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How to Keep an Older Dog Warm in Cold Weather

The winter months can be a difficult time for everyone, and that includes your dog. If your dog is senior-aged (between five and ten years old), they may be even more sensitive to the cold. You can keep your older dog warm, cozy, and healthy by protecting them from the elements, helping them stay comfortable at home, and working to keep their body in good shape. With just a little attention, both you and your pet can weather the winter with ease.

Protecting Your Dog from the Elements

1. Learn about your breed’s susceptibility to the cold. Certain breeds of dogs will be more affected by the cold than others. Determine your breed’s susceptibility to the cold in order to know which precautions you need to take. Older dogs will always be a bit more sensitive than younger dogs of the same breed.

  • In general, the larger your dog is, the better they will be at tolerating the cold.
  • The amount of fur your dog has plays a role as well. Breeds like malamutes, huskies, and chow chows, with thick coats, are particularly well suited for cold weather. Dogs with short hair, like chihuahuas, are quite sensitive to the cold.

2. Dress your dog in canine clothing. One common and easy way to help keep your dog warm is to give them a dog sweater or jacket. These garments can help to keep your dog’s core warm and keep them comfortable. This can be a great option for older dogs who have trouble staying warm.

  • Dog clothing is available at pet stores, specialty stores, and online.
  • Be sure to keep your dog’s clothing warm and dry. Damp sweaters or jackets can actually make your dog colder.

3. Use booties to protect your dog’s paws and feet. An additional level of protection is to place warm booties on your dog’s feet. This can be especially helpful if your dog dislikes walking on the cold ground, or if you notice cracking or bleeding from their paws. This discomfort can be quite common in older animals, so consider placing booties on your senior dog.

4. Take shorter walks when the weather is cold. Senior dogs will be able to tolerate cold weather for short period of time, but is best not to overdo it. If the temperature is low or the conditions are wet and icy, consider taking a shorter walk than you would normally. Alternatively, if your dog can wait, you may postpone your walk until the weather clears up.

  • It is a good idea to check the temperature before going out.
  • If it is below freezing, you may want to postpone your walk.

Helping Your Dog Stay Comfortable

1. Keep your dog inside. When dogs are left outside, their ears, paws, and faces are especially prone to frostbite.The best way to keep your senior dog warm and healthy during the winter months is to keep them indoors. Older dogs are more sensitive to the cold than younger dogs, so it is a good idea to keep your senior dog inside your home, especially overnight.

2. Provide adequate outdoor shelter. If your dog does spend a lot of time outside, be sure that they have proper outdoor housing. A good cold-weather doghouse should have a sloped roof, insulation, and possibly even a prefabricated (or expert-installed) heater. Keeping your dog outside should only be considered if they are hearty breed and used to the cold.

  • Be sure to seal any cracks and insure proper insulation.

3. Keep bedding at least 3 inches off the floor. Another great way to keep your senior dog warm and healthy is to make sure they have someplace comfortable to lay down, at least three inches off of the cold floor. Use a thick dog bed, or layer it with additional blankets to raise it up.

4. Provide a hot water bottle. If your senior dog is still chilly, you may want to provide them with a hot water bottle to cuddle with. You can find these at most pharmacies. Simply fill the bottle with warm water, and set it in your dog’s bed.

Keeping Your Dog’s Body Healthy

1. Groom your dog. You will want to avoid trimming or shaving your dog’s fur during the winter months because their full coat is a great source of warmth and protection. Instead, it is important to keep you dog’s coat brushed, groomed, and free of tangles. Matted fur is less effective in keeping your dog warm.

  • Brush your dog’s fur daily to remove tangles.
  • Consider taking them to a professional groomer, but be sure to explain that you’d like their fur to be left long.

2. Keep fur around the paws trimmed. The fur on your dog’s paws can trap ice, making your older dog cold and uncomfortable. Additionally, excess fur on the paws can make it easier for your dog to slip.

  • Hold your dog’s paw with one hand, and use a sharp pair of scissors to snip off any fur that covers the pads of their foot.
  • You may also consider having this done by a professional groomer.

3. Watch for frostbite. Frostbite is a common occurrence, especially in small dogs. Frostbite can be easily treated if diagnosed immediately, so keep an eye out for symptoms.

  • First-degree frostbite can be easy to miss. Look for pale skin on your dog’s extremities (such as ears, lips, tail, face, and feet). This skin may also feel cold to the touch. When the affected skin warms up, it can look red, swollen, and be painful when touched.
  • Second-degree frostbite involves the development of skin blisters.
  • Third-degree frostbite (the most serious) will involve your dog’s skin turning black or dark blue. You will see a clear difference between frostbitten and undamaged skin.
  • Seek medical attention right away if you recognize signs of frostbite on your dog.

4. Pay attention to existing ailments. Existing ailments, such as arthritis, osteoporosis, and others, can be exacerbated by the cold. If your senior dog has been diagnosed with any of these, speak to your vet about any additional medications or treatments you should provide.

  • Watch out for symptoms of pain, such as limping, lying down more than usual, or yelping when touched.
  • Speak to your vet to discuss symptoms and treatment options.