“Winterize” Your Dog
by Kaye Davis of Moab BARKery
As the temperature drops, dog owners need to take special precautions to protect their canine companion from winter’s unique challenges. While it is easy to think that dogs are immune to cold because they have fur, it is a fact that more dogs perish in the winter than any other time of the year. Frostbite, hypothermia, and antifreeze poisoning present the biggest winter threats to dogs. By taking a few precautions, dog owners can help keep their dogs safe and comfortable in the winter.
Beware of cold temperatures - While many dogs can be safe down to 20 degrees with proper shelter (see below), puppies, smaller and older dogs should not be left outdoors when the temperature falls below 40 degrees. Shorthaired dogs, such as Dachshunds or Greyhounds, can become immediately chilled upon leaving the warm house, so they will need a sweater put on before going outside. I know not everyone agrees with dressing dogs but keep in mind you are not “playing dress-up” with your dog but rather providing them an extra layer of protection against the cold.
Watch for signs of frostbite, injury and hypothermia – Dog’s ears, paws and tails are very susceptible to frostbite. Initially frostbitten tissue may appear pale or grey in color and the area will be cold and hard to the touch. In severe frostbite cases, within several days the tissue will begin to appear black. If you suspect frostbite contact a veterinarian. If your dog plays on ice or hard frozen dirt their paws are susceptible to cuts as they slide across these surfaces, so always wipe their feet after a walk to remove snow, dirt and salt deposits used to remove snow from sidewalks or driveways. Salt irritates the dog’s paws and can be toxic if ingested – use only pet-safe ice melt. Your dog may be experiencing hypothermia if you notice shivering, lethargy, low heart rate and unresponsiveness. If you notice these symptoms bring your dog into a warm area, place a light blanket over them, and call your vet immediately.
Eliminate the possibility of poisoning – Unfortunately dogs like the sweet taste of antifreeze which can cause sickness or death if ingested. Make certain that all antifreeze is well out of reach of dogs and clean any spills immediately. During the holiday season be sure to keep poisonous plants like poinsettias, holly and mistletoe out of reach, if ingested these can cause vomiting, diarrhea and nausea. It is also very important to keep human holiday treats like alcohol and chocolate out of reach as well as they are toxic to dogs.
Provide a protective shelter – If your dog stays outside much of the time in winter, make certain that their doghouse meets certain minimum criteria. It needs to be raised a couple of inches off the frozen ground or concrete, the inside needs to have a blanket that is covering straw, which should be changed frequently to keep them warm and dry. The size of the doghouse should be large enough so your dog can sit and stand, but small enough that their body heat will be retained in the house. If your dog stays in the garage make sure you have them leave before you start your car and run it to warm it up as this can cause your dog to be exposed to excess levels of carbon monoxide from your vehicles exhaust.
Supply fresh water and provide an appropriate amount of food– Use a plastic water bowl to ensure that your dog’s tongue does not stick to a metal bowl. Change the water often to stop it from freezing or consider getting a heated water bowl that will also stop it from freezing. If your dog remains active in winter, they will burn more calories in the cold and needs about 10% more food to compensate. If your dog becomes less active in the winter, try to keep them from gaining extra weight by cutting back their food and making sure you continue taking them for walks and playing with them.
Exercise - Shorter, more frequent walks will keep both of you warmer than one long walk during the worst of the winter weather. Train your dog not to pull and drag you on the leash, quite often injuries happen to people walking their dog in the winter not because they slip on ice but because they trip over their dog. Also if your dog walks calmly next to you they are also less likely to slip and fall. If you do not feel safe to exercise outside find another way to exercise your dog. Some people have trained their dogs to walk on a treadmill, alternatively find a doggie daycare facility that has an indoor facility so your dog can play and socialize with other dogs, this will provide them with exercise and combat boredom that often manifests as destructive behavior. Turning your dog out to play in the yard unsupervised is not providing exercise, most likely the dog will sit by the door waiting to come back inside where it is warm!
Winterizing your dog is something all dog owners need to think about to help them during the cold winter months. If you have any concerns or questions about how to help your pet contact your veterinarian, however, the rule of thumb is to put yourself in your dog’s environment and build from there to make it a safe and comfortable winter season for your pooch!