Take care of your dog in the cold and snow

N.H. Sunday News - Dog Tracks Column - 2/6/11
By: Gail T. Fisher

A friend wrote me recently asking how to exercise a 10” dog when there’s two feet of snow in her yard—with another 24” predicted. This winter already has more snow than I recall in many years. Of course when I was a child, we often had this much snow, (and walked barefoot to school uphill both ways), or maybe it just seemed like more snow when I was shorter. What happened to our January thaw?!

In any case, this seems like a good time to review some winter recommendations and care tips. First, for my friend’s short dog (or for every dog, since even a tall dog’s butt needs clearance), clear some paths through your yard for your dog (and for your fuel delivery man—he’ll appreciate it, too!). Of course dogs can relieve themselves “sitting” in the snow, but how much kinder it is if they don’t have to. We’ve been keeping the fence perimeter clear, so the snow wouldn’t get so high the dogs could walk over the fence. My dogs have a great time racing around the paths cut through our yard—fun and great exercise.

Use common sense and good judgment when letting your dog out in extremely cold weather. Shorthaired breeds, puppies and older dogs need extra care. There are a wide variety of sweaters, coats and even polar fleece jackets available for dogs of all sizes. Speaking of which, the dog’s size is irrelevant when it comes to keeping warm. A large, short-haired dog will feel the cold more than a small, heavy-coated dog, so don’t think that just because your dog is a large macho breed, he can tolerate the cold.

Dogs can get frostbite, especially on their extremities—nose, ears, feet and tail. Extreme cold affects a dog’s feet. You may notice that your dog limps in the cold. When this happens, bring your dog indoors, or if you’re planning to stay outside, put boots on his feet. Some of the most athletic dogs in the world—those that run the thousand-mile Iditarod race across Alaska—wear protective boots, so don’t think it’s just for “wuss” dogs. Boots also protect your dog’s feet from ice treatments on sidewalks and streets. Not just painful, they can be absorbed through the skin, or your dog may lick his feet—neither of which is healthy. So if your dog isn’t wearing boots, rinse and dry his feet when you get home.

Speaking of your dog’s feet, snow and ice can painfully build up between the pads. Longhaired dogs can also have an uncomfortable build-up of matted hair, easily prevented by having a professional groomer trim between your dog’s foot pads. It’s best not to do this yourself as you can easily cut your dog’s foot—an area that is difficult to heal.

I’m not a fan of dogs living outside. Dogs need companionship and want to be part of the family. But if you have an outdoor dog—even just for part of the day—be sure he and has adequate shelter in which to curl up and be cozy and warm. It’s not only right for your dog’s safety, health and well-being, it’s the law.

No matter how cold it is, dogs need access to fresh water. If your dog is running, sledding, skijoring or the like, be sure to bring fresh water from home. A thirsty dog may eat snow, which can cause diarrhea and severe intestinal upset.

Most dogs seek out warmth, curling up close to wood stoves and in front of fireplaces. Be sure to screen any heating element that could burn your dog or worse still, set his hair on fire. Protect your dog as you would a toddler.

And finally, a reminder about antifreeze. It is highly toxic, and ingesting even a small amount can cause a rapid and painful death. Antifreeze has a sweet odor and taste, making it attractive to animals and children, so it’s critically important to keep containers out of reach, and wipe up any leaks or spills immediately.

Copyright © Gail T. Fisher, 2011. All rights reserved. http://www.alldogsgym.com For permission to reprint this article or suggestions for future topics, please contact us.