Pet Parenting: Out in the cold

Dear Denise,

We have outdoor dogs, but I worry about them when it starts to get cold. When should we bring them onto the sun porch for protection or do you have ideas for what we can do in their dog houses?

Dear Mama:

What and how you should handle cold weather depends on the kind of dogs you have. I’m assuming you have ‘hardy’ dogs or they wouldn’t be outdoor dogs in the first place. If they are elderly pets, I’d suggest a trip to the vet before winter comes just to evaluate their general health. Very young puppies, elderly and sick animals are much less equipped to handle the winter months. So make sure your dogs are in good health.

Once you are confident they can handle the winter months safely, I’d begin by winterizing the doghouses. If you have one house, it should big enough for both dogs. If they’ll share a space, they’ll be warmer. If they won’t or don’t share, then make sure both houses are comfy. You can add straw and/or cedar to provide warmth, insulation and repel bugs. I’d suggest using both. The straw will provide insulation and warmth, and the cedar will repel bugs. The other doghouse addition is a door. A simple piece of heavy plastic cut to fit should do the trick. You may need to teach them how to use it, but once they do it a couple of times, it should be okay.

If your pets are used to being outdoors, then their new and improved doghouses should work through most of the winter. However, when things get harsh, like snow, below freezing, etc. then it’s time to bring them onto the porch. If the porch is heated, then two nice beds should be fine. If not, add a small heater, elevated off the floor so the dogs can’t knock it over to provide additional warmth.

There are a few other things to be aware of during the winter months. If the temperatures drop below freezing, make sure to keep an eye on the water bowl. Your dogs will need access to fresh water at all times, so you may want to consider a heated dog bowl. Dogs will also eat more during winter months, so be sure you are providing enough of a good high quality food. Lastly, if your dogs have long fur, keep in mind that snow can stick to that fur and cause your dogs to be cold. Learn the signs of hypothermia and be prepared to react in an emergency.

Denise Holmes is a local pet behavior counselor who owns Ain’t Misbehavin’. She trains animals and also answers pet questions sent in by local moms for us here on nwaMotherlode. Denise has been training for 25 years and is passionate about pets. To send her a question, email it to: