Just like people, dogs have special needs during the cold weather to keep them safe, healthy and happy. It is important for you to make sure that certain precautions are taken during the winter season for the protection and well-being of your dog. This article is stock-full of information on what to do and what not to do with and for your dog during the winter and colder months. Following these guidelines will help your dog stay out of harm’s way and allow you and your dog to enjoy what can be a great time of year!
Provide Fresh Water
Make sure your dog has fresh water during the colder months just as you would during the warmer months. They are just as likely to become dehydrated in the cold weather as they are in the warm weather. Remember that snow is not a good substitute for fresh water. Even if your dog stays out side, snow will not replace fresh water. It is especially important to make sure that they have a fresh supply of water if they stay outside in the cold as the water will freeze – so change it regularly.
Provide Adequate & Quality Food
If your dog is outside a lot or is a working dog, he will need extra calories to keep his body temperature regulated in the cold as it takes more energy for his body to do this. Make sure to feed a quality food so that your dog gets adequate nutrients (you’ll also have fewer poops to pick up!). A good general rule of thumb to figure out if the food is a high quality – if you can find a dog food in the grocery store…DO NOT BUY IT! Go to a pet store and read the ingredients on the bag. The first three ingredients should be some type of meat (2 ingredients) and a whole grain, like rice (1 ingredient). Stay away from corn as it is just a filler – and a low quality one at that.
Keep Your Dog’s Paws Clean and Dry
Make sure to rinse and dry your dog’s paws after walks and being outside during the winter. You can use either a warm, damp washcloth or a bucket of warm water to wash your dog’s feet and any other affected areas like the legs, belly and face. It also cleans away any salt, sand or other irritants that are used on the roads and sidewalks that can get on your dog’s pads. This will help avoid pain due to tiny cuts and cracked pads caused by the cold, ice and snow. Using bag balm or petroleum jelly helps to keep the pads on your dog’s paws soft and prevents further cracking. If your dog will wear booties they can be good protection also. Dogs can also get ice balls between their pads from walking in snowy areas. This can cause your dog to lift their paws or even limp. Make sure to clear the ice from between their pads. To help avoid this from happening, you can trim the hair between their pads and toes so that ice is less likely to build up there.
Keep Your Dog Warm and Dry – Shelter & Clothing
Yes, I said clothing! Some dogs need to wear a coat! Shelter from the elements is also a must – there is no way around it – whether your dog is an indoor or outdoor dog. Provide adequate shelter for your dog inside and out. If your dog is outside for long periods of time you need to make sure that he has a warm place to go to protect him from the cold weather and elements. It is imperative that your dog has an insulated dog house that can
shelter them from the extreme cold. I do strongly disagree with keeping your dog outside entirely or by themselves for long periods of time, but I do realize that there are people who do this. Hypothermia is a great risk for dogs that are left out in the cold for extended periods of time, due to snow, ice and freezing weather. All dogs can freeze to death, just because they have thick fur, or are “built” to be an outdoor dog, don’t mean that they are not at risk. Understand that each town or city (even county) has specific laws about acceptable shelter,
restraints, protection and care of dogs (and other pets too). Failure to abide by the laws can be punishable by fines and even imprisonment. If you are unsure of what the laws are where you live you can contact your local Animal Control, Humane Society or even the ASPCA.
Your dog should not be exposed to extreme cold for long periods of time. If your dog has short fur, or is small, you should get him or her a “coat” of some type, whether it’s a sweater or jacket, as long as it will help to keep your dog warm and dry. Certain breeds are more susceptible to the cold and precipitation making it necessary for them to wear a coat. Make sure to look for form over function so that it will stay on your dog and still allow them to move. Also, make sure that the coat goes off and on easily so that your dog won’t mind wearing it and you won’t mind dressing your dog. Always be sure to supervise your dog when in any type of clothing – never leave them unattended as they have the potential of injuring themselves, whether it is suffocation, strangulation, or tripping and falling, just to name a few possible injuries. Clothing will also make it so that you and your
dog can still get outside and walk or play when it is cold out. If your dog is inside, make sure to protect him against drafts and uncarpeted areas that can become extremely cold. Use blankets or rugs in these areas to help guard against the cold.
Groom Your Dog Regularly
Make sure to keep your dog’s coat groomed properly so that it will keep your dog insulated from the cold. Always towel-dry, or blowdry, if your dog’s fur gets wet in the snow or rain. Be sure to keep your dog’s nails trimmed properly. Nails can tear, rip and break in the ice and snow. Nails also become more brittle during the winter
months, just as ours can, because they are drier. A ripped nail is very painful to a dog, especially when you combine the extreme cold of ice, snow or slush! If the nails are kept short, they are less likely to tear.
Beware of Winter Hazards
- Cold – Do not leave your dog outside for long periods of time because dogs can get frostbite on their paws, tails and ears. The wind-chill makes days even colder than the thermometer says so be aware of this too.
- Car – Do not leave your dog in the car when it is cold out. If the car is not running your dog runs the risk of hypothermia and if the car is running your dog runs the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. So if it’s cold, leave your dog at home, in the comfort of his or her crate!
- Ice & Snow – While the snow can be fun for you and your dog, the ice and snow can pose potential threats that you may not think about. Be careful while playing outside in the ice and snow as your dog can slip and fall and possibly become seriously injured. Snow also makes it harder for your dog to distinguish scents, making it easier for your dog to get lost. Some dogs can’t resist the water, which in the freezing cold, could become a dangerous situation as your dog may jump into a frozen or ice-cold pond, lake or river. This can cause serious injury and even death.
- Antifreeze – Antifreeze smells and tastes great to your dog! Unfortunately, antifreeze is POISONOUS and potentially DEADLY! Check to make sure your driveway is clear and your cars are not leaking antifreeze, and watch out for any suspicious liquid on the ground. Steer clear if you see something you are not sure about! Also, if possible, try to use products that contain propylene glycol instead of ethylene glycol.
- Carbon Monoxide – NEVER LEAVE YOUR DOG ALONE IN THE CAR WHILE IT IS RUNNING! Carbon Monoxide from an engine left running can be dangerous, if not lethal to your dog.
Leash Your Dog
According to the ASPCA, “Never let your dog off the leash on snow or ice, especially during a snowstorm – dogs can lose their scent and easily become lost. More dogs are lost during the winter than during any other season, so make sure yours always wears ID tags.” By keeping your dog on leash you are also able to keep them away from potentially dangerous situations and hazardous substances. In most places there are leash laws that you must abide by for these reasons (among others), so it is better to be safe than sorry!
Exercise is extremely important to your dog. Regardless of what the weather is doing, your dog still needs exercise. Exercise boosts the metabolism, which in the colder weather, actually helps them to be warmer.
Try not to go outside for extended periods of time in the extreme cold. Instead, wait until days are milder to head outside, whether to play, walk, or run, and get some exercise. When the weather is too cold to be or play outside – you need to do more inside. Play games with your dog and keep him or her mentally stimulated and exercised to avoid boredom and restlessness. Games like Fetch and Find-It are great to play inside. You can also teach your dog to walk on the treadmill – this is a great form of physical exercise for your dog – and it is very easy to teach. You can have your dog walk for miles and walk, or run, at different speeds to tire them out. Mental and physical exercise is very important!
A FINAL WORD…
Remember, if it is cold for you, it is cold for your dog. Many of the basic principles that apply to people for cold weather apply to your dog too! IS YOUR DOG WINTERIZED?
Mandy Makein is an author and dog trainer. For more information on dog related issues visit her website at [http://www.wecantrainanydog.com/]
(c) Copyright Mandy Makein 2010. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.