.

Proper Dog Nutrition for Winter

Nutrition is especially important for your dog in cold winter months. The types of nutrients your dog needs will depend on its age and breed, among other things, but any dog will need to eat more during winter. Increasing your dog’s caloric intake by up to 30% will help it cope with the extra energy burned to maintain body temperature.

Fur Grooming and Maintenance

Your dog’s coat is its natural insulation and will naturally fill in as the cold months approach. It’s important NOT to shave or trim their fur too much during this time. Instead, regularly brush and groom your pet’s fur to make sure it stays soft, smooth, and untangled. Dirty or mangled fur will be much less effective at retaining body heat.