Cold Weather Safety: How to Help Your Dog Remain Active and Protected in the Winter

While South Carolina may be known for sunshine and warm weather, it’s no surprise to anyone in Greenville that winter can bring some plunging temperatures that could be uncomfortable and potentially dangerous for your pet—threatening skin irritation, chapping, and worsening canine atopy symptoms. In extreme cases, your dog could even suffer from hypothermia. In addition, a lack of enough activity and exercise in the winter can leave your dog feeling anxious, restless, and unable to get quality sleep (which means you’re probably not getting great sleep, either!)

Fortunately, there are plenty of indoor activities that you can do with your dog to maintain a healthy level of activity. There are also cold weather safety measures that you can take when you do head outdoors, such as learning the warning signs of hypothermia and your dog’s particular signals that let you know it’s time to take additional steps to keep him cozy.

Winter Exercise Tips for Your Dog

Since cats are more independent, they tend to get adequate exercise no matter what the weather. Dogs, on the other hand, like to have a companion when they play—which means that we have to try to stay active even when it’s cold. The number one threat to canine wellness in the winter is a lack of proper exercise and activity, so be sure to plan for additional indoor playtime. Follow these suggestions to ensure that your fur friend gets enough activity during the winter:

Play Games. Helping your dog get enough exercise could be as simple as roughhousing, wrestling, or playing tug-of-war while you’re watching TV at the end of the day. However, dogs are happiest and healthiest when their brains are engaged, too—so try hide-and-seek, puzzle games, training games, or teaching some new tricks.

Make Feeding Time More Challenging. Speaking of puzzle games, you can use puzzles and challenges to activate your dog’s brain, and nose, during feeding. One of the reasons walks are so necessary for dogs is because of all the new scents they encounter. Making your dog work for food performs a similar function for your dog. Try a puzzle feeder, Kong Wobbler, or obstacle course. Or, simply put a treat inside a loosely closed box.

Enroll in a Class. One reason that getting outdoors in the winter can be tough for dog owners is because it’s often dark when we go to work and dark (and cold!) by the time we get home. Doggie Day Care can be a wonderful way to make sure that your pooch is properly exercised and tired at the end of the day. At Ambassador Animal Hospital, for instance, we let friendly, like-sized dogs play together in our large, fenced yard, where we have plenty of toys and games to keep them entertained.

Before You Head Outdoors

Brisk weather is no excuse to stay indoors—most dogs actually love colder weather and snow in moderation and will come home from a good walk or trip to the park feeling thoroughly exhausted and happy. Just remember the following during the colder months:

Prevention Is Key

Always remember to prepare your dog for the cold before going outside. Here are a few simple tips before venturing outdoors when the temperature starts dropping.

Layer Up. A sweater or jacket won’t just look adorable on your fur baby, it will also provide an extra layer of protection from the cold, especially for short-haired breeds.

Eat Up. Your dog will be burning extra calories trying to stay warm, so consider feeding him a little more if he spends a lot of time outside—or consider Omega 3 supplements to support skin and coat health. Always consult your veterinarian before making major dietary changes, and feed more in moderation. Extra pounds will only contribute to health problems.

Drink Up. Be sure to keep your pet hydrated to prevent dry, easily-irritated skin

Bathe Conservatively. Bathe your dog less often in the winter months to maintain a healthy level of essential oils on the skin and coat that prevent uncomfortable dry skin brought on by cold weather.  Ask your veterinarian what bathing frequency is best for your pet.

Trim Conservatively. Avoid shaving your dog’s fur down to the skin, if possible. Your dog’s long hair is a natural defense against the cold. It may be an option to just keep up with hygiene trims (face, feet, belly, private areas)  rather than opting for a full shave. However, if your dog requires short hair, then that’s where cute doggie outfits come into play again!

Protect Against Chemicals. Cold weather can bring chemical threats to your dog as well. Be sure to monitor your pup closely around vehicles to make sure he’s not lapping up any antifreeze, and train your dog not to eat snow. If you’re in an area that is treated with chemicals or salt for ice and snow, wipe his paws carefully at the end of a walk to remove any hazardous chemicals.

Follow Your Dog’s Lead

No matter how well you prepare for the cold, every dog has limits, and there’s no hard rule for how cold is too cold for any particular dog. It’s true that some breeds—short-haired and toy breeds for example—tend to be more sensitive to cold, but as with all things, your furry friend has his own preferences and personality, and it’s important to watch for signals.

These may be signs that your pet’s temperature is dropping and it may be time to get inside to warm up:

Shivering. Just like you, your pup will start to tremble when he’s reached his limit.

Loss of Energy. Your dog may suddenly stop playing or walking when his temperature plummets

Hiding. Many dogs will seek shelter for warmth under a bush or a car.

Talking. If your dog is barking or whining, especially while making eye contact, take the hint and head indoors.

Indoor Care Counts Too

Once you’ve noticed your dog’s warning signs and brought him in from the cold, it’s important that he has a properly humidified environment to come home to. Frequently coming inside from the cold to a dry heated home can dry out skin and make your pet itchy and uncomfortable. You should also make sure to immediately dry your dog’s coat and paws with a towel and check paws for any cracked or irritated skin. And, of course, your dog needs a warm place to sleep that’s off of the floor and away from any drafts, with a blanket or two for good measure.


Remember that if you’re cold, your pup probably will be too, so when the temperatures really start plunging, keep outdoor time to a minimum and employ these simple tips to keep your dog warm when you go outside. And remember that your dog’s overall health is his first defense against the cold, so it never hurts to schedule an annual checkup before the winter months set in.


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