How to take care of dogs in cold weather
Don't let cold temperatures stop you from having fun together! Winter is a great time to be active with your dog, as the risk of overheating is low. For dogs, training in cooler conditions can actually be more enjoyable, and they might find that extra gear on the trails.
- As with humans, it's important for both body and mind to be active every day. An active lifestyle throughout the year makes your dogs well balanced and relaxed, says Lykke and Orest Andersen.
The Danish couple now lives in one of the coldest areas of the Swedish wilderness with their two borzois Zarwoe and Láska. They know a lot about taking care of dogs in cold temperatures. So do Ola Brennodden Sunde and Eira Aaseby. They live in Øyer and Folldal, among the coldest areas in Norway. The couple competes in long distance mushing and nordic style. You will get their expert tips in this article.
Cold weather do requires some precautions to ensure that your dog to stays comfortable and safe. With these tips, you will be able to assess when it is too cold for your dog and know how to keep them warm. We also want to inspire you to try some new winter activities with your dog!
- We have some of our nicest trips and best experiences during winter. Both dogs and humans need to get out, even if it's cold outside. You don't always have to go for a long hike, Eira and Ola say.
How cold is too cold for dogs?
It is impossible to set a certain temperature that is too cold for dogs. How cold your dog will feel depends on many factors. Some breeds, like Siberian Huskies and Malamutes, have a thick double coat and are born to live outside in cold temperatures. They will cope with cold weather in a much better way than short haired dogs like Weimaraners or Rhodesian Ridgebacks. Many breeds with thick double coats actually prefer to be outside!
Our huskies have a higher tolerance for the cold than our German shorthaired pointer. The Alaskan huskies are polar dogs, and bred to handle the cold climate, says Eira.
Body fat, body type and size also play a role. Small dogs, like Chihuahuas, tend to get cold easier as they are close to the ground and have a big body surface to keep warm compared to their body weight. Puppies and old dogs tend to get cold easier. Individual preference also plays a role. Among two identical dogs, one might start getting cold at a certain temperature, while the other dog is doing just fine!
Be aware of your dog's tolerance to cold weather and adjust to that. Typical signs that your dog is cold are shivering and lifting their paws.
How to protect dogs from cold weather
If your dog is cold, it can move around to generate body heat. When off leash, borzois Zarwoe and Láska regulate their body temperature on their own by running more.
- We know our dogs very well, and know their limits of what´s comfortable. Láska gets her Glacier jacket on when it’s below -20°C, and Zarwoe -25°C. If they need to be walked on leash and won’t be able to regulate their body temperature on their own, we put their dog jackets on between -15°C and -20°C. Borzois are used to hunting wolves in Siberia in -35°C, so they are very tolerant of the cold. They have a thick undercoat. Males are more tolerant of the cold than the females, but in general they love the cold. The best tip is to look at your dog and observe their behaviour when it’s cold. Dogs are normally really good at expressing their needs. Learn their signals when they start getting cold and always bring a dog jacket when temperatures drop. Tolerance for the cold is very different from breed to breed.
Do dogs really need jackets? Sometimes, yes. Wearing a dog jacket will help keep your dog warm and comfortable in cold temperatures, both when resting and when being active. In the most extreme conditions, even polar breeds will benefit from wearing a warm jacket. Dog mushers often use jackets to protect their dogs from wind and freezing temperatures when training or competing.
Your dog’s breed, coat, weight, health and age are factors that need to be considered when deciding whether your dog needs a jacket or not.
There are many different types of dog jackets to choose from. Some are lightweight, simple and easy to carry, perfect for putting on during your break when skijoring or ski mountaineering with your dog. Others dog jackets are thicker and have more features to suit all needs. Check out this guide to find the right dog jacket for your needs.
If your dog has longer fur and struggles with lumps of snow or ice during wintertime, you can use a full-body snow suit for dogs. A full suit can also benefit dogs with less fur, that need protection against wind or snow.
Zarwoe and Láska always wear dog booties during winter, to protect against lumps of ice and snow, as well as frost bite.
- We couldn´t survive without them! Because of the really low temperatures we can have here, we don’t cut their hair under their paws. They collect snowballs real quick which transform into ice, and ice will harm their paws, say Lykke and Orest.
In addition to the regular sled dog booties that are thin and soft, you can find dog booties that protect your dog’s paws against ice, salt and other chemicals, such as antifreeze and de-icers. Learn more about how to choose the right dog booties and how to use them in this article.
Paw ointment will also help protect your dog’s pads.
- Our experience is that regular use of paw ointment is preventive and gives nice and soft paws also in the cold. You shouldn’t use paw ointment that contains water, as water will freeze, Ola says.
When being active, most dogs will cope well with cool temperatures.
- When resting, however, it is more challenging to keep the body temperature up. When giving your dog a break, we recommend that you let it curl up on a mat rather than lying directly on the snow. For extra warmth and insulation, you can even bring a dog sleeping bag!
When resting, our huskies lie down on a bed of straw, and wear dog jackets. If it is very cold, we even put a blanket over them. When our German shorthaired pointer comes with winter camping we use a dog jacket, a sleeping pad and a sleeping bag, say Ola and Eira.
Also, make sure to feed your dog well.
- On cold days, dogs use more energy to stay warm. Therefore, we give them extra food, rich in calories and fat, Ola says.
5 fun winter activities for dogs
There are a lot of fun activities you can do together during winter. These are our favorites:
- Go hiking together! It is totally OK for dogs to walk in cold weather, as long as you adapt to their limits. If you feel extra adventurous, you could even try winter camping with your dog!
- Skijoring, cross country skiing with dogs, is a fun and very effective way of exercising your dog during winter.
- Bring your dog when ski mountaineering! Experiencing the mountains together is fantastic.
- If you have several dogs, or know someone with a team of dogs, you can try dog mushing.
- Do you want to stimulate your dog physically and mentally at the same time? Try some scent work in the snow!
A proper warm-up is particularly important in cool temperatures, especially before high intensity activities like skijoring. It will prepare your dog’s body for activity, and help prevent injuries.
Have fun together!