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    How to Keep an Outside Dog Warm in the Winter

    Authored by Tractor Supply Company

    Prepare for the cold weather

    Know your dog and the risks it faces in cold weather!

    • Age: Older dogs, especially, need a warm sleeping spot, whether indoors or out. Don’t put the bed next to a space heater, since it could set fire. Look at heated pet beds and heating pads to put in the bed, which are designed to not be fire hazards. Cold weather can aggravate existing medical conditions, like arthritis, in senior dogs. Watch for slippery surfaces when you exercise your arthritic dog. Talk to your vet about natural joint supplements to lubricate the joints, and adding glucosamine and chondroitin to your dog’s senior diet.
    • Breed: Many working breeds like huskies, shepherds, Newfoundland, and Bernese mountain dogs are naturals for cold weather. They can put up with a lot of outdoor living and cold temperatures, but they still need a way to warm up. Outdoor hunting breeds like retrievers, hounds, setters, and spaniels are not as well suited to the cold.
    • Coat: According to breed (or a mix of breeds), dogs with thicker coats function better in cold weather and snowy conditions. Dogs with short coats should not be outside as much in winter, and they should wear dog jackets when they do go out. Long-haired dogs can be trimmed to reduce the chances of ice and salt clinging to the hair, but they should not be shaved during the winter.
    • Size: Smaller dogs will lose body heat quicker than larger dogs. They, too, should be dressed in a jacket for walks and playing outdoors in the cold.

    Have towels ready for when your dog comes in after being outdoors in snow or winter rain. Towel off the dog, paying extra attention to its paws, to stimulate circulation as well as drying its coat.

    Look at ways to add fat and protein to your dog’s diet to help it survive time in the cold outdoors. Being cold burns more calories, so feeding them a little more is recommended—but do not try to make them gain weight.

    Make sure your dog’s sleeping place is out of drafts and will stay dry. However, if the indoor air is too dry, your dog’s coat and skin will become dry and flaky as it moves from cold air to warm. Dry skin will incite scratching, which can lead to irritation, wounds, and infection. For everyone’s comfort, have a humidifier in the house to balance out the environment.

    Protecting dogs in cold weather

    A dog’s most vulnerable parts need extra attention when the temperature drops and snow falls.

    • Paws: A dog’s paws need to be cleaned after being in the snow because melting salt and chemicals can be picked up in icy “snowballs” between the pads. Your dog can become ill if it ingests these substances by licking the paws. The dog can also pull its hair out and injure the flesh between paw pads, risking infection. Soak a cloth in warm water, and massage the paw gently to melt and loosen the ice. If your dog has long hair, have a groomer trim the hair between your dog’s pads. The skin of the pads can also dry out from contact with salt. Rub a paw balm on your pet’s paws before outdoor time and after coming in. These oily balms can be bought at a pet supply store, or you can make your own from recipes found online. If your dog’s paws are sensitive to the cold, booties may be the answer to paw comfort and health.
    • Ears, nose, and tail: These are the most exposed and vulnerable parts of your dog’s body, the most at risk for frostbite when the dog spends a lot of time outdoors. Dogs that love to romp in creeks and lakes are especially at risk in very cold weather. More on frostbite is found below. To prevent frostbitten paws, rub the pads with Vaseline, or a balm with a lanolin base, before going outdoors and after coming inside.

    There are some easy ways to keep your dog companion healthy when the weather turns icy.

    • Shorter walks will limit your dog’s exposure. Go out in the sunshine when you can!
    • Don’t leave the dog in a car. Just as a car can become an oven very quickly in the summer, it can turn into a freezer in the winter. If you must leave the dog in a car, make sure it has enough bedding to burrow in for warmth. Don’t leave the car running, thinking to keep the heater going. Especially in a garage, leaving the dog in a running car can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.
    • Change the dog’s bedding, whether in a kennel or a pet bed, to keep it fluffed and able to hold up in the heat.
    • Clean up antifreeze and other de-icing solvents that might have dripped or puddled around the driveway, walks, or floors. Antifreeze has a chemical agent, propylene glycol, that smells sweet and can tempt the dog to lick it up. This is poisonous to dogs and warrants an immediate trip to the vet.
    • Snow itself can pose dangers to a dog. Shoveled snow piled right next to a fence can give the dog an escape route out of the yard. If the dog is used to being under a roof overhang, brush snow off the roof so that there is no chance of an avalanche landing on Fido.
    • Fewer baths mean less chance of your dog getting frostbite or hypothermia from being wet or damp in cold air.
    • Regular brushing stimulates circulation and increases body warmth.
    • Use plastic bowls, not metal, for outdoor feeding and water. You don’t want your dog’s tongue to freeze on its bowl!
    • Test the air yourself. If it’s too cold for you to be outside, it’s too cold for the dog.

    Signs your dog is in trouble in winter

    The two most serious risks for dogs during the winter are frostbite and hypothermia. Act immediately if you spot your dog showing these symptoms:

    • Whines or acts anxious
    • Can’t stop shivering or seems weak
    • Has ice on their body
    • Slows down or stops moving entirely
    • Burrows for warmth

    All these behaviors are signs of hypothermia and/or frostbite.

    Hypothermia: Hypothermia occurs when a dog spends too long in the cold, gets wet in cold temperatures, or when dogs with poor health or circulation are exposed to cold. In mild cases, the dog will shiver, and its ears and feet will feel cold to your touch. As hypothermia progresses, your dog may show signs of depression, lethargy, and weakness. Left untreated and allowed to worsen, the muscles will stiffen, the heart and breathing rates slow down, and the dog becomes unresponsive. Severe hypothermia can be fatal.

    Frostbite: Prolonged exposure to severe cold can freeze and damage body tissues, especially in the tips of a dog’s nose, ears, and tail. The body has pulled blood from these extremities further into the body to preserve warmth. Ice crystals form in the tissue and damage it.

    Signs of frostbite may not show up for a few days. The signs are pale, bluish, or gray skin, and the skin may feel hard and cold. Your touch on these areas will be painful to the dog, as the warmth will cause pain. There may also be swelling.

    Badly frostbitten tissue will die, changing color from dark blue to black over a period of several days to weeks. The dead tissue then falls off. While the tissue dies, pus may form, or the area may begin to smell foul due to bacterial infection.

    Senior dogs with heart disease, diabetes mellitus, or other conditions that cause reduced blood flow to the extremities are at greater risk for frostbite. If you suspect your dog has frostbite, get it to the vet as soon as possible. You can apply these first aid methods in the meantime:

    • If you are outdoors when you notice your dog has become frostbitten, do not try to warm the area. Re-exposure or refreezing after being warmed will cause more injury.
    • Move your dog to a warm, dry area as quickly and as safely as possible.
    • Wrap the dog’s body in warm dry towels or blankets.
    • Do not rub or massage the affected area. Remember, as the area is warmed, it will become painful.
    • You may carefully warm the affected area with warm water (not hot), ideally 104 to 108°F (40 to 42°C). At this temperature, you should be able to comfortably place your hand in the warm water. If the water is too hot, you may cause more damage. Apply warm water compresses, or soak the affected area in a bowl of warm water. Do not use dry heat, like a heating pad or hairdryer.
    • After warming the area, pat the dog dry carefully and thoroughly. Do not rub your dog with the towels.
    • On the way to the vet, wrap your dog in dry towels or blankets that have been warmed in the clothes dryer.
    • Do not give the dog any pain medication unless specifically instructed by your veterinarian. Many human pain relievers, including acetaminophen and aspirin, can be toxic to dogs.

    Your veterinarian will determine whether your dog has suffered systemic shock or hypothermia along with frostbite. Your dog will probably be given pain medication to relieve the pain of thawing tissues. Antibiotics will prevent secondary bacterial skin infection if the tissue is found to be dying. Mild cases of frostbite usually heal with little permanent damage.

    Make a doghouse dry and warm

    Before the cold moves in, prepare your outdoor dog’s shelter to make sure it will be a safe haven for them in bad weather. The kennel should be watertight and draft-free, with a sloping roof for snow and rain runoff. It should be elevated off the ground a few inches and big enough inside for the dog to shift around but small enough to hold in heat. The floor should be covered with a layer of cedar shavings or straw. More straw or blankets can be added for bedding.

    If your dog’s shelter is not insulated, take steps to put a layer between the outside frame and the inside. Put the insulation on the outside of the shelter’s floor to maximize interior space, or inside if the shelter is large enough.

    • Vapor barrier: Even if the kennel is elevated, a tarp or other waterproof layer between the doghouse floor and the ground prevents cold air and damp from seeping up into the kennel and keeps body warmth from escaping. You can also use a space blanket, plastic sheeting. Replace the vapor barrier when it is torn or moldy.
    • Insulated platform: A wood pallet filled with rigid foam sheets, covered with a plywood top, will elevate the kennel and protect it from heat loss into the ground. Avoid using household insulation batting, which loses insulation capacity when it gets wet and turns into a rodent habitat. Cover the open sides of the pallet to keep the insulation in and rodents out.
    • Insulated ceiling: A well-insulated kennel ceiling also protects an outdoor dog from the summer heat as well as the winter cold. You can cut foam sheeting, foil, plastic sheeting, or bubble wrap to fit and staple it in place. It’s best to cover such material with plywood, to prevent a bored dog from ripping down the material and chewing it, possibly ingesting it.
    • Waterproof roof: Cover the outside roof with a tarp to be sure the kennel won’t leak from rain or snow.
    • Carpeted walls: If your dog’s kennel is sturdy with an inner frame, you can set hooks along the top frame, then punch holes in the carpet and hang it on the hooks so it lines the walls. This is best in dry climates, where it gets cold but not damp and wet. Remove the carpet in the summer. Just check the carpet to see that your dog does not begin chewing on it.

    Even if your outdoor dog sleeps on a porch, an insulated kennel there will keep it healthy and happy. If you have an enclosed porch, a heating pad or heated bed may still be necessary to keep the dog comfortable, especially an older dog.

    Tractor Supply can make life easier for you & your pets. TSC offers a variety of pet supplies including a wide selection of pet items to help prep your favorite four-legged friends for cold weather. Subscribe to our autoship program and receive regular deliveries of food, treats, flea & tick preventatives, supplements and more, all while saving you time and money.