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Big Dogs and Cold Weather: Winter Care Tips

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I’m sitting here on the day after Christmas, enjoying my coffee and watching my dogs romp around our snowy yard. I love watching my Danes play outside! Winter brings a magical blanket of snow, transforming our surroundings into a frosty wonderland. Big dogs and cold weather require thoughtful care to ensure their comfort and well-being during winter, but that doesn’t mean not ever playing outside!

For our large canine companions, the cold weather can pose some unique challenges. While it’s tempting to believe that dogs can tolerate the cold and ice because “they are animals and not humans”, we should not forget that our big furry babies have acclimated to indoor life.

Our dogs love the warm cozy fireplace, a soft bed, and access to safe, nutritious food.

Here’s a detailed guide on how to navigate the colder months with your gentle giant, without being a fur-mom!

Big dogs and cold weather

1. Big Dogs and Cold Weather: Know Your Dog’s Tolerance

Understanding your big dog’s tolerance for cold weather is a solid first step. Dogs, like people, vary in their sensitivity to temperature. Pay close attention to their behavior during outdoor activities. If you notice signs of discomfort such as shivering or attempting to lift their paws off the ground, it’s an indication that they may be too cold.

My terrier Jackson has a very low tolerance for the cold! At night, he sleeps under blankets. When he’s been in the snow I’ve found it helpful to snuggle him to stop the shivers. He loves to wear a hoodie, too!

Some dogs just aren’t built for the cold, and that’s ok! Big dogs with short fur may have a lower tolerance than giant breeds such as the Great Pyrenees.

You aren’t being a “fur mom” if you put your dog with a low cold tolerance into warm cold weather gear.

How Much Time Can a Big Dog Spend in the Snow?

Generally, a good rule of thumb is to limit outdoor exposure to around one hour if your dog tolerates that much.

For dogs, temperatures below 45 degrees Fahrenheit (7 degrees Celsius) are generally considered cold, and extra precautions, such as providing insulation or protective gear, may be necessary to ensure their comfort and well-being during outdoor activities.

Breeds with thick fur and insulating undercoats can often handle longer periods, while those more sensitive to the cold may benefit from shorter intervals.

We never advocate for leaving dogs out in the cold with no way to escape from it! They must be able to get off of the snow or cold ground and have access to an insulated space.

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2. Invest in Quality Winter Gear

As temperatures drop, the risk of discomfort, frostbite, and other cold-related issues increases for your canine companion. Adequate gear, such as insulated jackets and booties, protects your dog’s warmth and shields them from harsh elements like freezing temperatures, ice, and salt on pavements.

This investment enhances their physical comfort and contributes to their overall health, allowing for enjoyable outdoor activities without compromising their safety.

a. Dog Booties

Protect your dog’s paws from the harsh winter elements with durable booties. These are especially helpful if you walk your dog in areas with a lot of ice melt on the sidewalks (which can be harsh or even toxic for them).

Look for options with non-slip soles to prevent slips on icy surfaces. Gradually introduce your dog to wearing booties indoors before venturing outside to help them acclimate.

For dog shoes that fit big paws, we recommend looking into the Ruffwear Polar Trex Dog Boots which can fit a foot that is up to 3.5″ across. This is a luxury option with some solid features (Waterproof upper with a Vibram sole) so plan to spend some dough on these! Please note that Ruffwear sells these only in a 2-pack. If you want boots for all four paws, you’ll need to buy two sets.

For a more budget-friendly choice, consider Mutluks. These waterproof dog boots will fit giant breed paws up to 3.5″ and while still spendy, are less than half the price of the Ruffwear.

The Hipaw dog snow boots come up higher on the leg and fit paws up to 3.5″ in width. They are priced VERY reasonably and have some great features. This brand has mixed reviews but may be a great entry point when it comes to pricing.

I speak from experience in mentioning that a lot of very cheap dog shoes don’t stay on their paws. Take that info as you will when shopping on Amazon. There are a million choices and many of them are a waste of money. Read the reviews and be prepared to invest if you want something that will last more than a season.

b. Paw Protection Wax

Apply a pet-safe paw wax to create a protective barrier against ice, salt, and cold surfaces. This wax helps prevent dryness, cracking, and irritation, ensuring your dog’s paws stay healthy and comfortable.

Musher’s Secret was created for sled dogs!

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c. Insulated Dog Jackets

For big dogs, especially those with short fur or lower body fat, an insulated jacket provides an extra layer of warmth. Always monitor your dog when they are wearing jackets, as some dogs may overheat!

The Ruffwear Powder Hound dog jacket is our top pick for large dogs that are regularly outside playing in the snow. You can find it on Amazon HERE.

We also really like simple dog jackets like this Carhartt Duck Insulated coat that is designed for being out in the cold (but not necessarily the snow).

For chilly winter walks in the neighborhood, a fleece body suit will keep your pup cozy and warm.

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3. Adjust Their Diet

The winter season may require adjustments to your big dog’s diet. Colder temperatures mean they burn more calories to stay warm. Consult with your veterinarian to determine if your dog’s current diet needs modification to meet their increased energy requirements.

We recommend feeding large and giant breed foods, formulated for life stages (puppy, adult, senior) from legacy brands that meet WSAVA recommendations for formulation and manufacturing practices. Purina, Eukanuba, Hill’s, Iams, and Royal Canin are great choices!

4. Maintain a Regular Exercise Routine

While it might be tempting to stay indoors when temperatures drop, regular exercise is vital for your big dog’s physical and mental well-being. Consider adjusting your walking schedule to the warmer parts of the day and engage in indoor activities to keep them active.

5. Create a Warm, Cozy Space Indoors

Ensure your big dog has a warm and comfortable spot to rest indoors. Provide soft blankets and consider placing their bed away from drafts. This cozy space becomes a retreat where they can relax and stay warm during the colder nights.

6. Regular Grooming

Winter grooming is essential for maintaining your dog’s coat health. A clean, mat-free coat provides better insulation against the cold. However, be mindful not to over-bathe, as excessive washing can strip their skin of essential oils, leading to dryness and discomfort.

7. Watch for Signs of Hypothermia

Keep a close eye on your big dog for signs of hypothermia, such as shivering, lethargy, and weakness. If you observe any of these symptoms, it’s crucial to bring your dog indoors immediately and gradually warm them up. Use blankets and a warm, dry environment to help them recover.

Conclusion

By taking these winter care tips to heart, you can ensure that your big dog survives and thrives during the colder months. Quality winter gear, a balanced diet, regular exercise, and a warm indoor haven all contribute to a happy and healthy winter season for your gentle giant. Embrace the chilly adventures together, and enjoy the unique joys that winter brings you and your furry friend. Stay warm, stay safe!

Disclaimer: The information provided here is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. 

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