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Keeping Dogs Outside in Winter

↯ Key takeaway points

  • Dogs have different tolerance levels for cold weather based on factors such as breed, age, and coat type.
  • Exposure to cold temperatures can lead to serious health conditions such as frostbite and hypothermia in dogs.
  • Even northern dogs with thick coats can be at risk if kept outside in extreme cold temperatures.
  • Antifreeze and rock salt used to prevent ice can be toxic to dogs and cause skin irritation.
  • If dogs must be kept outside in winter, it's important to provide them with insulated shelter, appropriate bedding, warm clothing, and access to fresh water in heated bowls.
Written by Khalil
Khalil is passionate about all sorts of domesticated pets. They have written dozens of articles across the web.
Zoo and wildlife doctor in veterinary medicine passionate about animal welfare and preventive medicine.
Published on
Sunday 4 October 2020
Last updated on
Friday 30 June 2023
keeping dogs outside in winter
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We’re sure you must have seen at least one video of an adorable dog romping in the snow. And, for the most part, it’s true – dogs do love exploring the great outdoors. However, keeping dogs outside in winter is a whole different ball game for several reasons.

For one, letting your dog stay outside for too long can be dangerous. Because other animals could attack and harm your pet. Also, keeping dogs outdoors in winter can pose certain risks depending on their breed, age, and coat type, etc. If you want to learn more about what the hazards associated with letting your pooch out in the cold are, then you’ve landed the prize. Simply scroll down and discover all there is to know about dogs in cold weather.

Why is it bad to Keep Dogs Outside in Winter?

Some canines, especially cold-weather breeds, love spending time cavorting in the snow. These breeds have thick coats and furry paws that allow them to beat the cold. But, not all doggies are created equal. Some dogs are more vulnerable in chilly temperatures than others.

There are quite a few factors that need to be considered when it comes to gauging your dog’s threshold for the cold. For example, your pet’s size, age, coat type, and even underlying health conditions matter. If your pet is a small breed dog and between 12-13 years of age, then you’d want to keep it indoors in winter.

Ordinarily, most dogs are okay to be outside at 45 degrees F (7.2°C). However, at this point, your pooch may start to feel the cold and may want to seek shelter. At 32 degrees F (0°C), you should keep your canine indoors if its a senior, a small breed dog, or has a pre-existing health condition.

Finally, at 20 degrees F (-6°C) you should make sure not to leave your pet outside for more than a few minutes. If you leave your pet out for long in minus temperatures, it can develop serious health conditions. Here’s what a few of them are:


In dogs, frostbite can occur at temperatures around -5 degrees Celsius in dogs. Instead of regular blood flow circulating throughout your dog’s body, the blood circulates the core. Hence, the exposed areas such as the paws, ear tips, or tail are left vulnerable.

The symptoms of frostbite aren’t always visible. But, frostbite is exceedingly painful. At times, the symptoms may develop after days of exposure. There are a couple of things that can give a clear indication of frostbite. If you gently touch your dog’s paw, but they wince with pain or hesitate to put weight on a sore area of the paws after a walk in the cold, then you can be fairly certain of frostbite. Other obvious signs include:

  • Bluish discoloration of the affected area
  • Blisters or ulcers on the skin
  • blackened or dead skin
  • The affected area is cold or brittle to touch

Northern dogs have a naturally thick coat of fur and are more acclimated to the harsh cold temperature. But, keeping your dogs outside in a kennel in extremities can have adverse effects. Thus, you should keep your furry friends indoors if the weather takes a turn for the worse. And, if you must take them out for potty or play, then make sure to dab with paws dry with a warm cloth once you get back indoors.


Keeping your dog outside in the winter when the temperature falls below zero can have multiple health risks. Hypothermia is a medical condition that happens when the core temperature of your dog is considerably lower than the normal range. Several reasons such as having a wet coat, prolonged exposure to cold temperature, preexisting medical conditions, less fur or even being a smaller breed, may precipitate hypothermia.

The most evident signs of hypothermia are shivering or trembling, excessive thirst, loss of coordination, and a low respiratory rate. But, you may also notice that your dog has dilated pupils, pale gums, and a low heart rate.

hypothermia in dogs
Beware of the risk of hypothermia in dogs during winter.

Altered Metabolism

Research has shown that even breeds such as Huskies or Samoyeds tend to consume more food, and put on little weight during the winter seasons. Yet, the same trends were visible in breeds such as the Beagles. It was, thus, concluded that the harsh cold temperatures required a change in the metabolic system to provide for the necessary insulation.

Therefore, it is likely that your dog will eat more food during the wintertime. But, your canine buddy is burning up more calories to stay warm. So, you need not worry about any unhealthy weight gain.

Skin Irritation And Exposure To Toxins

Now, it is a well-known fact that antifreeze and rock salt is often used to prevent slippery ice. But, the toxins in antifreeze and the sodium chloride in rock salt can cause intense irritation to your four-legged friend’s paws and pads. Then, there is also the risk of sharp-ice shards or metals concealed by the snow, which may cause severe damage to your pet’s feet.

The best solution for such precarious situations is to get a pair of rubber booties for your dog. Just remember not to make your doggo wear booties for long hours. Booties for dogs too can cause skin problems.

Unseen Hazards

Unfortunately, the unseen hazards for dogs associated with extremely cold temperatures are abundant. Letting your dog out for a walk means that you need to careful that your pet doesn’t run off and wind up over a frozen pond. Moreover, dogs tend to become disoriented when the snowy environment prevents the recognition of familiar landmarks.

If your best pal is cold, it’s going to let you know through barking. This usually results in angry neighbors. And in many rural locales, the insistent barking of your best bud may lure a nearby predator. Encounters with wild animals don’t mean death for your dog. But no one wants to see their pooches get hurt. Thus, it’s all about keeping your guard up around the snowy weather, to keep your pets safe from any harm.

Now, it’s kind of easy to guess the simplest way to protect your dogs in winter is to keep them in the house. But, it isn’t a possibility for all pet-parents to do that. Even, if they do adore their furry friends. However, there is no need to despair as it is possible to safeguard the well-being of your canines while outside in winters. Read on to find out.

How to Take Care of your Dog While Outside in Winters?

As we mentioned earlier, if you cannot have your canines living indoors during winters, you need not believe that there is nothing you can do to help them out. There are plenty of measures that you may carry out to ensure your dog’s safety and comfort, even outdoors.


Outdoor dogs in winter need proper care and comfort. The best way to make sure that your furry pal is safe from the harsh cold is to keep their dog houses, or kennels, well insulated. Take caution not to overheat their environment, though. Try and secure the doorway of the kennel or dog house properly to keep the inside of your canine’s living quarters warm.

Also, if you want to be certain that the floor of the kennel is warm, you can elevate the flooring. If the floor is covered with filling or straw, then it’s likely that the dog will be protected from the freezing floor. Wood shavings from cedar and pine make the perfect filling for kennel floors. They are environmentally safe, control odor, and absorb moisture too.


When keeping dogs outside in winter, there are several options available for dog bedding. The ideal choice is to go for something that is most suited for your dog. The first thing to do is to observe the sleeping style of your dog. Also consider the amount your pet sheds and whether your dog will be living outdoors or not.

Moreover, you must bring into account the size of your dog as well as its age. Getting in touch with your local vet to discuss the various choices may help you make a perfect choice. There are orthopedic dog beds in the market to provide comfort for older dogs. Similarly, if your pooch is still a pup, then you ought to go for something smaller in size, so your dog feels well-cushioned and cozy. On the flip side, if your dog is outside, then going for a foam dog bed that can be fitted inside the kennel, with washable covers is a good idea. You can clean it as often as you like, it provides solid support, and also lasts the longest.

Suitable Clothing

In winters you layer your clothes to yourself to keep warm. The same holds for your pooch, particularly if your dog doesn’t have a very thick coat. So, get your pet some extra sweaters for the cold weather. Never forget to layer them with extra clothing when they head outside. And it’s also smart to get your pooch some warm, anti-slip booties to keep their paws comfortable too.

Also, it’s essential to acclimate your dog to the change in weather, at a slow pace. Therefore, if your pet lives indoors, keep them warm in the house. And, only allow them outside for a short period of time. However, if your pet is stationed outside, make sure they are warm in their kennels, and let them go out only for the exercise or to relieve themselves. But then it’s also vital that you spend time with your pet so that they don’t feel isolated.


It may not be necessary to feed your dog extra nutritional meals in the snowy season. But they do tend to consume more than summers as they are burning up their calories to generate more body heat. So, you may want to feed them a tad bit more than usual.

Dogs that live outside may need heating bowls, especially in very cold weather. It’s necessary to keep dogs hydrated, even during winters. But, if the water keeps freezing in the water bowl, then you have a problem on your hands. This is where a heating bowl proves to be critical.


In the winter season, it’s unlikely that you can check on your dogs every fifteen minutes or so. So, to make sure your pets are protected while outside in winters, it’s smart to have them fenced. That’ll keep the wild animals away and refrain your pooches from running wild too.

Many new pet parents find it nerve-wracking to deal with shifts in the weather. There is far too much stress involved in ensuring your dog’s well-being. But, as important as the issue is, it’s also fairly easy to deal with. All you need to do is to get in touch with the vet to figure out the way to keep your furry friend comfortable. And, a little research on the net about how to keep dogs outside in a kennel will also assist you in your endeavors.

How Cold Is Too Cold For Your Dog?

Many people want to know at what temperatures can a dog stay outside? As much as it is necessary to prepare for your pooch’s welfare during the cold season, it is also essential to understand that all dogs react differently to various situations. That means you’ll see Northern breeds deal tolerably well in colder temperatures. But, if you risk a smaller breed with the same temperature, they may not respond well.

So, let’s take a look at the varying threshold of cold tolerance for different-sized dogs in cold weather. This will help you understand whether or not you can keep your dog outside in winter.

Small Dog Breeds

Smaller dogs tend to be more susceptible to weather changes. So, breeds like the Maltese or Chihuahua don’t do too well in too much heat either. But when we talk about the cooler temperatures, then we see that the Beagles or the Corgi do alright around 65-45 degrees F.

But if the temperature drops further, then your Pomeranian or Yorkshire Terrier better be huddled up indoors. 35-25 degrees F is cause for concern when it comes to the little pooches. And if the temperature is anywhere close to 20 degrees F, then it is a life-threatening environment for your small canine, and it’s better not to keep your dog out in winter.

Medium-Sized Dog Breeds

There are quite a few medium-sized Northern dog breeds such as the Siberian Husky or the Northern Inuit that do okay in relatively colder temperatures. But not all medium-sized dogs have a double coat such as the Pitbull. Thus, if you are in temperatures close to 25-20 degrees F, you ought to take precautions.

But most medium-sized dogs adapt better than small dog breeds in winters. So, if you want to be extra careful, you can keep your furry friend indoors and gradually increase the amount of time it spends outdoors. And, if you hit 20-15 degrees F, then that’s the danger zone for your buddy.

medium sized dogs in winter
Medium-sized dogs can handle the cold winter better than small-sized dogs.

Large Dog Breeds

Saint Bernard, Irish Wolfhound, and Leonberger are some of the large breed dogs. And most of the larger breed of dogs do have double coats. They are even reasonably acclimated to cooler temperatures. But the larger the dog, the bigger the health problems. You’ll find Great Danes that suffer from joint pains, and English Mastiffs that have immune-mediated polyarthritis.

Yet, vets around the world believe that large breeds fare better in cooler temperatures. They have more body mass, hence, more natural insulation. Also, the large breeds tend to salivate and shed less in colder temperatures. However, the moment temperatures drop below 30-20 degrees F, you may want to reconsider keeping your best bud out for too long.

Keeping Dogs Outside in Winter – FAQ

Before you go, make sure to check out our compilation of popular winter-related doggo FAQs. You’ll not regret it, we promise.

Is it cruel to keep your dog outside?

Many people prefer to keep their dogs outside and that may or may not be cruel depending on the facilities that you provide your dog and the outside conditions including the climate. If you offer your dog with ample food, a nice place to sleep, shelter, human and animal interaction and safety, then it’s surely not cruel to keep your dog outside.
However, it is true that dogs actively seek companionship, relish their time spent with their human family, and become even more tuned to their parent’s needs. And experts believe that dogs that spend time outdoors or isolated, tend to show more territorial aggression than indoor dogs.

How can I keep my outside dog warm in winter?

Use bed warmers for your dog along with heating bowls to keep the water, or their meal from freezing. Special wood shavings for kennel floors that keep the kennel warm and odorless are also available. You can even find heated dog toys, snowsuits, or snoods for your dogs. And if you want your canine out of snow, but want to keep the kennel clean, then you can make use of potty patches.

There are circumstances where pet-parents are forced to keep their pets outside due to their lack of living space or medical conditions. But there are many ways to make certain that your dog is warm, even if it is outside in winter.

Can a dog freeze to death outside?

It has known to happen that dogs left outdoors for too long have frozen to death, even when the weather isn’t too harsh. You see, smaller dogs just aren’t equipped to deal with cold weather, and they don’t have enough body mass to keep them insulated. So, if your dog is small or medium-sized, or their coat has been wet and they have been exposed to temperatures lower than 30 degrees F, then they may die of hypothermia or can freeze to death. This is true even for dogs that can live outside.

Should dogs sleep inside or outside?

If the weather outside is cold, then your pet should remain indoors. But if you can’t do that for whatever reason, then you need to make certain that your pooch is warm and comfortable in its kennel outside. A raised dog bed, heated pad, and thick blankets can all ensure that your pet will not suffer due to the drop in temperature.

However, certain temperatures simply do not allow for pets to be out in the open. In such circumstances, you better keep your pet close to you rather than risk its health in any way. For instance, at 20 degrees F or colder, keeping dogs outside in the winter isn’t advised. In such temperatures, your pet should not go outside for more than a few minutes, regardless of its size, coat, or preexisting health problems.

You need to make sure that your dog is warm and comfortable if you are going to be keeping them outside in winter. Do not compromise here, they will need the best to be happy and healthy in this environment.

One comment on “Keeping Dogs Outside in Winter”

  1. Lisa Daniels

    Hi there, I agree that not all doggies are created equal. Some dogs are more vulnerable in chilly temperatures than others like puppies, older dogs, and ill dogs. I have a shih tzu puppy and since winter is approaching really fast I think I have to buy her some extra coats too.

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