by Dr. Donna Spector
Winter is right around the corner! Does your dog love the winter wonderland or would he rather cuddle up on the couch under a cozy blanket? Either way, you must be prepared to protect him when he ventures out into the elements.
- Don’t overfeed your dog during the winter. Although dogs are in need of an extra layer during the winter season…make sure it comes from a coat, and not a fat layer. Unless your dog lives outdoors during the winter, he or she often needs no additional calories during the winter chill. Cold temperatures often bring on lazy behaviors and actually the need for LESS calories. Be attentive to your dog’s activity level and adjust his calories accordingly. Always feed your dog a high quality natural dog food to insure a healthy coat and good energy for the cold winter months.
- Keep your dog hydrated. Dogs can dehydrate just as quickly in the winter as summer. Although many dogs eat snow, it is not an adequate substitute for fresh water. If your dog has a water bowl outdoors, check it often and break ice that may form on top.
- Let’s talk temperature! If it is too cold for you to stand at the door without your coat, it is probably too cold for your dog to be out without a coat. Some dog breeds have dense undercoats that help protect them against very cold temperatures…but most dogs should have a coat to help them deal with Jack Frost. If getting your dog a coat makes you think about poodles in pink fur, don’t distress! Coats are not just about fashion; there are many functional, non-couture coats available! Coats will not prevent frostbite on the ears, feet or tail…so don’t keep your dog out too long in freezing temperatures.
- Take precaution when playing. Although your dog is likely to be having a great time outdoors, take frequent indoor breaks for water and warming up and don’t ever stay out too long. If you are walking or playing in unfamiliar areas, keep your dog close. It is easy for them to venture onto unsafe ground….for example, some ponds and lakes are small and can be hidden by snow and ice and pose hazards to unsuspecting frolicking dogs.
- Provide extra bedding and warmth for your dog. In addition to limiting your dog’s time outdoors on cold days, you must also provide warm indoor shelter. Place your dog’s bed in a warm spot; away from drafts, cold tile or uncarpeted floors.
- Protect your dog from burns. Dogs will often seek heat during the cold winter weather by snuggling too close to heating sources. Avoid space heaters and lamps and place baseboard radiator covers to avoid unnecessary burns. Fireplaces also pose a major threat and a pet-proof system should be used to keep your heat-seeking pal out of harms way!
- Groom your dog. Your dog needs a clean, well-groomed coat to keep him properly insulated. This is especially important if your dog lives outdoors. It is important to choose natural, detergent-free grooming products that will not strip your dog’s skin and coat of essential oils that help protect them against the winter elements. After bathing, dry your dog adequately, especially before allowing him outdoors.
- Protect your dog’s feet. Dogs walk through snow, slush, salt and chemicals and are very likely to sustain an injury to their foot pads unless protected. Although doggie booties may sound a little corny, they can prevent painful injuries. If you don’t want to invest in booties, place thick socks on each paw and connect the top of each sock with a mitten keeper over the dogs shoulder and hips. If booties absolutely don’t work for your dog, clean your dog’s feet every time he comes into the house. Use warm water and clean between the toes to remove all debris and salt. Apply a small amount of a natural moisturizer or salve every day to keep the pads from cracking. Avoid using any chemical ice-melting compounds or rock salt on your sidewalks or driveways that your dog may contact.
- Shovel and clear the snow! Snow can be a lot of fun but also dangerous for your dog. Snow piled near fences pose escape hazards that even well trained dogs often can’t resist. Keep snow cleared away from fences to prevent your dog from climbing over. Snow and ice often accumulate on rooftops and if the sun is out or as temperatures rise, this accumulation can fall and injure your dog. If you are unable to clear the snow from the roof, keep your dog away from the roof overhang to prevent injury.
- Avoid toxin exposure. With winter comes antifreeze from automobiles. Antifreeze is sweet in taste and dogs will readily lick or drink it. Antifreeze is extremely toxic and just a small amount can be fatal for dogs. Keep your dog out of the garage and off the driveway where they may encounter antifreeze or other harmful chemicals.
- Dogs should NEVER be left in cars unattended, no matter what the season. Freezing cold temperatures are the main concern during the winter. If the car is left running during the winter (especially in the garage), carbon monoxide poisoning is a real threat.
- Special medical needs. Cold weather will often aggravate existing medical conditions in dogs, particularly arthritis. It is very important to maintain an exercise regimen with your arthritic dog, but be mindful of slippery surfaces and make sure your dog has a warm soft resting area to recuperate after activity. Try the addition of a natural glucosamine supplement to lubricate the joints and ease the discomfort of arthritis. Just like people, dogs are more susceptible to other illnesses during the winter weather. Contact your veterinarian if you detect any unusual symptoms in your dog. Remember, never use over the counter medication without the advice of your veterinarian.
Paying special attention to your dog’s well-being during the winter season will insure that you both enjoy the Winter Wonderland to its fullest.
Donna Spector, DVM, DACVIM, is a renowned, board-certified Veterinary Internal Medicine Specialist, an active AVMA and AVHMA member, and leading speaker and writer on pet health and nutrition. She is widely recognized for her role as consulting veterinarian to HALO, Purely for Pets and her TV appearances with Halo co-owner Ellen DeGeneres. Dr. Donna performs medical, nutrition and weight loss consultations for dogs and cats through her web-based veterinary consulting service, www.SpectorDVM.com.