Winter Weather Wisdom for Dogs

For pets, winter can be hard. “Some pets, by nature, can stay outside for longer periods of time,” says Dr. Dirk Dekens, DVM, owner of Montgomery Village Veterinary Clinic & Dekens Housecall Services, and a member of the Kali’s Wish Cancer Foundation’s Panel of Experts. “Dogs with thick coats make them more resistant to the cold, whereas cats and small dogs can be much more sensitive. When they’re smaller and closer to the ground, they lose their body heat a lot faster.”

Dekens personally finds his two papillons, Chai and Cayenne (Cayenne is pictured below), can spend more time outdoors “if I keep them out of the deep snow; otherwise, they get colder quite a bit quicker than if they were on a cleared sidewalk.”

He recommends always keeping a close eye on your pet, no matter their species, breed, or the unpredictable weather of an Alberta winter.

“It varies from animal to animal, but – as a ground rule – I would be extra cautious with anything below minus -15 C. And certainly don’t leave them outside by themselves for long periods of time when the thermostat falls below zero,” he states. That way, “when you notice them start to shiver, if they stop walking, are holding up a paw or whimpering, you can recognize that they’re uncomfortable, take them inside, and warm them up.

Dr. Dekens’ dog Cayenne

“For smaller pets, you can pick them up and hold them under your jacket to share your own body heat. But you can also preempt this with boots and a sweater or jacket, which add an extra layer of insulation and helps them feel more comfortable and last longer in the cold.”

While some pet owners may scoff at putting booties on their 80lb pit bull terrier, for example, their thin fur leaves them exposed to the elements, and “because they’re walking on snow and ice, there are some injuries we might see more of as a result of that terrain – like paw pads getting cut on ice – regardless of the animal’s size.”

According to Dekens, other issues to be cautious of include:

  • damage from clumps of snow forming, which can solidify and get stuck in between their toes
  • aggravation of medical conditions like arthritis
  • dehydration
  • hypothermia
  • exposure to harsh chemicals like antifreeze and ice-melting salt
  • frostbite

Elderly pets, those with significant health issues, and the very young are at greater risk, Dekens adds, but emphasizes this doesn’t mean they can’t join in on the winter family fun.

“Pets are part of the family, and – dogs especially – can be part of many winter activities, whether enjoying a nice walk, chasing snowballs, or running alongside the kids while they’re sledding. Just being a dog,” he smiles.

If you have trouble determining when it’s too cold for your pet, Dekens offers this simple solution: “When in doubt, play it safe and take it inside.”

Do you have any other winter weather wisdom for dogs tips or tricks to share? Or questions for Dr. Dekens about pet health? Reach out to us today at!

The content on this website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.