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December 2023

How to Care for Dogs in Winter


Winter isn’t for everyone. The weather outside can be dreary and difficult for your elaborate weekend plans. For dogs, it’s just another month with their best friends. However, as a dog parent, you do need to have a little extra awareness of how your four-legged friend is managing on colder days.

Here’s how to care for dogs in winter based on some of your most common queries. Plus, some additional quick tips! First, PETstock VET, Dr Kathy Macmillan answers your most common questions.

Common Winter Care Questions for Dogs

Q: Should dogs wear clothes in winter?

Short answer? It depends on your dog and the environment at the time. Many dogs with thick coats remain nice and cosy even on very cold days. Some short-haired breeds, such as whippets, for example, are not so fortunate and will appreciate (and sometimes need) the extra warmth of dog clothes during the winter.

Some older dogs, particularly those with arthritis, also benefit from an extra layer of warmth in the winter. Even if your dog has never required additional warmth from clothing or coats in their youth, it doesn’t mean they won’t as they age, so it’s important to remember that your dog’s needs may change over time.

If in doubt, listen to your dog. If they stand hunched and shivering, then a jacket or jumper is worth trying. However, you can also keep your dog warm in other ways too, such as with a blanket or by bringing them inside and letting them lie in front of the fire or heater.

Looking for the right dog clothes for your pup? There are so many jackets, jumpers, and knits available – so finding the correct level of warmth and style is in your hands.

Q: How to exercise your dog in the winter?

Get moving! Winter is the perfect time for exercise as your dog is less likely to overheat than in summer. Whether it’s a long run, walk or games of fetch, your dog will feel more comfortable running around in winter than they would doing the same activity in the heat.

Consider active dog sports, such as agility, flyball, lure racing, and dog sledding. Not only are dog sports an excellent opportunity to bond with your dog, but you will also meet a lot of like-minded dog owners – bonus!

If your dog enjoys swimming, you don’t need to avoid that in winter either. Just make sure you have plenty of towels handy before they jump back in the car or inside the house. However, if the water is icy cold and your dog feels the cold quite a bit (you know your dog best), then you’ll need to make a judgement call.

What about some inside activities? If it’s pouring outside and you want to give your dog some mental stimulation bring out the food puzzles, long-lasting treats, and interactive toys. Sometimes, thinking and solving problems is just as enriching as outdoor time.

Q: Dogs with itchy skin in winter – is it a common occurrence?

Winter usually provides an easing of itchiness in dogs with skin conditions. Skin issues are less common over the cooler months when pollens and other allergens are fewer.

However, if your dog continues to scratch excessively and develops rashes over winter, it’s essential to speak to your vet for a diagnosis. Dogs with food allergies will continue to feel itchy and scratch during the cooling months, similarly for dogs with allergies to dust mites – especially if living in a house with ducted heating.

Dogs who spend a lot of time walking outside on wet grass can sometimes develop an itchy infection in their feet, known as pododermatitis. So, if your dog is walking on damp grass a lot, make sure you dry your dog’s feet after walks.

Similarly, do dogs get dry skin in winter?

Dogs should not develop dry skin as the result of cooler weather, as their skin contains many sebaceous glands that produce protective oils. These oils are very important, which is why it’s advised you should not bath your dog too often, as it can strip away this protective layer.

If you think your dog’s skin is looking dry, inflamed or abnormal, it might be sign of a skin condition or even underlying health problems. Make sure you visit your vet so it can be checked out.

Q: Do dogs get fleas and ticks during the winter?

Definitely! The flea cycle slows down with the cooler temperatures, so it will take longer for the numbers to build up – but if your pet lives in a heated house, there is no real such thing as a flea “off-season”.

It’s best to keep flea treatments up to date throughout winter to ensure there is no opportunity for fleas to breed – otherwise, numbers are likely to rise in spring.

Q: Does dog shedding occur in winter?

Dogs who spend more time outside tend to shed less over winter, as they will shed more when the seasons change during spring and autumn. However, most dogs are now indoor dwellers exposed to a heated home, so will shed all year round.

For those dogs who don’t shed as much as others, it’s tempting to allow their fur to grow longer to keep them warm over winter. However, longer coats are prone to uncomfortable matting and stay wet for longer – so you must keep up your regular grooming routine and appointments.

What are the best grooming tools and accessories? Every dog has a unique coat, so you should purchase grooming equipment, brushes, and tools specific to your dog’s needs. A de-shedding brush is perfect for breeds that shed more than others.

Q: Do older dogs need additional care in winter?

You may have heard people complain about being 'chilled to the bone' in icy weather, and older pets might describe something similar if they could talk to us.

As pets grow older, they are more likely to suffer from arthritic changes in their joints, which become more uncomfortable in colder temperatures. Larger breeds are most affected, but even small breeds and younger dogs can suffer from osteoarthritis.

To help your arthritic pet be as comfortable as possible over the winter months, provide thick, well-padded, insulated bedding and keep your dog warm by keeping them inside, particularly at night or during wet weather.

Numerous food supplements for arthritic pets are designed to help your dog be as comfortable as possible over winter. These include glucosamine, epiitalis, omega three fatty acids, turmeric, rosehip, and hemp oil, which may help reduce arthritis. However, if your dog is still struggling despite adding supplements to their diet, it is worth a trip to the vet to discuss a comprehensive arthritis management plan.

Learn more about arthritis in dogs.

Quick Tips and Advice on How to Take Care of Dogs in Winter

  • Invest in a coat – if they need it
    While not all dog’s need a coat, it’s always good to have one handy for colder days. Think lightweight knits, hardy outdoor jackets and weatherproof options – there is something for every dog and environment. Furthermore, if you have a sighthound breed, you’ll be amazed at the selection of winter clothing and coats available; have you heard of snoods?

  • Assess your dog’s bedding
    If your dog sleeps in colder areas of the house, review your bedding options to ensure they remain warm at night during winter. Provide raised beds for insulation, extra blankets they can snuggle with and ensure their bed is away from cold drafts – especially for newborn and elderly dogs.

  • Modify indoor and outdoor time
    If your dog feels the cold quite a bit, adjust their time spent outdoors, where possible, to daytime when the sun is out and the temperature a little warmer rather than early morning or late evening. A handy hint is to go out with them, and when you're ready to come in, they will be too. During winter, do not leave pets outdoors for long periods without adequate insulated shelter.

  • Ensure heater protection
    Dogs will often seek heat during winter and rest close to heating sources. Make sure open fireplaces and space heaters have protective covers so you can avoid overheating and potential burns. Regularly service gas heaters and appliances in the home to minimise the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

  • Maintain appropriate feeding portions
    Be sure to monitor your dog’s food intake energy levels and keep a close eye on their weight during the colder months. Some dogs may be less active during winter, sleeping indoors, requiring fewer calories to avoid weight gain. Alternatively, dogs who spend a lot of time outdoors during winter may need increased food due to higher energy expenditure.