Dogs Outside in Cold Weather

A Shared Doghouse or Indoor Separate Crates are Best


I have two dogs, Zara with a built-in fur coat, very thick, and Luke, typical short hair, about 35 lbs and skinny. We have two doghouses. Is this enough protection for Luke the skinny nougins? They mostly are indoors at night, however once a week we go and stay at Grandma’s. I’ve been following the idea if its about 30 and up, he’s o.k., 29 or below, or if it actually snows or rains, and we have Grandma come here. What do you think?

Dr. Nichol:

Whatever the temperature, Luke and Zara are lucky to have you. Most dogs are adaptable to severe winter weather but they need to acclimate gradually. Being outside on occasional cold winter nights can make it hard -especially for Luke, that skinny nougins.


A snug communal doghouse would work better than separate quarters on those once weekly winter campouts; sharing body heat in a “den” is natural for dogs. Cuddling up to Zara should be all Luke needs-provided he’s healthy skinny. I bet he’s fine. We Americans are becoming a pretty portly bunch; what many folks consider skinny is actually normal. To put your mind at ease, ask your veterinarian to examine Luke.


All things considered, the safest winter shelter for your dogs would be indoors. You can protect your home from rambunctious behavior by crating them separately while you’re gone. That way nobody’s going to be jumping on the beds or raiding the fridge. If one wants to stay up late and read, the other could watch Jay Leno. Even Grandma will be happy.





The Basics of Caring for an Outdoor Dog


We have a golden retriever who sleeps outside. She has access to a doghouse with carpet, but she avoids it. At what temperature or wind chill is it better for her to bring her inside at night?


Dr. Nichol:

Dogs are truly den living creatures yet some might never use a doghouse. Your girl’s idea of a den may be a depression she has dug in the ground. She can retain heat better than a smaller dog because of her substantial body mass compared to her surface area. Add a thick retriever hair coat and you have a well-acclimated dog who enjoys her habitat. So how cold is too cold?


Visit her at night occasionally. If she isn’t shivering, she is probably OK. But remember that if she has arthritic joints she’ll be more painful in cold weather. A stiff, lethargic dog is sending a strong message: “Take me inside even if I refuse”.


Here are some outdoor dog basics: Provide a snug, draft-free doghouse whether your dog wants one or not; she needs a choice. Accessorize that house with washable, removable bedding. Life is better with clean sheets. Avoid sawdust and straw; they can harbor bacteria and cause urinary, vaginal, and skin infections. Give her a fresh bowl of warm water twice a day because a chunk of ice the size of a Frisbee is hard to swallow. And while a thick haircoat is great, matted hair is no kind of insulator. Professional grooming can help her stay warm and, hey, she’ll actually look pretty hot to the other dogs too. If she starts to limp or is slow to rise ask your veterinarian for help. It is our sworn oath to alleviate pain.


Finally, listen to your gut. There’s nothing wrong with inviting her in to share an eggnog and spend the night on your couch.






We have a golden retriever who regularly sleeps outside.  She has access to a dog house with carpet on its floor, but she avoids it. At what temperature or wind chill is it better to bring her inside?


Dr. Nichol:

I wish every outdoor pet had an owner who cared enough to ask. Each dog is different; generally a bigger body mass has an easier time staying warm. But rather than a simple temperature or wind chill threshold the answer has more to do with the individual.



It’s really about your dog’s comfort. If she is acclimated to cold weather, has a snug, draft free dog house and you visit her at night occasionally and she isn’t shivering, she’s probably OK. On the other hand, if she’s lethargic or stiff when getting up on a cold night, her body is sending you a strong message: “take me inside and call my doctor for some medicine to make my joints feel better.”



Arthritis is more painful in cold weather. If you are concerned, your fine dog should come inside to share a warm bath and a comfy bed. I say trust your gut.