Caring for your dog in winter

September 27th, 2013
dog care in winter

What do you need to know about caring for your dog in winter? Tim Falk answers the top 10 questions about how the winter months can affect your pooch.

Can dogs catch a cold?

As with humans, there are lots of different bacterial and viral agents that can cause upper respiratory tract infections. Most of these, however, are not transmissible between people and animals. “Many will have similar symptoms and may include nasal discharge, sneezing, lethargy etc. Some of these will cause coughing and are collectively known as Canine Cough,” says Dr Elise Vogt, senior veterinarian for animal welfare organisation Animal Aid. Canine Cough was previously known as Kennel Cough, but this name has been changed because many people previously thought dogs could only catch this cough in kennels.

The most common viruses and bacteria that cause Canine Cough are included in the C5 vaccine, and having this up to date each year will help to provide protection against upper respiratory tract infection. Aside from vaccination, healthy dogs tend to have healthy immune systems, so Dr Vogt says you should ensure that dogs are on a good-quality diet, at a healthy weight, protected against parasites and exercised regularly.

Are some dogs more susceptible to the effects of cold weather than others?

Slim dogs, such as Greyhounds and Whippets, are more susceptible to feeling the cold. Dogs which are unwell with other diseases, such as infections and fevers, may also feel the cold more than other pooches. “Dogs with hypothyroid disease (underproduction of thyroid hormone) will often feel the cold due to a slow metabolic rate and may seek out warmer areas,” says Dr Carly Cheung, a small animal veterinarian from Melbourne. “Small breeds of dogs, such as Miniature Poodles and Chihuahuas as well as small pups, will also need to be protected from the cold.”

Should my dog sleep inside during winter?

Dogs should have adequate protection from inclement weather conditions like rain and wind. “This may well mean inside for many dogs, but a good kennel in a sheltered position with warm bedding may be sufficient for healthy adult dogs,” Dr Vogt says.

Is it okay to walk my dog in the rain during winter?

It sure is. Rain itself is not a problem, as long as the dog is dried off adequately once you reach shelter and are no longer actively moving around. “Owners should use their common sense — a five-hour walk on a cold, rainy, windy day will likely result in their dog getting very cold, but a short walk in the rain with a good dry off afterwards will likely do little harm,” Dr Vogt explains.

Does my dog need a coat or jacket?

Whether your dog needs to wear a coat or jacket during winter very much depends on his breed. Some breeds, such as Malamutes and Huskies, are perfectly designed to cope with Arctic conditions and as such come equipped with their own built-in fluffy jackets.

“Dogs with short, thin coats and not much body fat to pad them out will be more likely to require a coat during the colder weather,” Dr Cheung says. “Dogs that spend a lot of time outdoors will obviously be more in need of a coat than a dog that spends most of its life indoors. Waterproof jackets are great for dogs that are inclined to stay out in the rain.”

Designed to provide an extra layer of insulation, doggy jackets help trap heat close to the body.

Should I groom my dog differently during winter?

Longer-haired breeds still require grooming during the colder months, however it is recommended that they get more of a winter-appropriate clip, which is more of a tidy-up clip compared to the more extensive clips that most dogs have in warmer weather. “It is important to not let your dog’s coat go ungroomed during the winter months, otherwise they are prone to matting, collection of burrs and the general discomfort associated with a poorly cared-for coat,” Dr Cheung says.

In addition, it’s best to avoid bathing unless absolutely necessary, and if you must, bathe in warm water and dry very thoroughly afterwards.

Why is arthritis more of a problem in winter?

Just like with people, the colder weather seems to emphasise the stiffness and inflammation associated with arthritic joint disease in dogs. A lack of exercise probably contributes to the problem as well. “Signs to watch out for which may indicate that a dog is suffering with arthritis include lameness in one or more limbs, stiffness, reluctance to jump, depression or grumpiness. Older dogs would benefit from a health assessment by a vet at the beginning of winter if there are any concerns,” Dr Vogt says.

Do dogs gain weight in winter?

Plenty of humans stack on a few kilos over the colder months, so is it normal for dogs to do the same? “Some dogs will gain weight during the winter, especially if they are not walked as frequently but still fed just as much (or more!),” Dr Cheung says. “In this case, it is more a reflection of the owner’s lifestyle than the dog’s predisposition to gaining weight during winter.”

Do I need to change my dog’s diet for winter?

If the exercise level is kept constant then no dietary changes are necessary. “If your dog is getting walked less because of inclement weather and shorter days, then reducing the amount of food fed or changing to a low-calorie diet over the winter months is advisable,” Dr Cheung says. “For older dogs suffering from arthritis, using a joint support diet is a great help. Alternatively, the diet can be supplemented with glucosamine/chondroitin sulfate/omega-3 fatty acid mixes to help promote better joint health.”

How else can I look after my dog during winter?

“All dogs should have warm, comfortable bedding in a location that is out of inclement weather conditions,” Dr Vogt says. “Try to keep exercising, even when the weather is bad — it will benefit you and your dog!”

And if any health problems do crop up, including upper respiratory tract infections or signs of arthritis, see your vet for help in making your dog’s winter as comfortable as possible.


Choosing the right bedding is vital to ensure your dog stays warm during winter. Warm blankets can create a snug environment, raised beds can keep your dog off cold tiles or concrete, and heated pet beds can help keep the stiffness out of joints.

Chase the sun

Loyal and loveable Jack Russell Terrier Chase lives in NSW’s New England region, residing some 1110 metres above sea level. Chase’s owner, Rebecca Mavin, employs a special winter regime to ensure Chase stays snug and warm.

“Chase is rugged at night with a waterproof Weatherbeeta fleece-lined rug from the end of April through to the end of May, and then an extra fleece rug is placed under his waterproof rug at night. During the day the waterproof rug is taken off, leaving the fleece,” she says. “As it can snow (the region received one foot of snow in October/November 2012) and temperatures can plummet to a whopping minus 11°C, we will bring Chase in with his kennel doona where he sleeps near the fireplace.”

And with his family contemplating moving to live in the Netherlands sometime in the future, Chase is lucky he has adapted well to the chilly conditions. “Living in the land of clogs, cheese and tulips with us, doggy snow boots will feature regularly on our walks,” Mavin says.

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