- Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
In the chilly depths of winter, we might envy our dogs’ ample fur coats, but don’t be fooled; canine fur does not provide fool-proof protection against low temperatures, particularly when thermometers dip below freezing. What are the most common winter-related canine hazards, and how can we keep our dogs safe and healthy? Check out theses tips for winter safety for dogs from Rover.com.
Fur isn’t enough
If it’s so cold outside that you’re uncomfortable, your dog, even with a thick coat of fur, probably feels the same way. All dogs are vulnerable to temperature extremes—especially short-haired breeds, puppies and older dogs, and those that are sick or fragile. And if a dog’s fur gets wet, much of its insulating properties are lost. A dog’s basic winter needs are similar to ours: warm and dry shelter, protected from drafts.
In Your Home
- Keep the temperature comfortable for you and your family. If you let the temperature drop to save money, you can always bundle up in a jumper—but your dog will have trouble getting warm. Your dog could become susceptible to illness, arthritic pain, and other cold-related problems if they can’t get and stay warm. If you have cats, make sure they don’t sit on or too near heating elements; block heaters with a screen if it helps.
- If needed, use a humidifier to keep indoor air from getting too dry, and be sure your dog stays hydrated—a bubbling water fountain can encourage a reluctant doggy to get enough water. Adequate internal and external hydration will keep your pet healthy and prevent their vulnerable noses and paws from cracking or bleeding.
- Make sure any bedding that your pet uses is clean, dry, and comfortable. It should be regularly washed and dried to prevent mould and mildew. If your dog’s bedding gets wet, they’ll get too cold and could be at risk of hypothermia.
- Consider your pet’s limitations. If it’s snowy and/or below freezing outside, smaller animals or those with less fur may only tolerate a short walk down the street and back.
- Make sure your pet is warm enough to go outside. They may need an extra layer to keep them warm. As dogs age, they have less muscle and fat to insulate them from the cold. Small dogs may not have much insulation at all. Doggy jackets and jumpers could be just the ticket for a safe and comfy walk.
- Did your pet recently have a bath? Make sure they’re completely dry before you head out. You don’t want frozen fur or paws!
- Consider booties. Rock salt irritates paws and foot pads, as do moisture and cold. Repeated exposure can cause pads to crack and bleed. Trim fur around your dog’s toes and foot pads so they’ll be easier to keep clean and dry. Applying petroleum jelly or Bag Balm helps soften and soothe pads and prevent further irritation and cracking. Boots will protect your dog’s paws from salt and other chemicals used to melt snow and ice, and keep anything sharp or painful from embedding itself into your dog’s paws. Make sure they have a good grip, just like your winter shoes!
Don’t leave dogs in the car in chilly weather. Closed vehicles trap the cold and your pet’s body temperature can drop dangerously low. Another winter danger for dogs is antifreeze, which accumulates on roads and driveways—and its sweet smell and taste can be attractive to pets. But the ethylene glycol in most brands of antifreeze is poisonous to pets, even in small amounts. Clean up spills from your car, or better yet, use antifreeze that contains propylene glycol, which is less toxic (although still unsafe) and has a bitter, less alluring taste.
More dogs get lost during the winter than any other time of year because they can lose their scent when the ground is covered in snow, frost or ice. During a walk or a romp in the snow, keep your dog in sight at all times, and preferably on a lead, especially in a snowstorm. Pets should always wear ID tags.
- Dry off your pet completely, especially before they curl up in their bed, which needs to stay dry. Use a towel and consider following up with a blow-dryer on a low heat setting, held at least a foot from your pet’s fur.
- Thoroughly check their paws and make sure they’re clean, dry, and healthy. Look for cold-weather damage, check between the toes for ice accumulation, and wipe off any residue that came from the street.
- If your pet rolled around in a chemical ice melter or can’t seem to get warm, give them a warm bath. Don’t shift their body temperature too suddenly, though. If they’ve gotten very cold, start with cool water and gradually warm it up. Then stay with them until they’re dry, cozy, and comfortable—and keep an eye on their body temperature.
Frostbite and hypothermia
In extreme cold, it’s best to keep dogs inside, particularly if they’re puppies, and older dogs, or have health issues. Young, old, and sick dogs lack the body fat, metabolism and dense coat needed to keep adequately warm. Even very hardy dogs should not be kept outside in the cold for long periods. Wind chill makes frigid temperatures feel even colder, and a dog’s body temperature (usually between 38°C to 39.2°C) can take a lethal plunge.
Frostbite occurs when a part of your dog’s body freezes—often the tail, ears or foot pads. Frostbite signs include pale, shrivelled skin that later turns red and puffy, and ears, paws or tail that are painful to the touch.
Hypothermia, or low body temperature, depresses the dog’s central nervous system, causing symptoms including severe shivering, weak pulse, muscle stiffness, difficulty breathing, and lethargy.
Food & Supplements
- If it’s not already in your pet’s diet, consider a fish oil supplement to make sure they’re getting enough fatty acids, which will help their skin and coat stay healthy all winter.
- Increase calories as the temperature drops, to make up for lost heat. Check with your vet to find out how much your pet should be eating in the winter.
Need to travel during the winter? Find a trusted pet-sitter at Rover.com.