A dog sits outside during winter.

How to Make a Comfortable Outdoor Area for Pets in the Winter

While the warm months are filled with lots of time spent in the sunshine, getting outside can be tough in the winter. Even with a backyard for your furry friend to play in, the cold temperatures and inclement weather make it tough to stay outside.

If you still want to enjoy your outdoor area with your pet, here are a few ideas to make the outside more comfortable for them.

1. Create Outdoor Shelters for Your Pets

Having a shelter in your backyard or outdoor area gives your pet somewhere to rest and get warm when they’re not yet ready to go back inside.

If you have a dog, a shed or doghouse that’s just large enough for your pup to fit comfortably (but still small enough to retain body heat) is the best option.

Make sure that the floor is off the ground by at least 3 – 4 inches to protect it from moisture. Inside, spread a layer of straw on the floor for insulation, and add warm, waterproof bedding on top of the straw.

The roof of the shelter needs to be sloped to encourage proper drainage. Consistently clear off any snow or ice from the roof of your pet’s shelter to prevent dangerous build-up.

If you have an indoor cat, a catio is a great way to let them enjoy the outdoors while keeping them safe. You can help your kitty stay warm by building a shelter inside the catio with warm bedding for them to snuggle up in.

2. Keep Your Pets Well-Fed and Hydrated

Keep a constant supply of food and water outside of your pet’s shelter for easy access. The cold can cause your pet to burn more calories, so they may need more food to replace depleted energy and keep their metabolism up. However, it’s important to check with your veterinarian before increasing your pet’s food intake.

Fresh water is essential for all pets, but it’s especially important in the winter. Your pet may not be as thirsty in the colder months, but low humidity levels can leave them at risk of dehydration. Investing in a heated water bowl will keep the water from freezing and encourage your pet to drink more.

3. Encourage Winter-Friendly Activities Outside

Even in the cold weather, you can still have fun with your pet outside! If it’s snowy, why not practice scent work with your pup? Simply sprinkle treats in the snow throughout your yard and have your dog sniff them out. Dogs have a harder time smelling in the snow, so it adds to the challenge.

Other winter-friendly backyard activities include playing fetch with a frisbee or ball and training your pet to do tricks. Just be sure to dress your pet in a warm coat or sweater and take plenty of breaks inside to warm up.

If you have the space, adding boxes, barrels, ramps, tunnels, and other equipment to your outdoor area is also a fun way to keep exercise interesting for your pet, even in the winter.

4. Improve the Winter Safety of Your Yard

As mentioned earlier, snow in winter makes it harder for animals to pick up on smells. And more dogs are lost during winter than in any other season because it’s difficult for them to follow their nose home.

If you have a fenced yard, make sure that the gate is locked at all times. And if you live somewhere where it snows frequently, don’t shovel your snow into piles near your fence line – this will only give your pet a way to escape.

Before too much snow and ice builds up, you should also clear out fallen leaves and debris in your backyard. During the winter, these can freeze and create a slippery, hazardous environment for your pet.

Another winter risk to your pet’s safety is antifreeze and de-icing salt. Coolants like antifreeze are deadly if ingested, and rock salt can irritate and even burn your pet’s paws. Rock salt can also irritate their digestive tract if they lick it off their paws.

Before you let your pet outside this winter, make sure all chemicals are safely stored in the garage, shed, or another secure area. Clean off any antifreeze residue from your driveway or surrounding sidewalks as well to prevent your pet from coming into contact with it.

5. Limit Your Pet’s Time Outside in Winter

While your pet’s breed and age will play a big role in their enjoyment of the winter temperatures, no animal should be left outside for extended periods in the cold.

Unfortunately, many people still believe that it’s okay to keep their dog outside all day as long as they have a doghouse. But the truth is, dogs can succumb to the cold even if they’re in a shelter.

Temperatures below 45 degrees Fahrenheit are a problem for many cold-averse dogs, and you should monitor your dog’s behavior when the temperatures reach this point. If your dog is a puppy, a small breed, has a thin coat, or is sick or old, they need to be brought inside before the temperature falls below freezing.

Once temperatures reach 20 degrees Fahrenheit, any dog, regardless of their breed or coat thickness, needs to come inside, as extended exposure can lead to hypothermia or frostbite.

As a general rule, if you plan to leave your dog outside for any length of time, the temperature should be absolutely no lower than 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Please talk to your veterinarian for more specific guidance on how cold is too cold for your dog.

Know the Signs of Hypothermia

If you intend to be outside with your pet during the winter, it’s important to recognize the signs of hypothermia so you can keep them safe.

Hypothermia happens when your pet’s internal body temperature drops below 99 degrees Fahrenheit. There are varying levels of hypothermia, and if caught early, they can often be easily remedied.

If left untreated and severe hypothermia sets in, your pet can experience cardiac and respiratory failure, brain damage, coma, and even death.

Shivering is one of the first signs of mild hypothermia to watch for. Other major signs of hypothermia include:

If your pet exhibits any of these symptoms, seek medical attention right away.

Have Fun (and Stay Safe) With Your Pet This Winter

Winter weather doesn’t have to mean the end of your outdoor fun. From a game of fetch to obstacle courses, there are still lots of winter activities to explore, even if it’s cold. As long as you keep your pet’s safety as a priority and monitor their behavior in the cold temperatures, you can enjoy a fun and safe winter season with your furry friend.