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As the days get shorter and the temperatures drop, you will need to make plans for your pet's cold weather care.  Like you, your pet will be made uncomfortable by cold temperatures, and having to go out in wet conditions will only add to his discomfort.  If you have young animals or elderly pets, special measures may need to be taken to minimize the impact of extremely cold weather on these animals.  Young and old pets will have a hard time regulating their body temperatures and dramatic changes in temperature could lead to weather related illness or injury. 

As a general guideline, if the temperature falls below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, you should keep your pets inside.  If you have short-haired dogs, young puppies, cats or elderly pets, you should plan to keep them indoors if the temperature drops below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Ideally, your dog should be kept indoors during cold weather and he should be provided with a warm, dry, draft-free sleeping area away from windows and doors.  If possible, provide a raised sleeping area (off of the floor) for additional warmth.  Your pet will be safer inside and he will be much happier being close to his human family.  As I said above, ideally your pets will stay indoors during inclement weather (especially your Cockers!), but I know many people have outdoor pets or must leave their pets outside for periods of time.  Hopefully this article will provide useful information for people with indoor AND outdoor pets. 

Keep in mind that pet's can suffer from frostbite and hypothermia and, if your dog cannot be kept indoors (the best option), he will need adequate shelter from the elements.  If your dog is used to spending some part of the day outdoors, then he may just need access to a weather-proof dog house or other enclosure to protect him from wind, rain and/or snow while he is outside. 

You also must remember that it's not just the temperature that you need to worry about.  Wind-chill is a deadly complication of winter weather and is even more of a threat if your pet is wet.


To start with, don't forget to keep your dog current on heartworm preventative through the winter months.  Unless you live in a region that has consistent freezing temperatures through the winter, you will need to maintain a year-round preventive maintenance program for this mosquito-transmitted disease.   Generally speaking it's better and easier for most people to keep their pet on heartworm preventative year round.  This ensures that the owner never messes up and misses giving the dog a needed dose.  However, if you prefer to only give the medication to your dog as needed, you can base your dosing schedule on the weather in your area. 

The life-cycle of the heartworm needs at least 30 straight days of temperatures above 30 degrees before there is a risk of an infected mosquito being able to infect your dog.   So, as long as you dose your dog with the correct dose of heartworm preventative on the 29th day that temperatures have not fallen below 30 degrees Fahrenheit, your dog will be safe from heartworm infection.  


Your dog's weather-proof shelter (dog house or other enclosed structure) should be large enough for the dog to stand up, lie down and turn around comfortably.  However, it should not be so large that the dog's body heat cannot help heat the interior.  To ensure your dog stays warm and comfortable, the dog house should be small enough to help retain the dog's body heat.  If more than one dog will be expected to use this structure, be sure there is adequate space for all of the dogs to be comfortable, without crowding one another.  Crowded conditions could lead to a dominant dog (or dogs) refusing to share the shelter with dogs that are lower in the pack hierarchy.  If you're not sure there is enough room, or if you know you have a dominant dog that doesn't like to share his space, provide 2 or more houses to ensure adequate housing of multiple dogs.  For some unusual dog house/bed designs check out these websites: ,

Position all shelter opening(s) so that wind, rain and snow don't blow into the structure.  For added warmth, try adding cedar shavings or straw in the dog house.  I don't particularly care for this option with Cockers (unless your dog is clipped short) as both of these substances can get caught in long hair and may cause mats.  If you do use these products, remember to replenish the supply regularly as some will end up outside of the house when they stick to the dog and those in the house will get dirty and may end up damp or wet if your dog carries a lot of rain or snow into the house on his coat. 

For longer haired dogs, try putting old blankets in the dog house.  Quilted moving blankets are heavy duty, relatively inexpensive and work well.  Remember to wash the bedding frequently and check often to be sure the bedding is dry.  Another good option are the new outdoor dog beds.  These beds are made of an open-weave, vinyl mesh with non-absorbent bead fill.  They are weatherproof, odorless, durable and clean easily with a garden hose.  Many dog house manufacturers now make insulated pads for their houses, so this is another option for making your dog more comfortable.  You can also buy doors for many dog houses, which can help retain your dog's body heat, prevent moisture from blowing into the shelter and, overall, will help keep him warmer.

If you are unable to provide your outdoor dog with a separate shelter from the elements and you cannot bring him indoors, consider giving him access to a sleeping area in a garage, barn or storage shed.  Even a sheltered area under a porch would be better than nothing.  Anything that offers protection from the wind, rain and snow will help keep your pet healthier.  

For areas with consistently severe winter weather, or for young or old pets, or if you should be facing an uncharacteristically cold season in your area, you might consider installing a heated pet bed or pet heating pad in your dog's sleeping area.  These appliances can be equipped with thermostats for safety and generally have a built in regulator to keep the temperature at a consistent level. Be sure to protect the electrical cord when installing these so your pet can't be injured by chewing on the cord.  To avoid safety hazards, only use the recommended pads or covers for heated appliances.  Also, choose a size that leaves enough room in the dog house or shelter so that your pet can get completely off of the pad if he should get overheated.      

For indoor dogs, you may want to consider a doggy door.  This will assure that your dog can go outside when necessary, but he won't have to wait for you to let him come back in.  This can help keep him from getting chilled and will avoid situations where you might get busy after letting him out and forget to let him right back in.  This could also be a solution for dogs that have to stay outside because you're not able to be at home to let the dog in and out during the day.


You must provide fresh, clean water for your pet(s) daily.  Having water available is just as important in the winter as it is in the summer.  If your pet is not adequately hydrated, he will be more susceptible to getting chilled. 

If your dog spends a portion of his day outside and the weather is consistently below freezing in your area, you may need to check his water several times a day.  I recommend investing in a heated water bucket to assure that there is always water available for dogs that spend periods of time outside.  Be sure to replace metal bowls with plastic ones for the winter as your dog's tongue could freeze to a metal bowl if the temperature is well below freezing.


Your dog will need to eat more calories during cold weather to generate additional body heat to keep warm.  This increase will vary with the amount of exercise and time spent outdoors. 

Another caution about food here.  Holiday cooking and entertaining can create hazardous situations for your pet.  While it may be tempting to share your holiday dinner, this change in food combined with the rich trimmings can cause major intestinal distress.  Also, alcoholic beverages, candy (chocolate especially) and bones are major hazards that should be kept out of reach.  Remember to keep candy out of reach at Halloween too.  Another food related hazard is plastic six-pack beverage holders.  Small puppies can become entangled in them so be sure to cut them up before putting them into the trash. This will also help the birds and other wildlife at the landfill.


Earlier I mentioned giving your outdoor dog access to a sleeping area in the garage.  If you choose to do this, be aware that there are probably many items in your garage that are, or could be, hazardous to your pet.  If you choose to use your garage as a dog house, be sure to "dog proof" any areas that you will be allowing the dog to use. 

  • The first poisonous item you need to be aware of is antifreeze.  Antifreeze has an attractive smell and tastes very sweet to animals.  This product is highly toxic (often fatal) to pets, wildlife and children. When using this product, opt for new safer formulas made with propylene glycol (Sierra Antifreeze) and always check for, and immediately clean up, any spills.  Store antifreeze out of reach of pets and children.  Do not dispose of antifreeze in storm sewers or other areas that could impact humans or animals.  If there is any chance your pet could have been in contact with antifreeze, you should seek immediate veterinary care.  Irreversible damage can occur very quickly if even the smallest amount of antifreeze is ingested.
  • Most chemicals for melting ice and snow can be irritating to your pet's feet and can be poisonous if ingested.  If you must use chemicals to melt ice and snow, be sure to purchase pet safe alternatives (Safe Paw brand).  If you are unable to find pet safe brands, rinse your pet's feet when he comes indoors and wipe his legs and belly with a damp towel, being sure to remove all snow and ice from his feet and between the pads.  This will keep him from ingesting the chemicals if he should lick himself.


  • Halloween can be a scary and dangerous time for pets.  Other than the candy issue, you need to watch out for a couple of things.  First, repeated opening of the door for trick-or-treaters is a continuing invitation for your dog to escape out the front door.  If your dog is not 100% trustworthy with an open door, then the best advice is to lock him in his crate.  Keep in mind that even a trustworthy dog may feel the need to chase the "monsters" away from his home or to go exploring with all of the kids coming to visit.  Another reason that your pet may be better off in his crate for Halloween is that he might be confused and frightened by the costumes.  This could lead to someone being bitten if the dog is sufficiently scared or feels he or his family is seriously threatened.
  • Poisonous plants - Many plants that you bring in for the holidays are poisonous to your pet.  Christmas rose, holly & mistletoe are all toxic to your pet.  Keep these plants or decorations out of your pets reach.  Check out my Links page for information on other poisonous plants.
  • Holiday decorations - While the holidays are always more fun with bright lights and lots of decorations, these products can be very dangerous for your pet.  Electric cords, tinsel, glass ornaments, candles, spray on-snow (some are non-toxic, but you must read the label), ribbons, and plastic or foil wrapping can all be dangerous if chewed, eaten or licked by your pet.  To avoid problems, cover or hide extension or electric cords.  Keep your pet, especially playful puppies, away from the Christmas tree so he's not tempted to play with the ornaments or chew on the packages.  NEVER tie ribbons around your pet's neck or limbs! 


To help protect your pet from the elements and prevent him becoming chilled, you may want to invest in a doggy wardrobe.  This may sound silly, but sweaters, coats and boots can really help protect your dog from cold, wet, icy weather.  Sweaters and coats come in sizes to fit any dog and can help keep your dog warm and dry.  This is great for Cockers who tend to pick up snowballs and ice crystals in their fur when they go out in snowy conditions.  Instead of requiring a "thaw out" period and a session with the blow dryer upon your dog's return to the house, you just have to remove his coat and boots!  I prefer to find outfits with 4 legs in the winter (may be labeled as jogging suits, pajamas, etc.) to keep Cocker leg feathers from picking up snowballs.  At other times, a coat or sweater that has a chest and some amount of belly covering to help keep undercoat out of the wet grass may be enough coverage.  The best choice for your dog will depend on the amount of fur he has, the amount of time he may spend outside and the weather in your area.

The next fashion purchase for your pet's winter protection is a pair of boots.  You may think this is a little over the top, but your dog's paws are the first place he will suffer in wet, cold conditions.  Ice and snow can pack between your dog's foot pads and cause sever pain and even injury.  Snow and ice can sometimes mix with gravel, sand or other debris and, when packed between the pads, can bruise or injure the dog's foot.  Over exposure to snow and ice can cause cracking and bleeding of the pads and can make it horribly painful for your dog to walk.  So, as you can see, a pair of boots for your dog is not a frivolous purchase.  They will help keep your dog healthy and happy and may very well protect him from a very painful winter season.   You may also find additional uses for your dog's boots in other seasons as they can protect his feet from hot pavement on summer walks and if you go to the lake or hiking, they can protect his feet from sharp rocks or other rough terrain.

If it's snowy or icy and you have an emergency situation where your dog needs to go outside and you don't have his boots with him, you can spray his pads with cooking spray to help keep ice and snow from sticking.  Notice I said an emergency situation.  I don't recommend doing this regularly, but it can help protect his feet if you don't have his boots handy. 


You should never allow your pet(s) to roam off leash or out of their yard in snow or ice, and most especially not during a snowstorm or when bad weather is expected.  Dogs can easily become lost in snow or storms as the snow will affect their ability to trace and recognize familiar scents.  Be sure that your dog is always wearing identification tags when outside in the yard or on walks.  This will help insure that he is returned if he gets lost.  Another good option is to have your dog micro-chipped and enrolled in a recovery network.

Another situation that you should avoid with your pet is frozen water surfaces.  It may be funny to see Fido slip and slide on the pond or lake, but if the dog is unable to get adequate traction, he could be seriously injured by a fall.  Another concern with lakes and ponds is the dog breaking through the ice and falling into freezing water.  If your dog is allowed to have access to a frozen pond or lake when the surface is frozen, he may not recognize the danger later on when the ice is not so thick.

A situation that you should watch for during snowy weather is snow piling and drifting at the fence line.  A packed snowdrift is a great ramp that could provide a base for your dog to jump or climb over the fence.  Once out of his known environment, your dog could quickly become lost.   


Keeping your dog groomed regularly will help keep him properly insulated.  Matted fur will not properly protect your pet and will stay wet longer, which can cause serious skin problems and irritation.  If your pet stays wet, he will be more susceptible to wind-chill and cold temperatures and will be more likely to suffer frostbite.

Try not to shave your Cocker during cold months, but don't leave him so long he gets severely matted.  If you should have to take the fur short, use sweaters or coats to protect him until his coat grows back.   To help keep long hair from matting, you can trim the feathers into a "puppy cut".  This will leave a reasonable amount of coat to protect the dog, but the shorter coat won't drag the ground or be so long that it picks up all the yard debris, snow and ice.  In addition, the shorter coat will dry quicker.


First and foremost, let's repeat the warning to never leave your dog in the car unsupervised.  Your car can quickly become a refrigerator in cold weather and your pet could freeze in extreme temperatures.

If you are traveling with your pet during winter months, be sure and check the forecast for the areas where you will be traveling.  Be prepared for any conditions you might run into by packing cold weather necessities for your pet - a sweater or coat, boots, maybe a few towels for drying him off after exercising at rest stops.  

If you must ship your pet in cold weather, try to schedule flights for the warmest part of the day.  If one end or the other of the flight must be in cooler temperatures, the longest wait for the dog will usually be before boarding, so try to schedule this for the warmest temperature possible.  If shipping young or elderly pets and the dog must go through cold temperatures, you can add extra shredded newspaper (bedding material) or a padded crate rug and you can dress the dog in a sweater or coat for even more protection.  


Many of us love to have a fire burning in the fireplace on those long, cold winter nights, but you need to take some precautions to be sure your pet doesn't get injured when you have a fire going.   Be sure to use a screen around the fireplace to protect your pet and watch closely to be sure your pet doesn't get too curious and injure himself.  Watch your pet around portable and wall heaters as well, since portable heaters can ignite a fire if tipped over by a curious dog and any heater can cause severe burns if your pet should get too close.


Pets can suffer frostbite from prolonged exposure to cold and ice.  Your pet's hair may make it difficult to spot skin changes, so you need to watch closely for signs that your pet is uncomfortable.  If you suspect your dog has frostbite, you should contact your veterinarian immediately. 


  1. Blistered skin.
  2. Skin that turns pink and then a whitish color.
  3. Dogs with frostbite may show discomfort or have trouble walking.


  1. Remove your pet from the source of cold and get him into a warm place as quickly as possible.
  2. Immediately remove any ice and snow from the paws, including between the pads and any accumulation in the coat.
  3. Part the dog's hair and check for reddish, white or gray looking skin.
  4. Thaw slowly by applying warm, moist towels.  Change frequently.  Continue until affected skin appears flushed.
  5. Skin affected by advanced frostbite may be scaly or sloughing.
  6. Contact your veterinarian and discuss treatment as soon as possible.


Prevention is always the best cure, so keep the following list of suggestions in mind when planning your cold-weather canine adventures. 

  • When traveling with your dog, take your own heat source along.  For the car, you can invest in a heated pet bed with a cigarette lighter adapter.  There are also many types of small portable heaters available if you have a generator or will be someplace with electrical outlets.  Be sure the vehicle or living space is adequately ventilated when using gas heaters and always be sure the heater is in a stable location away from flammable materials.
  • If your pet will have to be outside somewhere, bring along a tent or tarp so that you can put his crate in the tent or behind a windbreak to minimize the chill.  Be sure to bring some stakes, ties and/or bungees to secure your tent or tarp.  A golf umbrella can also provide an emergency windbreak and is compact and easy to take along.
  • Bring along a gallon or several small containers of bottled water. Don't forget the water bowl!
  • Take towels or extra blankets along that can be used as additional bedding for your dog.
  • Check the hunting department at Wal-Mart for emergency hand and foot warmers.  These are inexpensive and can be slipped into the bedding of small pets to give them a few hours of portable heat.  These can get pretty hot, so be sure the packet is placed under one or two layers of material and leave an area where your dog can get completely off of the heat source.
  • Always keep a spare set of car keys on hand.  If you must stop along the way with your dog in the car, leave the vehicle running with the heater on, the windows slightly opened and the dog safe in his well-ventilated crate.
  • If you must leave your dog in a motor home or truck with a generator running, be sure and check the dog often and ask a neighbor or someone nearby to help you monitor the generator.  Consider purchasing a device that will alert you if your generator should malfunction or a temperature monitor that will sound an alarm if the temperature reaches a certain level.
  • If leaving animals in a motor home, van or truck, you should always leave a window or door slightly open or run the exhaust fan.  You should do this even if you have the generator and heater running.  Never leave your vehicle completely shut up.
  • Include a canine first aid kit in your emergency supplies.
  • Investigate the areas you will be traveling through or staying in and always know where the closest veterinarian or emergency clinic is located and keep these addresses, directions and phone numbers handy.


COLD TEMPERATURES KILL!!  Do not blindly trust mechanical devices (generators, vehicle engines and heaters) with your dog's life.  Mechanical devices can and do malfunction.  You, and you alone, are ultimately responsible for your dog's well-being and care.  The best prevention and the easiest way to ensure your dog is safe and sound is to never leave him unattended or unsupervised for any length of time. 

Do not trust others to monitor your dog's condition.  You know your dog and will recognize unusual behavior much sooner than a stranger.  In addition, do not expect children to monitor or be responsible for your pet's health.  Children are easily distracted and are not always capable of determining if a dog is acting normally or suffering from cold related distress.  Children and pets should always be supervised by an adult during cold-weather, outside activities or playtimes to assure that a dog does not over-exert itself and then, once the action stops, become chilled. 

If you have any questions or would like more information about our Cocker Spaniels,
E-Mail Me.    Thanks,


Copyright Sandcastle Kennels 2003-2011

Last revised: March 10, 2011