CVMA-ACMV

Taking Fido Outside in Winter

November 3, 2014

Dogs love the great outdoors and the winter is no exception. In fact many seem to prefer the colder months and seem invigorated by it. Fortunately, dogs were born with “fur coats” and a higher tolerance to colder weather than their owners, but not all of them like to spend extended periods of time outdoors.

To properly determine how long your pet should stay outside in cold temperatures, a number of factors must be taken into account. These include breed, coat type, general health and age of your dog, whether he/she has been acclimated to the colder weather, the availability of shelter, as well as individual differences in the desire to spend time outdoors. Smaller, short-coated, ill, or geriatric dogs have less tolerance for the cold and therefore are limited in the time they may be able to spend outdoors. 

Consider purchasing a coat or sweater. With many different styles and prices to choose from, it should not be hard to find something that suits every budget and pet personality. Certain breeds which are bred for colder weather, such as the northern breeds (e.g., husky), may prefer extended periods outside in the colder weather. Ensure that adequate shelter is available. If they have been acclimated to the colder weather (have spent longer periods of time outdoors during the change in seasons to allow their coat and metabolism to accommodate the temperature change) they may be most comfortable outdoors.

Shelter should be an insulated dog house, off the ground with the door protected or facing away from the prevailing wind and some straw or a blanket for the dog to burrow into. As dogs rely on their body heat to warm their immediate environment, an appropriate shelter should only be large enough for them to lay down comfortably – making a garage an unsuitable shelter by itself. Ensuring a high quality diet and access to drinkable (i.e., not frozen) water is essential as outdoor dogs burn more calories to maintain their body heat. Also, pay attention to cold-weather warnings when they occur.

Perhaps the simplest way of ensuring that your pet's outdoor time is enjoyable is to spend the time with them. This will allow you to watch for any signs that they may be becoming cold such as shivering, running towards and standing by the door, wanting to be held, or losing interest in the activities that you are doing. Regardless, revel in your outdoor pursuits as it is a wonderful way to enjoy your time together, and is a healthy activity that you can both enjoy.