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.
Stay close. 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 leash, especially in a snowstorm. Pets should always wear ID tags.
Vehicle-related hazards. 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.
Paw and pad care. When your dog comes in out of wet weather, towel-dry him and clean his feet. Your dog can ingest rocksalt, as well as antifreeze and other dangerous chemicals from asphalt and concrete surfaces, when licking his paws. Rocksalt 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. The ASPCA advises the use of dog boots to protect dogs’ feet and keep them warm.
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 hearty 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 100 and 102.5) 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, shriveled 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.
The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional veterinary help.