Winter Health and Safety for Dogs

Written by Jan on February 8, 2017 – 12:02 pm

Samantha Randall

Dogs living in snowy climes have very different needs from my little San Diego house dogs. So Cal winters mean, at most, that a few people will swap shorts for jeans and small dogs will sometimes wear light sweaters when walking along the ocean. Here are some useful tips for real cold-weather living sent to me by a winter-dog expert.

Winter Safety for Dogs

By Samantha Randall, pet blogger and podcaster at Top Dog Tips

Winter is here, and for dog parents that means making accommodations to keep the chilly weather from nipping at our pets’ cold nose! It’s not just keeping our dogs warm that we have to worry about when winter rolls in, however. This season brings with it a whole slew of changes that we, as dog owners, must seriously consider when it comes to keeping our pets healthy, happy, and especially – safe!

I was born and raised in a rural town in the center of Maine. The winter months here can be brutal, so I would say I am a self proclaimed expert on keeping my dogs safe in the winter. Here are a few tips I want to share for pet owners concerned about keeping their canine companions safe and happy during these cold months.

Keeping in the Warmth – Clothing

Many big-dog owners scoff at the idea of dressing a dog in clothing. Often, these same people refer to clothing a dog as turning that dog into an accessory. Nevertheless, it is important to know that there is a difference between accessorizing a dog just for the cute looks, and protecting him from winter’s nasty elements.

When winter rolls around, smaller dogs, dogs with thinner fur coats, dogs bred for warmer climates, very young dogs, senior dogs, dogs with arthritis, and dogs with a compromised immune system all require additional warmth due to the cold weather.

The best way to provide warmth for a dog who spends many hours outdoors is to invest in winter wear such as a parka or windproof and waterproof vest or coat. This clothing keeps the chill-out and reduces the chance of these special dog populations from becoming ill.

Yes, just like people, dogs can catch a cold, and we don’t want that!

When is the right time to start using clothing? Use your best judgment. If you go outside and you feel like there’s no way you’re making another step without a jacket, then your dog will likely benefit from using some type of dog coat. If your pup goes outside and shows signs of being cold – shivering, reluctance to go out in the first place, or running back inside to seek warmth – then it’s also time to pull out that doggy jacket.

How is clothing a dog for winter different to accessorizing a dog? Clothing for winter is a means of protecting a dog’s health, while accessorizing is done to show off a dog as a possession, or at the very least, for the fun of it (for the owner).

Keep Your Dog Inside!

As pack animals, dogs are very sociable and require social stimulation in order to be happy and healthy. This is just one of the reasons why so many people protest the concept of “outdoor dogs”. If you have a dog that is an outside dog, however, then winter is the time to make some changes.

To keep your dog safe, healthy, and warm, you should make accommodations to bring him inside your home, according to PetMD. Whether you bring him into a heated garage, put him in a crate in your bathroom or use a baby gate to keep him in one area of the house, provide your pet with the warmth he needs. It’s crucial to get him out of the winter winds and off the icy ground.

Keeping Out the Cold – Housing

If it isn’t possible to keep your dog indoors for whatever reason, then make sure that you provide a well insulated or heated dog house that provides shelter from the cold and has a door flap to keep the interior warm. This house should also offer fresh water and food when needed.

While dog houses can provide adequate warmth during the winter months, there are still many dogs that, sadly, freeze to death during this cold season even with dog house access. The best thing that you can do for your pooch to keep out the cold during winter is to bring him inside.

Paw Health

Icy sidewalks can not only burn dog’s paws, but they can also make paws toxic through sidewalk and road salt or even anti-freeze!

The first thing to consider when walking your dog in icy weather is that ice can hurt his feet just as much as heat can. Imagine holding your hand against the ice on the sidewalk for an extended period of time – it would burn. The same thing can happen to your dog’s paw pads on extended contact with icy sidewalks, particularly if the pads are already dry and cracked.

There are two solutions to prevent this from happening – paw wax and booties. Paw wax is a protective wax that is applied directly to your dog’s paw pads to protect them from overexposure to icy conditions. Sled dog owners use paw wax to protect their teams.

The second solution, booties, is the most commonly used – mostly because few people have heard of paw wax. These types of specially designed dog booties for snow are available from most dog supply stores and come with straps to fit the shoes to your dog’s feet securely. The benefit of using dog boots is that they not only provide a grip on icy sidewalks, but they also provide some warmth too.

If you live somewhere where the sidewalks or roads have been salted, make sure that you utilize booties to protect your dog’s paws. Many types of sidewalk or road salt contain chemicals that are poisonous to your pet. This means that when your dog walks on the salt and then goes home and licks his paws, he is ingesting poison.

Booties stop this from happening, but if you use paw wax, you can remedy this problem by thoroughly washing your dog’s feet after he has been outside on the salted sidewalks.

Antifreeze is another consideration when walking your dog in winter. Found just about everywhere during winter months, antifreeze has a sweet taste that is appealing to dogs, but it is also extremely toxic. You not only have to be aware of potential antifreeze spills to stop your pup from drinking them, but you also need to be sure that your dog doesn’t step in them either.

In my opinion, dog boots are the best solution here as well, since you can remove them before stepping inside so that your dog doesn’t have a chance to lick any antifreeze remnants from his feet!

Dietary Considerations

Diet is a winter consideration that many dog owners neglect. Most dogs become much more sedentary during the winter months due to the colder temperatures and potentially dangerous weather conditions.

For dogs that are usually very active, this slump in activity can result in significant weight gain. The best way to remedy this is to talk to your dog’s veterinarian about your dog’s caloric needs. The vet will be able to recommend a healthy cut in calories to keep your pooch’s weight down while still meeting his nutritional needs.

On the other end of the spectrum are dogs that are more active in the winter. Did you know that shivering is a big calorie burner?  And bounding through deep snow burns more calories than simply strolling through the grass. Your dog will need more calories if he spends a lot of time playing in the snow. Discuss your dog’s cold weather activity level with your vet in order to plan the right winter diet.

***  Samantha Randall is a professional writer and animal lover based in Bradford, ME. I’m the Editor-in-Chief at Top Dog Tips, where I research and write about all things dog. I have three of my own dogs, a boxer named Chloe, a Beagle mix named Molly and a chocolate Labrador named Saddie. My dogs and I love enjoy hiking, swimming and exploring. As with most dog owners, my main goal is to always keep my girls healthy and happy.

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