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While most family dogs prefer to hang out inside during sub-freezing temperatures, some may have to spend extended periods outside, from time to time. While several strategies may keep the water from freezing in moderately cold temperatures, extremely cold temperatures necessitate electrical solutions.
Should Fido Be Outside?
Most dog health organizations recommend bringing your dog inside during cold temperatures. Unless your dog is a Siberian husky, malamute or other cold-adapted breed, assume that your dog appreciates temperatures similar to those you do. If you are cold when you go outside, your dog probably is as well. If you must keep your dog outside during cold weather, ensure that he has a clean, dry doghouse, and that it is elevated and insulated to remain suitably warm. Face the doghouse so that the prevailing winds do not enter the door.
Borderline Freezing Temperatures
If the air temperatures are hovering around the freezing mark, many options are available. You can try to position the bowl so that it benefits from full exposure to the morning sun. Additionally, black or dark-colored water bowls will stay slightly warmer than light-colored bowls will. You may also periodically pour some warm -- not hot -- water into the bowl to melt the ice. If you only need to keep your dog’s water bowl from freezing for a short period, for example if you let him go outside for 30 minutes or so in the morning, consider microwaving the water bowl first. Be sure that the bowl is only warm, not hot, and fill it with room temperature water.
Coolers to Avoid the Cold
You can place your dog’s water bowl inside a cheap Styrofoam cooler that has been altered to allow your dog access to the bowl. For instance, cut a circular hole in the lid that allows your dog to stick his head into the box and drink. Understand that a shallow, wide water bowl will freeze much more quickly than a narrow, deep water bowl will, so use the deepest bowl possible. Only use ceramic or plastic water bowls in the cold to keep your dog’s tongue from sticking.
Many commercial dog bowls have internal heating devices to keep the water from freezing. Another type of commercial product available to dog owners is a plastic disk, designed to heat up quickly in the microwave, and then slowly radiate that heat once under your dog’s water bowl. You can also make a DIY heated water bowl by placing an outdoor-safe heating pad or "pig blanket" underneath the water bowl. Be sure that the heating device is designed for outdoor use, and has no weak spots or damage, which could represent an electrocution hazard.