A lot of us have felt the chills of winter. For some it is a time of fun filled frolics; skiing, sledging etcetera and for others an annoying nuisance and nightmare of snow, sleet and freezing temperatures to endure. For our dogs! Well despite popular belief it is pretty much the same. They do feel the cold and they can have winter related illnesses and accidents. It is a time that we need to provide some winter care for our dogs.
Many people are of the opinion that dogs come with their own central heating in the form of their coats but they’re wrong. Whilst a dog’s coat may help to keep him warmer and there are certainly some breeds such as the St Bernard, Husky, Newfoundland and malamutes that do fairly well in the cold, there are others like greyhounds, Dobermans, whippets and some terriers that do not fair so well.
Warmth is not the only thing that needs to be taken into account though when providing care for our dogs in winter. Usual activities may need to be tailored, nutritional needs will differ from summer and dangers can be different. All in all winter holds an array of possible pitfalls regarding care for our pooches, but with the right information it can be a breeze and not a force ten gale.
Indoors or outdoors
If your dogs lives or spends a lot of time outdoors you may want to think twice about this practice in winter. Your dog’s own coat really is not enough to keep them warm, this cannot be reiterated enough. If you must keep your dog outside during winter ensure they wear a coat and have a warm, draft free and dry shelter. The last thing you want is a case of hypothermia!
Other considerations for dogs living outside are food and water, do not let food become icy or water freeze over. It is essential even in winter that your dog has good access to water. Dogs burn extra energy in winter and dehydration can be a real possibility.
Finally winter snow can become your dog’s accomplice in winter. Snow drifts or pile ups by fences and walls can give them that climbing aid and enable an escape from the garden. Make sure you clear snow where this could be a possibility.
Groom the real, pop on the fake
Grooming your dog in winter is highly important. To keep them properly insulated ensure that you brush them on a frequent basis. Their winter coats cannot grow or protect them properly whilst there is a mass of partially moulted hair still stuck in their coat. Bathing should be done as little as possible in winter. If you must bathe them ensure that they are completely dry before taking them outdoors.
Dogs that require having their hair cut should be allowed to keep their coat a little longer for better insulation. You should never shave your dog down to the skin in winter. Do not allow your dogs hair to grow so long it collects ice balls.
More or less energy
There is a small debate surrounding this issue. Some say dogs use more energy in winter and some say less. The theories behind these conclusions are that in winter dogs sleep more, hence use less energy. Or they use more energy to keep warm and insulated.
Either way a change in diet is required, either less or more food. The suggestion would be that you watch your dog for weight gain or weight loss and adjust their diet accordingly. Regarding water, if your dog is using more energy they will get dehydrated just as quickly as in summer. Always ensure they have a good supply of water and that it is ice free.
Jack Frost nibbling at your toes
Frost can be a big problem for your dog. It can and will affect your dog’s paws, ears and the tips of their tails if given the chance. Signs to watch out for are firm and waxy skin and / or blisters. Consult your vet if you see any of these signs. As preventative measures booties and hats can help prevent Jack Frost from getting to your dog.
You wouldn’t think it but anti-freeze actually tastes sweet to your dog and they love it. You may now be wondering how on earth my dog will drink anti-freeze, its kept in a bottle and only poured into my car radiator. The answer is that radiators leak and can leave a puddle of usually water, but in winter both water and anti-freeze laying on the ground. This can be deadly to your dog if they drink it.
Prevention is quite easy: never let your dog wander too far away from you when out on walks and in no circumstances let them drink out of puddles. Should your dog start to behave as if it is drunk and / or have convulsions after being out, it is likely they have been poisoned by anti-freeze and you should take your dog to the vets immediately.
Salt in the wound
Typically salt used to dissolve snow and ice or prevent us slipping consists of calcium or sodium chloride. This is extremely harsh on a dogs paws and can cause cuts, irritation and infection. Preventing your dog from walking on these salts when out is not feasible but you can protect them.
Providing your dog with booties can help and may be the best solution as it also helps to prevent frost bite. If your dog won’t wear them though or you want a different option you could use petroleum jelly. Rubbing this on your dogs paws before a walk will provide a barrier between your dogs paw and the salt.
Let’s snuggle by the fire
You may think that with the fire lit or the radiators / heaters on your dog will have ample warmth. This however is not the case and just as sometimes we still feel the need for the extra warmth of a blanket or throw so will your dog.
Your dog may also think that it is a good idea to snuggle up to fires and radiators, they are not aware of the dangers like we are. Protect your dog from this action and the possible resulting burns by implementing safety measures. Fire guards, supervision and placement of heaters should be enough.
The ice age
Your dog’s age can be a factor in how your pooch deals with winter. Puppies and older dogs do not tend to like or be able to cope as well with cold weather as most dogs. Puppies may not want to go outside making house training at this time of year more difficult. You may want to consider paper training your puppy rather than forcing them outside. Old age may also have a similar effect in that they may refuse walks. Allow your dog to relieve themselves in the garden and come straight back in if this is the case.
For either of these types of dog exercise is still important and can be attained by playing indoor games for a little longer or more often than in summer. Be aware that very young and very old dogs may have more trouble regulating their body temperature than others.
Dogs with pre-existing medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease and hormonal imbalances may like young and old dogs have more trouble keeping their bodies at a regular temperature. They will also be more likely to suffer from winter respiratory infections.
Arthritis can also be aggravated by colder weather. It is very important dogs with this condition are kept pain free and exercised as normally as possible. Again as with young and old dogs more indoor exercise can be implemented.
Hopefully with all the information you are now armed with your dogs will be toasty warm and health problem free in winter but if the worst does occur, the worst being hypothermia, here is what you should do:
- Remove your dog from the cold and into warm but not too hot surroundings.
- Call your vet immediately and follow any instructions he / she gives.
- Ensure your dog is dry
- Gradually raise your dog’s temperature using a hot water bottle or a hair dryer on low.
- Take them to the vet.
Out and about
We have already covered some of the issues that your dog may face outdoors in winter like salt, anti-freeze, frostbite and temperature. However there are also other dangers not already covered that you need to be aware of.
Just as the ground can be slippery for us in winter it is also so for your dog. Therefore it stands to reason you should be careful about letting your dog off leash when it is snowy or slippery with ice. Even grassy areas can be treacherous and caution is needed.
Never leave your dog alone in the car during winter. Just as in summer high temperatures can kill, so can low ones in winter. You also should not leave your dog in the car or in the garage whilst your car is running. Many of us heat the car by running it in winter before we hop in, but do not be tempted to leave your dog with it. Carbon monoxide poisoning in small spaces is a definite possibility.
And above all remember that if you’re cold your dog more than likely is too. Provide them with a coat, hat, scarf and booties for outdoors.
Winter dog apparel
When it comes to keeping your dog warm and healthy in winter many owners avoid the route of ‘dressing’ their dogs. It is thought in general that all dog clothing is designed with making your dog look cute or silly (in some people’s opinions) and that it should not be done. After all if dogs were meant to wear clothing they wouldn’t have been born with natural coats!
The best winter gear for dogs though is not designed with style in mind, it is designed for practicality. It is there to prevent your dog from getting cold, at the worst hypothermia and also to prevent physical damage to parts of your dog such as their tails, ears and paws.
There are many types of winter apparel for dogs and these include:
- Rain coats
Blankets are good to have but not many dogs will carry them round the house, most leave them and move to a new spot leaving the blankets benefit behind. This is where knitwear comes in, jumpers and hoodies are designed with looking good in mind, but they can be extremely useful for keeping older dogs, puppies and dogs with medical conditions at a regulated temperature whilst indoors. The dog in question moves, so does the jumper.
A good towel is a necessity for when your dog comes in wet and cold with icicles in his hair and paws covered in salt and grit. You need a towel that will dry him off as well as possible and not become saturated after a couple of rubs.
Coats do not have to have bows, hoods and all the trimmings. In fact the best ones out there are more often than not the boring, practical looking ones. Buying a waterproof coat is often the best option as not only will it keep your dog dry but also warmer. A wet dog is quickly a cold dog.
Booties, hats and scarves may seem excessive but as already discussed booties can prevent frostbite, paw irritation and will keep your dog warmer. There is nothing more misery causing than cold, wet feet. Hats have much the same benefits, they can prevent frostbite on the ears and keep heat inside your dog rather than letting it escape. Scarves, as with humans keep the neck warm which is the only bit exposed when wearing a hat and coat. They fill a gap and help keep heat in.
So winter blues when it comes to your pooch? Hell no, just follow the advice given and it’ll be a winter wonderland all the way.