Winter Tips for Dogs

I am a St Bernard, and I LOVE winter. Snow, slush and ice rocks my world, but winter is not for every dog as much as warm summers are tough on me. I’ve heard humans say ridiculous things like “dogs do not need coats”, or “dogs do not get cold”. This is preposterous. As much as we get hot, we get cold too– and how well we tolerate cold climates depends on our body size, coat type, health condition, and age. Here are my tips on how to keep your dog comfortable in tough, NYC winters.  

First, know your dog’s fur type:  

Double coats consists of two layers of fur. It’s a combination of undercoat, which is a soft, fuzzy layer that insulates us from the cold, and a coarse top coat that protects us from rain, wind and dirt.  As a general rule of thumb, dogs with long double coats, such as Collies, Chows, Huskies, Newfoundlands, St Bernards, German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers have high tolerance for cold climates. This does not mean we should live outside without protection from the elements.  It means we enjoy the outdoors in the winter, but not for an extended duration.

Smooth coats are short haired dogs like Boxers, Chihuahuas and bull breeds.  They are the least tolerant of the cold, although some smooth coated dogs such as Labradors enjoy cold weather for short durations. 

Hair coat dogs such as Yorkshire Terriers, Poodles or Maltese have the ability to grow length in their hair, but since they are not insulated from undercoats, they are about as cold as humans wearing a light sweater in 32 degree weather.  

What is your dog’s age and health?:  

The cold climate is tough on young puppies because puppy fur is light and less protective, and it’s also their first exposure to winter.  Winter is also tough on geriatric dogs with joint issues or illnesses, and the lesser body fat they have, the colder he is.

How big is your dog?:  

A toy or small breed dog is less tolerant of the cold than a large breed.  Little guys are low to the ground and are affected by snow, puddles, salts and ice on the ground.

What can you do to make winter comfortable for your dog?

  • NYC pavements are covered in salts to prevent pedestrians from slipping on ice, but walking on salts are uncomfortable for dogs.  Carry a small dry towel with you during the walks, and if you see us limping, shake the salt off our paws with the towel.
  • Apply paw protective creams such as vaseline or udder cream. Booties are available to protect our paws, but most dogs do not enjoy tight coverage on their feet.  If using booties, make sure that the fit is appropriate.  
  • Wash our paws after a walk to remove salts and snow balls that have formed between our toes.  If you have a small dog, you can put him in the kitchen sink and rinse their paws with warm water.  For large dogs, place him in the tub to rinse their legs, or place his paws in a warm bowl of water to remove the salts. If you have a puppy, start this process early so they are used to this process.  For quick walks, a quick wipe with a warm, wet towel or wipes should be sufficient.  
  • Signs of whether your dog is uncomfortable in the cold are: shivering, whining, and anxiety.  Just like humans, dogs benefit from layers.  Bundle up your dog with a thin base layer and a thicker outer layer that protects their body from the elements.  My 16 year old terrier mix brother wears a thin wool sweater as a base layer and a down jacket which allows him to enjoy hiking in the snow as much as I do.
  • Exposure to winter’s dry, cold air can cause chapped nose, paws and itchy skin.  Supplement their diet with fish oils.  Apply balms made of bee’s wax, coconut oil or lanolin to prevent our nose from cracking.  
  • Provide a warm, comfy sleeping area, but away from vents and heat sources. If the air is dry, moisten the air with humidifiers.  Provide plenty of fresh water to prevent dehydration.