How to Keep Your Older Dog Warm in the Cold

Close-up on a older black dog with white face fur and warm brown eyes.

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 in general 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 senior dog warm and cozy during the cold winter months.

A golden retriever stands on a rocky shore next to a river in winter

Adjust Outdoor Habits

  • Keep trips outside brief—Dogs lose heat through their pads, respiratory tracts, and ears, limit heat loss by keeping outings short.
  • Add a layer—A warm dog jacket and/or booties help take off the chill outside. If your dog enjoys it, let them wear it inside, too. 
  • Keep her dry—A wet dog jacket or sweater can make your dog colder. Keep more than one in rotation; your dog will need a dry one every time they go outside. 
  • Avoid frozen ponds and lakes—Your dog may love water in warmer months but keep your dog away from ice; if they break through it can get dangerous quickly. 

Tip: Learn to recognize symptoms of frostbite and hypothermia in dogs as a precaution.

A yellow lab sprawled out on a gray bolstered dog bed in a room with lots of house plants

Keep Your Dog Cozy at Home

  • Sleep soundly—Make sure your dog’s bed is in a comfortably warm, draft-free spot.
  • A soft landing—Consider moving your dog’s bed to a carpeted spot. Hardwood, tiled, and linoleum floors are cold and hard, and unforgiving floor surfaces can exacerbate arthritis.
  • Elevate bedtime—If you don’t have a carpeted area for your dog’s bed, raise it a couple of inches off the floor with stacked carpet squares, folded towels, or blankets.
  • Keep their options open—Place beds in different spots around your house, so your older dog can choose the most comfortable one at various points throughout the day. Keep dog beds on the first floor of your house if your dog struggles with stairs.
  • Warm, dry, and insulated—Don’t let your senior dog sleep in the garage, the basement, the laundry room, outdoors, or any other place without climate control.
A brown dog sleeping on a khaki platform bed with a dog blanket on top

Their Best Rest

  • Think cozy and soft—Dog beds come in a wide array of materials and configurations, but your older dog will benefit most from an orthopedic memory foam dog bed that supports their joints and alleviates pressure points.
  • Turn up the heat—If your dog is not a destructive chewer, a pet-safe heating element will convert any dog bed to a heated bed, helping relax muscles and joints. A hot water bottle rolled in a towel or heating disks warmed in the microwave work, too. 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 caution
  • Top it off with a blanket—add a fleece blanket or throw it on top of your dog’s bed for additional softness and warmth.

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.

An older dog walking in a field during winter with snow on its beard

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 helps insulate your pup. Keep their coat brushed and matt-free to help it repel water.
  • Draw a warm bath—Always wash your dog indoors in the winter, and completely dry them before taking them outside.
  • Neat feet—The exception to the winter haircut rule: trim excess hair from your dog’s feet. Extra hair on your older dog’s feet 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 a paw wax or balm to protect their pads.

Tip: Take your water-loving 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 aging joints, and it’s a great way to stay active if freezing temps are keeping your dog indoors. 

Tolerance for cold varies widely among dogs and depends on a dog’s age, coat, stored body fat, and overall health. Dogs with diabetes, heart or kidney disease, and hormonal imbalances (Cushing’s disease, for example) will have a tougher time regulating their body temperature and struggle more in the extreme cold. And cold weather can be a problem for arthritic joints, causing pain and discomfort. With a little care and some seasonal adjustments, you can help your aging dog stay warm and comfortable all winter long.

A woman bending down playing with her dog in a warm winter coat

How to Protect Your Dog from the Cold

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