As much as I hate the idea cold weather is coming. While some parts of the world don’t really have much of a winter in Michigan winter means icy cold and lots of snow. Getting the house ready for winter is one job but preparing your dog for winter is something every dog lover should do.
Even in summer our dogs only go outside for playdates with their pals, when I’m in the garden, or when they need a little leg stretching, romping, or potty time. But some dogs are outdoor pets in all seasons. But all dogs need a little extra love during freezing cold weather to keep them healthy and safe.
Winter health checks are important especially for older or ill dogs. Conditions like arthritis are exacerbated by the cold. Talk to your vet to determine if your dog needs special winter health care.
An insulated doghouse is an absolute must for outdoor dogs. Even if your dog only spends part of the day outdoors he must have a warm place to rest. Insulate the dog house extremely well and make sure the door faces away from the prevailing wind to prevent exposure. Use heated pet mats with caution as they have the potential to cause burns.
Use plastic or ceramic bowls outside. Metal bowls can be a real problem. Water freezes and, if your dog’s tongue touches the metal it may become stuck causing the dog to panic and pull away damaging his tongue.
Dogs’ paws and ears are especially vulnerable to frostbite. Make sure that feet and ears are dried after your dog has been outside. Snow can freeze to the hair between the pads of the feet and inside the ears and it will stay there long after the dog is back indoors. And melting snow in the ears can lead to painful ear infections. Be sure to towel the dog thoroughly when he comes inside. And don’t forget his “undercarriage.” You may even want to clip the hair between the pads of his feet to prevent as much snow build up there.
Dry skin can be a real problem due to dry winter weather. Dry skin and fur can cause your dog to bite and scratch at himself causing hot spots. These are lesions and scabs caused by the dog biting or licking excessively. Be sure to brush your dog regularly and use a shampoo formulated for dry skin. Your vet may be able to recommend supplements to combat this problem.
Bundle him up with a sweater or coat and try to get him to wear boots. If you have a puppy training him to walk with boots will be a chore but not like trying to get an adult dog used to boots! Even if your dog won’t wear boots making sure the rest of him is warmer is important. And dry him when you come inside.
Keep away from ice when walking your dog. Slips and falls that cause injuries aren’t limited to humans. Dogs can fall, too. And ponds, lakes, and other bodies of water can be a drowning hazard.
Wash your dog’s feet when you come in from a walk. Road salt and deicers can be irritating and also poisonous. Use warm water and dry his feet. Be sure they are completely dry before letting him back outside.
Watch out for antifreeze! If your dog licks antifreeze that has leaked from a vehicle it can cause a very painful death. Be aware not only of your own vehicles but of those your dog may come near during walks. Store your antifreeze in an area that will prevent your dog from accidentally coming into contact with the deadly liquid.
Feed him more to keep him warmer. Your dog will burn more calories keeping warm. This is especially true of short haired and hairless dogs. A higher protein food is a good winter choice. And always provide fresh water.
Do not use space heaters in any spot your dog could tip it over. Numerous house fires are started when pets (or even their owners) tip over a space heater. There are space heaters available that turn off automatically if tipped over.
Give him a choice of sleeping spots. Just as you adjust your bedding to match the season your dog will appreciate at least a couple of different sleeping areas. Some dogs really appreciate a more enclosed spot like a covered crate (door removed) with a warm blanket. Your dog may move from spot to spot during the night to keep himself comfortable.
Keep your dog inside. The belief that dogs, because of their fur, can handle ice cold weather is false. Dogs are susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia just like you. While some breeds, like Malamutes, are able to handle the cold better no dog is immune to possible cold-related problems.
Don’t leave you dog in the car in winter. We all know that a dog should never be left in a closed car in summer but many people think that it’s okay in winter. A parked car can quickly feel like a refrigerator. If you are going to be away from your car for any length of time don’t take the dog with you. Old, very young, ill, and thin dogs are especially susceptible to the cold.
Know your dog’s limits. Each dog will have its own tolerance for the cold. His overall health, age, fitness level, and stores of body fat will determine his tolerance. Don’t expect to take walks as long as you might in summer. Be aware that elderly and arthritic dogs will find the cold weather more painful. Short dogs may find their bellies brushing the snow and short haired dogs just don’t have the protection that long haired breeds have from the cold. Dogs with heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes or hormonal imbalances like Cushing’s disease cannot regulate their body temperature as well as a healthy dog. Very young and very old dogs also have more trouble regulating temperature. Some dogs will ignore their own discomfort for a chance to play just a little longer. It’s up to you to know and set the limits.
Recognize the signs of problems. Whining, shivering, weakness or anxiety can all be signs of a serious problem with the cold. Frostbite may not be fully recognized for days after the damage is done. Be aware of the dangers and stay alert to any signs your dog is having difficulty.
Be prepared for the unexpected. We usually get at least one ice storm each winter. Sometimes these storms cause power outages as ice-laden branches and even entire trees fall on power lines. Be sure that you have prepared not just for your human family members but for your pets. Have enough food, water, and medications your pets may need. It may be impossible in a blizzard or ice storm or the immediate aftermath to get out and purchase these items. Store at least 5 days of supplies for your family and pets.
Make sure your pets have identification. A well-fitting collar with current information is important and a microchip is even better. Dogs can become lost in winter, especially in the event of a weather-related emergency. Scents and even landmarks your dog would normally use may be hidden in snow.
Do everything you can to make sure your dogs have a safe and fun winter!