Winter Weather Safety for Your Pup
As I write this from my home in Colorado, Old Man Winter has (finally!) paid us a visit this year. The leaves are now gone from the trees, a soft blanket of snow has descended upon us, and the thermometer reading has taken a big leap towards “brrrrrrr.” So now that the season has officially changed, what can you do to make sure your dog stays healthy and safe all season long?
Check Those Frosty Paws
After a brisk walk outdoors, make sure to check your dog’s feet. On icy surfaces, ice crystals can accumulate between your dog’s toes, causing a hard, uncomfortable chunk of debris. Brush or rinse off any ice you see. If they have a lot of hair between their toes, I suggest that you keep it trimmed short during the winter months. Also, remember to regularly examine the pads of the feet. Just like our heels can crack and bleed in the colder, drier months, so can your dog’s! If your dog has this problem, consider properly fitted boots or a topical pad protectant such as Musher’s Secret, which is a wax-based pad sealer that can help protect those feet.
Mind the Undercarriage
Just like ice can accumulate between the toes, dogs can also get ice accumulation on the hair of their armpits, chest and belly. Consider wiping these areas down after a walk. Sidewalks and city streets often have deicing salt or antifreeze, which can stick to this ice and hair. Dogs will lick these areas and ingest the chemicals. The deicers can cause serious gastrointestinal problems and antifreeze — even in tiny amounts — can be extremely toxic to the kidneys.
Always Be Prepared
In bad weather, it’s always a good idea for us to be prepared for the unexpected. Bad roads, alternate routes, and sudden changes of plans can leave us without the things we may need. I recommend checking out “It’s An Emergency…What to Pack in an Evacuation Kit” to give you a few ideas of what you might stash in your car in case of the unexpected.
Stay Inside When Temps Drop
Is it so cold outdoors that after only a few minutes you feel chilled? Your dog most likely will too. Dogs bred for colder climates — think huskies and malamutes — may be able to stay out for longer, but even they have limits on what they can stand when the temperature drops. If it’s too cold for you, then it’s too cold for them. The short-coated breeds like dachshunds, Chihuahuas, boxers, and pit bull terriers get cold very quickly. You may think that coats and sweaters are goofy luxury items for the dogs of the rich and famous, but they are actually essential if you have one of these breeds and plan to spend much time outdoors with them. When your dog is outside, are they shivering? Do their ears and feet feel extra cold? Are they acting weak or lethargic? Then they might be suffering from hypothermia. Bring them in and warm them up ASAP! They can progress to the point of severe hypothermia, coma, and even death if not treated in time. In addition, extremely low temperatures can predispose your dog to frostbite in their extremities. I’m sorry to sound so discouraging, but this is very important if you live in a cold part of the world. When in doubt, bring them back inside with you.
Identification and Monitoring
Cold temperatures and snow can mask odors. If you get separated from your dog when visibility is low, he or she may have a tough time finding their way back to you. Make sure the identification tag on their collar is up-to-date with your current contact information. Also consider a microchip to have as a backup means of identification and way for you to be reunited with your dog should they become lost.
Last but not least, I’ve seen many people feed their dog more during the winter months with the thought that an extra layer of fat may keep them more comfortable. This isn’t a particularly helpful means of staying warm. And remember, any extra weight they put on now will have to be taken off next spring. This is a lot of work, not to mention that extra weight puts dogs at higher risk for arthritis discomfort, orthopedic injuries, and diabetes. Just share with them a few tasty (but low calorie!) Roasted Chicken Mini Naturals and they’ll stay trim and healthy throughout the holiday season.
Jennifer Deming, DVM, is a practicing veterinarian and member of the American Academy of Veterinary Nutrition. She strives to improve her patients' wellness through nutrition counseling and preventative medicine. Dr. Deming lives, works, and plays in the beautiful community of Durango, Colorado.