In many parts of the world, it’s cold outside. In some places, it’s freezing with a wintery mix of ice, rain, and snow. Most people don’t like being outside in that weather. But what about our dogs?
Your dog may love frolicking in the snow and walking in the brisk temperatures. But many dogs don’t like the cold at all. And some shouldn’t be exposed to it even if they do enjoy it.
1) Cold temps
Just because your dog has a fur coat doesn’t mean he’s better able than you are to handle extreme weather. Especially if your dog is a puppy, a senior or suffers from health problems.
Fur is not always a great insulator, particularly wet fur. And toes, noses and ears are vulnerable because they have little protection. Even a fashionable coat has its limits.
Dogs with short fur or short legs will be more susceptible to the cold. They’re closer to the cold ground and have more surface area relative to their size.
Extremely cold weather can cause hypothermia if your dog’s body temperature drops below 100°F.
Hypothermia can kill your dog but the signs will depend on the severity. Here’s what to look out for:
Lack of mental alertness
Lack of appetite
If you suspect your dog is hypothermic, get them out of the cold and bring them inside where it’s warm. Wrap them in blankets heated in the dryer and call your vet immediately.
Frostbite often precedes hypothermia and can cause permanent damage to your dog’s skin. The tail, ears, footpads and scrotum are most vulnerable.
Watch out for pale, grey, or blue skin that then turns red and puffy. If any part of their body hurts when touched or their skin stays cold or shriveled, these are signs of frostbite.
Call the vet right away and apply warm—not hot—water to the affected area for 20 minutes. Never use a hair dryer or heating pad to warm the skin because they can cause burns.
Handle the frostbitten body parts with care in order not to permanently damage the skin.
Even if they’re not frostbitten, your dog’s pads can suffer in other ways. They can become dry and cracked from the cold, and from walking in the ice and snow.
If your dog has a lot of fur between their pads, the snow can build up and create ice balls that irritate the pads. Keep the fur between the toes short to minimize this problem.
Or try booties if your dog will tolerate them. You can practice with baby socks first to get them used to something on their feet.
If that doesn’t work try Musher’s Secret, a wax developed in Canada for sledding dogs. It keeps pads moist and prevents cracking.
The salt on the roads can irritate the pads too, not to mention how sick your pet can get from it. More on that in a minute.
What if your dog is an outside dog?
Dogs are meant to live in our homes, but if your dog can’t live in your house and they live outside, you must protect them from winter weather.
Be sure they have a warm, dry, draft-free covered shelter that’s raised off the ground. Inside the shelter should be warm dry bedding that’s checked daily and changed regularly. Consider an electric heating product designed specifically to warm dog bedding.
Provide fresh, unfrozen, clean water every day. There are warmers made for this purpose.
Outside dogs need more food in winter because they burn more calories to stay warm. Ask your vet how much to feed your dog this time of year.
If weather is particularly harsh, bring your dog inside. If you wouldn’t want to be outside, your dog shouldn’t be. At the very least, set up a warm shelter in your garage.
I mentioned that salt used for de-icing could be dangerous for your dog. It can burn their pads. And if they swallow enough when they lick their paws, they can get very sick. This applies to other de-icing chemicals too.
If you are de-icing your own property, only use a pet-friendly product. They do exist.
If you walk with your dog beyond your property, be sure to wash your dog’s paws, legs and belly when you get home. Removing the chemicals from your dog’s body before they can lick it off can prevent serious illness, and potentially death.
The sun rises later and sets earlier in winter. Shorter days mean more hours of darkness. If you walk your dog early in the morning or late in the afternoon, it may be pitch-black.
You and your dog are harder to see. Wear reflective clothing and use a reflective collar or leash so you’re more visible to drivers.
When the weather gets cold, the rodents come inside to stay warm. So there’s a greater need for rodenticides in winter. And your dog could come in contact with these deadly chemicals.
If rodents are seeking shelter in your home, be sure to use a professional exterminator. They will know howto safely apply these products and will place them out of reach of your dog.
You may think leaving your dog in the car is only dangerous in the summer. But winter is just as unsafe. In cold temps, a car can turn into a refrigerator, keeping the cold trapped inside.
Never leave your dog unattended in your vehicle when it’s hot or cold outside.
6) Frozen water
It can happen in seconds… your dog falls through the ice on a seemingly frozen lake or pond. You can avoid this catastrophe by keeping your dog on a leash.
Stay away from any body of water that looks frozen. You don’t know how thick the ice is.
7) Dry heat
Frostbite isn’t the only risk to skin in the winter. The dry heat in your home can cause your dog’s skin to become itchy and flaky.
Humidify your home if you can. And keep winter baths to a minimum to preserve the natural oils in the skin and coat. If your dog comes in from outside and they’re wet, towel dry them as quickly as possible.
8) Heat sources
Fireplaces, space heaters and wood-burning stoves attract dogs. They’re a nice warm place to curl up when it’s cold outside. But they can burn your dog, or start a house fire, if they get too close to these sources of warmth.
Never leave your dog unattended when one of these heating sources is on.
9) Antifreeze toxicity
During the winter, antifreeze poisoning is common. Only a lick or two of this colorful sweet fluid can kill your dog.
If you suspect your dog has swallowed antifreeze from a puddle in your garage or on the street, get to the vet immediately.
Quick aggressive intervention is the only treatment for antifreeze toxicity.
Dogs are like people. Some can tolerate the cold, some can’t.
If your dog is very young, old or sick, they should not be outside in cold, wet weather except to do their business. No coat or booties can keep them safe in extreme temps. Those garments are meant for healthy adult dogs.
Keeping your dog safe in the winter is just common sense. If the weather is too nasty for you to be outside, it’s too nasty for your dog.
How cold is it where you live? How do you keep your dog safe? Share in the comment section above.