The change in seasons could be a slow transition or a cold and rude awakening. Either way, start planning to be sure your four-legged family members are warm, happy and healthy in all types of winter weather.
Now is a great time to schedule your dog’s annual veterinary exam. This will help identify and treat any conditions that worsen in cold weather, like arthritis. It’s also a good idea to replenish supplies of flea/tick and heart worm medications. Most vets recommend continuing these throughout the year.
It’s important to keep up with brushing and caring for your dog’s winter coat. This doesn’t mean just letting it grow. Your dog’s fur should be clipped short during the winter but never shaved down to the skin. When you bathe your dog in the colder months, be sure to completely dry him before taking him out for a walk. Schedule a final grooming for the year in November. Trim your dog’s nails so they can grip well on slippery surfaces. Like yours, your dog’s toes, nose and ears are even more vulnerable in chilly temperatures. Keep some soothing cream such as Bag Balm on hand to keep tender skin soft and smooth.
Fur is not a perfect insulator and wet fur is even less so. Pet coats and sweaters as well as dog boots to protect tender paw pads from freezing and salt burns can help. Order/purchase them now and try them on. A coat isn’t magic; it won’t allow the dog to stay outside exposed to the elements for long periods and a dog may try to remove it. Be sure your dog is used to the feel of coverings on his body and feet. Boots should fit snuggly but not so tight that they cut off circulation.
Pets are harder to see in the dark days of winter. Consider a reflective or light-up collar for your evening walks. Please note: dog clothes are for healthy adult dogs only. Puppies and older or sick dogs shouldn’t be outside in extreme conditions no matter how well-dressed. They don‘t have the fat, metabolism or full fur needed to stay warm.
Stock up on safe ice melt products and antifreeze made with propylene glycol which is less toxic to pets than ethylene glycol. Make sure your winter emergency kit includes enough food, water, medicines and blankets for people and pets
Indoors or Out?
Just like people, dogs are at risk for frostbite and hypothermia in extreme cold; know the signs of and first aid for these conditions. Never leave your dog or cat alone in a car during cold weather. A car can act as a refrigerator in the winter, holding in the cold and causing the animal to freeze to death. Note that no matter the temperature, wind-chill can threaten a dog’s life.
If your dog must be outdoors much of the day or if he is home alone, be sure he has protection from a dry, draft-free shelter large enough to sit and lie down in comfortably but small enough to hold in body heat. Ensure that he has dry bedding and is up off the ground. Dogs that spend a lot of time outdoors need more food in winter as keeping warm burns more calories. Give them plenty of fresh unfrozen water in plastic bowls (their tongue could stick to cold metal).
Ideally, keep your dog inside with you and your family in the winter, but take him out frequently for walks and exercise. Never let your dog off the leash on snow or ice, especially during a snowstorm; dogs can easily become lost. Make sure your dog always wears ID tags or is equipped with a microchip.
Thoroughly wipe off your dog’s legs and stomach when he comes in out of the sleet, snow or ice. He can ingest salt, antifreeze or other potentially dangerous chemicals while licking his paws, and his paw pads may also bleed from snow or encrusted ice. Wipe up spills and keep antifreeze and all household chemicals out of reach. Also remember to keep dogs away from holiday favorites like chocolate, plants, holly berries and leaves, and tinsel.
To encourage your dog to go outside when nature calls, keep a small area in the yard shoveled so snow is at most an inch or two deep for this purpose. Shovel a path to this snow-free area. If your dog wears booties, use them for nature calls; this will help the house stay cleaner, too. Wait by the door and let him in as soon as he’s done. For dogs that can’t go out, consider indoor options such as pads, patches and even a litter box.
Dogs kept primarily Indoors conserve energy by sleeping more in the winter. They may also exercise much less than usual when they do go outside, so you may need to adjust their food intake to keep them from packing on the winter pounds. Consider a day care facility on occasion for winter socialization and indoor exercise.
Wintering with your pet is mostly common sense. If you’re cold, your dog will most likely be cold too. So snuggle up, keep warm and safe, and enjoy your best friend all year.