How To Keep Your Older Dog Warm In The Cold

Some dogs were made for cold weather, naturally equipped with a dense undercoat to help insulate them; the Bernese Mountain Dog and the Alaskan Malamute are examples. Others, not so much. But older dogs of most persuasions have a tougher time staying warm in cold temperatures than do dogs in their prime. Here are a few simple strategies to help keep your aging pooch warm and cozy during the cold winter months.

Adjust Your Older Dog's Winter Habits

  • Come inside from the cold – Know your senior dog’s cold-weather threshold: spending more time indoors with your old gal may be called for, and if she normally lives outside it’s best to bring her inside for the season.
  • Keep trips outside brief – Dogs lose heat through their pads, respiratory tracts, and ears. Make your outings short, and try to limit your dog’s last nighttime trip outside to just a few moments to take care of business. Then get back indoors: it will take time for her to warm up again.
  • Dress her up – Put her in a warm dog jacket when you take her outside, but if she’s willing and your situation calls for it, let her wear it inside, too. She might also benefit from sleeping in a sweater and dog booties.

Quick Tip: A fleece-lined dog jacket will keep your dog even cozier when you take her out. And if her sweater or coat is machine dryable, toss it around in the dryer a few moments before you head outside. Your older dog will love the extra warmth.

  • Keep her dry – A wet dog jacket or sweater can actually make your dog colder. Keep more than one in rotation; she’ll need a dry one every time you take her outside. And use dog booties to protect her pads from the ice.
  • Avoid frozen ponds and lakes – These can prove deadly if she breaks through the ice. Learn to recognize symptoms of frostbite and hypothermia in dogs so you can deal with these dangerous conditions immediately if you observe them in her.

Change Your Older Dogs' Home Environment

  • Warm the house – Then consider changing your senior dog’s winter sleeping arrangements: move her dog bed to a warmer spot, away from doors, windows, vents, fans, and other drafts, and instead place it near a warm air source, for example a heating duct or even an appliance. Make sure she won’t overheat in her warm spot.
  • Put her bed on a carpeted floor if possible – Hardwood, tiled, and linoleum floors are cold, hard, and tough on a senior dog, especially if she suffers from arthritis: unforgiving floor surfaces can actually make it worse.
  • Elevate her bed – If you must place your senior dog’s bed on hardwood or tiles, raise it a couple of inches off the floor with stacked carpet squares, or folded towels or blankets.
  • Give her lots of sleeping options – Place beds in different spots around your house if you can, so your older dog can choose the most comfortable one at various points throughout the day; keep her dog beds on the first floor of your house if she struggles with stairs.
  • Don’t put her bed in the garage – Ditto the basement, the laundry room, or any other room without climate control. And NEVER allow an older dog to sleep outdoors in the cold.

Warm Up Your Older Dog’s Bed

  • Think cozy and softDog beds come in a wide array of materials and configurations, but your older dog will benefit most from an orthopedic memory foam dog bed. It will conform to her shape while continuing to support her joints.
  • Turn up the heat – Assuming your dog is well past the point of destructive chewing, a pet-safe heating element will convert any conventional dog bed to a heated bed, which will feel divine to her. A hot water bottle rolled in a towel or heating disks warmed in the microwave will achieve the same end. You can also set up a small space heater near your dog’s bed, taking care not to place it too close: always view any heat source as a potential fire hazard, and use extreme caution.

Top it off with a blanket – finish with a fleece blanket or throw placed on top of her bed for additional softness and warmth.

Quick Tip: Keep your older dog prepared for winter emergencies. Pack an emergency disaster kit for winter power outages; include an alternative heat source, and enough food, water, and routine meds for five days without power.

Adapt Your Older Dog’s Grooming Routine For Winter

  • No winter haircuts – Avoid trimming, cutting, or shaving your older dog’s hair in winter: it’s helping to insulate her against the cold. Keep her hair brushed and free of matting to help it repel water.
  • Draw her a warm bath – Always wash your dog indoors in the winter, and completely dry her before her next visit outside.
  • Give your pooch a pedicure – This is the one exception to the winter haircut rule: trim excess hair from her feet. Extra hair on your older dog’s feet will not provide any extra warmth and in fact can make her colder. Hair tends to trap ice and snow between the pads, which is not only cold, but can force them to splay open painfully. After you finish trimming, apply Vaseline® or paw wax to protect her pads.

Quick Tip: Take your older dog for a warm swim. Check for a heated indoor pool in your area (85° or so) where dogs are welcome. The warm water is therapeutic for her aged joints, and she’ll love the invigorating, non-weight-bearing fun.

Tolerance for cold varies widely among dogs and depends on a dog’s age, her coat thickness, stored body fat, and overall health. Dogs with diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, and hormonal imbalances (Cushing’s disease, for example) will have a tougher time regulating their body temperature and thus will struggle more in the extreme cold. And cold weather can be a big problem for diseased joints, causing pain and discomfort. Be sensitive to your aging dog’s particular needs and take steps to help her stay comfortable and warm during the long winter months.

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