The early snow storm's effects on dogs

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

Hopefully by the time you’re reading this, everyone will be back to normal—power back on, heat, electricity, running water, flushing appliances—all the things we tend to take for granted, until we suddenly don’t have them. I vowed to get a generator during this last “adventure” … that is, until I went outside and heard the cacophony of generators of all my neighbors. Now I wonder if it’s worth such an assault on peace to have a sound like continuous loud hum 24/7. A dilemma I have to work through.

After “only” 42 hours, it was joyous when our electricity came on. It is surprising to me how quickly I got used to a darkened refrigerator interior—it still a source of happiness when I open the door and the light comes on.

There’s still a lot of autumn left—and hopefully some much better weather for getting outside with our pets, taking nice bug-free walks, playing and enjoying normal fall weather. But given the sudden blast of winter weather we had last week, even though winter is officially about six weeks away, perhaps this freak storm is Nature’s way of saying that it’s time to think about our dogs’ needs once the deep freeze is here to stay for a few months.

For me and especially for Cannon, a significant aspect of the Halloween storm was a reminder of how heavy, wet snow packs into a long-haired dog’s feet and ankles. Cannon came in from his excursions into the yard bringing a mass of snowballs entangled in his long hair, encasing his lower extremities. The quickest way to remove these snowballs is to immerse the affected areas in warm water—sadly something that was unavailable with no power to run the hot water heater. So the only alternative was to try to brush and comb the snowballs out of his feet—something Cannon didn’t love.

But even more important than the hair around his lower legs is the hair that grows on the bottom of a dog’s feet between the foot pads on medium and long-haired dogs. Ice balls can quickly form in this hair, causing extreme discomfort to your dog. Short-coated dogs don’t have this issue, but for dogs that do grow hair on the undersides of their feet, it needs to be clipped out with an electric clipper—not by trying to scissor it. Using a scissor can lead to a serious cut, which won’t heal easily on the bottom of a dog’s foot. So please don’t even try to trim this hair yourself. Have a professional groomer or your veterinarian shave the hair growing between the pads of your dog’s feet.

The other important reminder I got from this brief initiation into winter is the importance of protecting pets from wood stoves and other pet-level heat sources. Our gas fireplace kept us reasonably comfortable during this power outage, and Kochi, my Okinawa immigrant dog, does not like the cold, and would have hugged the fireplace if he had been able to. The glass front makes it less dangerous than a wood stove or open hearth, but if you have an open fire or wood stove, be sure to safely screen it from your dog just as you would to protect a toddler from getting too close to an open fire.

I know I am not alone in hoping that this was the worst we’ll have to put up with this winter. But it’s New Hampshire, and that’s probably a vain hope.

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