Winter weather is finally here with temperatures dropping into the 30’s this week. While it’s easy to think that dogs are immune to cold because of their fur, the fact is that more dogs perish in the winter than at any other time of the year. Some are better equipped to handle the cold weather than others. For example, Huskies and other breeds from cold climates are certainly going to be more comfortable than other dogs. Frostbite, hypothermia and antifreeze poisoning present the biggest winter threats to dogs. By taking a few precautions and using common sense, dog owners can keep their dogs safe this winter.
Beware of cold temperatures. While many dogs can be safe in outside temperatures with proper shelter (see below), puppies, smaller dogs and older dogs should not be left outdoors when the temperature falls below 40 degrees.
Keep older, arthritic dogs inside. These dogs should not be left outside under any circumstances. Escort the older dog outside for toileting and use a leash if the yard has ice or snow. Older dogs can easily fall and seriously injure themselves.
Watch for signs of frostbite and injury. Dogs’ ears, paws and tails are especially susceptible to frostbite. If you suspect frostbite, contact your veterinarian. If your dog plays on ice or hard, frozen dirt, his paws are susceptible to cuts as his paws slide across these rough surfaces. Always wipe your dog’s feet after a walk in the snow to remove ice balls and salt deposits from the road. Salt irritates a dog’s paws and can be toxic if ingested. Use only pet-safe ice melt.
Keep an eye out for hypothermia. If you notice shivering, lethargy, low heart rate and unresponsiveness, bring your dog into a warm area, place a light blanket over him, and call your veterinarian.
Eliminate the possibility of poisoning. Unfortunately, dogs like the sweet taste of antifreeze, which can cause sickness or even death if ingested. Make certain that all antifreeze containers are well out of reach of dogs and thoroughly clean any spills immediately.
Provide a protective shelter. If your dog stays outside much of the time in the winter, his doghouse needs to be raised a couple of inches off the frozen ground or concrete. The inside needs to have a blanket, cedar shavings or straw, which should be changed frequently to keep him warm and dry. Add a flap to the door, and face the doghouse away from the weather. The size of the doghouse should be large enough so your dog can sit and stand, but small enough so his body heat will be retained in the house.
Supply fresh water. Use a plastic water bowl to ensure the dog’s tongue does not get stuck to cold metal, and change the water often to keep it from freezing.
Provide an appropriate amount of food. If your dog remains active in winter, he’ll burn more calories in the cold—and needs about 10 percent more food to compensate. If your dog becomes less active in the winter, try to keep him from gaining extra weight by cutting back his food and making sure you continue going for walks and playing with him.
Keep your dog on a leash. Dogs rely heavily on a strong sense of smell to figure out where they are and can easily get lost during winter storms. Snow covering the ground will make their surroundings less familiar. Keeping your dog on a leash at all times – especially during winter storms – can help stop your dog from becoming lost. Also talk to your veterinarian about micro-chipping your dog, just in case.
Don’t leave your dog inside of a parked car. Most people know this rule for the summer. A parked car can quickly amplify the effects of extreme weather. During the winter it can act as an icebox and trap cold air inside.
Further train your dog during the winter while inside. Dogs that spend less time outside during the winter can become lethargic—or, in some cases, they become hyper. The best way to keep your dog active or to use his excess energy is to cause him to think. Providing 10‑15 minutes of training daily on basics such as sit, stay, come, and walking on leash will energize the lethargic dog and cause the hyper dog to be more tired. Providing 10‑15 minutes of workout twice per day will be even better.
Jeri Wagner is a canine behavioral therapist and master trainer. Jeri uses a natural training system leveraging the same communication methods – body language and voice control – that dogs follow as part of their instinctive pack mentality. Training takes place in the home where the problems generally occur. Jeri trains in western Montgomery county and northern Chester County. For more information, call 1-877-500 BARK (2275) or visit www.barkbusters.com.
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