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Is it safe to keep dogs outside in winter? You’d better follow these guidelines

Important tips on how to keep outside dogs warm in winter weather

As temperatures plummet this winter, you may find yourself bundling up in layers of jackets, blankets, and hats. Since many dogs have thick coats that insulate and give them weatherproof fur, they may not mind the cold.

Whatever the breed, it’s important to take some extra steps to keep your dog comfy and warm throughout the colder months — including being open to bringing them indoors. No matter how much a pup enjoys the cold, rain, or snow, no dog should be left outside during extreme weather conditions.

It’s important to know how to keep outside dogs warm in winter weather. Let’s discuss effective tips and tricks, including if and when it’s safe to let them brave the elements or if they need to spend the night inside with you.

A yellow Labrador sits inside their doghouse in the winter
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Can an outdoor dog stay outside in winter?

Whether a dog will stay safe and comfortable while outside in the winter depends on a variety of factors, including the temperature, the weather conditions (rain, snow, etc.), your dog’s fur, their individual preferences, and their outdoor setup.

For example, winters in Southern California can be mild enough for dogs to stay outside all winter, while a Minnesota winter is too much for most pups. An Alaskan malamute may barely notice the temperature change — they may even love the snow — while some chihuahuas wear sweaters year-round. Double-coated breeds or those with thick undercoats are best suited to cold weather, though no dog is invincible.

Legally, it can be considered neglect to leave a dog out in the cold for extended periods of time. So if you have to keep your pet outdoors, make sure to set them up with adequate shelter, food, water, and space. Keep reading to find out how to keep your beloved fur baby as cozy as possible while the winter rages on.

Goldendoodle puppy standing in the snow in a backyard by a chain-link fence
Image used with permission by copyright holder

How to keep outside dogs warm in winter

First things first, make sure your pup is healthy enough to spend time outside in the cold in the first place. Puppies, senior dogs, and those with preexisting medical conditions can be at greater risk for cold-related illness, including frostbite and hypothermia. These are a few of the conditions which can put a pet at risk, according to the AVMA:

If your dog seems up to the adventure, it’s time to set up their winter wonderland. Food and water are essential for their well-being, though keeping their water from freezing can be a challenge. A simple tool like a Styrofoam cooler, a tire, or even a ping-pong ball can be enough to keep their water in liquid form, according to the NCRAOA.

As for shelter, you have many options. You can insulate an existing dog house, install a heater, or invest in a heating pad. Even small changes like adding a flap on the doggy door can help keep heat in so that your pet can have a warm and cozy dog house of their own.

Your dog’s bedding can make a world of difference too, so don’t be afraid to splurge on something that they love. Not only will the fuzzy fabric keep them warm, but it will add an element of comfort and home to the outdoor space.

Whether they’re outside for a while or just for a potty break, some dogs need to wear a winter jacket. This may be after a trip to the groomer, when their fur is shorter, or all the time for short-haired breeds. Be sure to ask your vet and read up on whether your dog needs a coat for the winter — you can never be too safe.

An old hound dog wears a winter coat with the hood up
Szilvia Pap - Kutasi/Shutterstock

At what temperature should my dog come inside?

Though every dog has their own preference and personal limit, it will become immensely harder to keep your furry friend comfortable when the mercury dips below freezing. Not only do you run the risk of their water turning to ice, but you also may battle harsher conditions, like snow and sleet. Just like people, dogs can also succumb to hypothermia once the temperature drops too low.

Keep an eye on your pup anytime the thermometer reads 20 degrees Fahrenheit or below. If your dog seems at all anxious (pacing, whining, howling, etc.) or uncomfortable, you should consider updating their outdoor heating or bringing them inside.

Remember, your dog won’t necessarily love the winter weather just because they’re from a cold-friendly breed. On the other hand, your pup might be a snow-hound even if they belong to a traditional indoor breed. The best way you can answer the above questions is by paying attention to your individual dog and your best judgment. If you’re unsure about letting your pooch spend time outdoors this winter, ask your vet what they would recommend.

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Gabrielle LaFrank
Gabrielle LaFrank has written for sites such as Psych2Go, Elite Daily, and, currently, PawTracks. When she's not writing, you…
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