Protecting Pets from Severe Weather - are you ready for the 'beast from the east'?

Irene Hislop on 27 February 2018

While some of us happily share the sofa with our dogs, others have dogs who live outdoors. They might be working dogs on farms or pets who normally enjoy the freedom of an enclosed garden. But this cold is beyond what is safe for even heartier breeds, even those used to being outside all winter. This is an exceptional period, and it is important to keep our pets safe.


Bringing the Outside Dog Inside

Some owners may be concerned about bringing in a dog who is used to being outside. Will the dog become destructive without his usual freedom and entertainment? Will the house be wrecked? The answer is no, not if you take some precautions.
  • Before you bring your outside dog in, prepare a place for him. You do not have to give him free run of the house. It is fine to keep him in the kitchen, which is usually easier to clean than rooms with more soft furnishing and carpets. Set up a bed for him so he has a place to settle in. Make the boundaries clear to him as soon as he comes in. If you don’t want him in the sitting room, for example, do not let him in there at all.
  • Clean him off. Do not bathe him in this weather. It is simply too cold. But do brush him to remove loose fur and clean his paws. He may shed more than usual when he comes in as his body is not used to indoor temperatures. Brushing him once or twice a day will keep the furry dust bunnies at bay.
  • Expect that he will be confused about the rules at first. Praise him when he goes to his bed. Try to make some time to play with him, and remember to give him regular potty breaks to the garden.
  • Remember to secure space heaters, candles or anything else dangerous or breakable while your dog is in the house.
  • If he becomes destructive, resist the temptation to put him outside overnight. Instead, try to give him a couple of short walks during the day, provide some chew toys and play with him. If you need to confine him to a utility room or bathroom overnight to prevent destructive behaviour, that is much kinder – not to mention safer - than putting him out in the cold.
Dogs outside in extreme cold are at risk of developing hypothermia or frostbite. If your dog seems anxious, whines, appears weak or starts trying to burrow, suspect hypothermia and seek veterinary assistance urgently. Frostbite is hard to detect until it is too late and the animal is really suffering, but it is easy to prevent by keeping your pet indoors. This may sound extreme to some, but remember one family in Ireland lost their dog to cold before the worst of this weather system arrived.

Keeping Canines Comfortable in Extreme Cold

While movement does warm us up, extreme cold is not the time for a long walk with your dog. Shorter, more frequent walks are better so he doesn’t get too cold. Some dogs with thinner, finer coats and less body fat such as greyhounds, lurchers, whippets and other sighthounds should wear a dog coat when they go out in very cold temperatures. Older dogs and puppies are also more vulnerable to the cold.  They need some extra protection indoors too, such as extra bedding.
Winter brings some extra complexity to feeding your dog. If your dog is indoors most of the time, and you walk less in winter, he needs fewer calories. Your vet can advise if it is better for your individual dog to switch to a lower-calorie dog food or to simply eat less. However, if your dog is outside much of the day, he needs more calories. His body will burn more calories keeping warm.  It makes sense to increase the calorie intake of outdoor dogs during winter either with larger meals or more calorie-rich food. The important thing is to keep an eye on your dog’s weight. If he seems to be gaining or losing weight, you need to adjust his diet. Winter is not a time for your dog to pile on extra weight! That will cause health problems. Just ensure that he isn’t losing weight or suffering from the cold. And remember – if you are out stocking up on food for the cold snap, don’t forget the dog food.
Dogs are not so different from us. Young ones do enjoy the snow, but they should not be allowed to stay out too long in extreme cold. Older ones love to be at your side by the fire staying cosy. Our pet dogs may be the distant descendants of wolves, but they aren’t wild animals. They can’t tolerate the same conditions wild animals can. Their fur only protects them as much as your winter coat protects you. It isn’t adequate protection overnight for the kind of extreme cold expected in Ireland this week.
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