‘Tis the season for cozy clothes, curling up by the fire, and waking up to the magic of a world transformed by snow. As much fun as this time of year brings, the winter season also comes with challenges and potential dangers for our four-legged friends. Here are 10 tips to keep your dog feeling wonderful during this chilly time of year.
1. Keep Your Pup Indoors
As temperatures drop, it’s important to avoid leaving your dog outside for extended periods of time. This can be tough for dogs who love the outdoors, and are used to spending a good portion of the day frolicking unsupervised in the backyard – like those who usually have access to a dog door. As much as your schedule allows, let your pup out for short bursts outdoors in which you can monitor them, no longer than half an hour or so. If you notice that your dog is whining, shivering or has stopped playing, it’s time to bring them in. It’s also helpful to let them outside when the sun shines, which will help keep them warmer and also provides the added benefit of some much-needed vitamin D. During the winter months, if you notice your usually active pup seems more lethargic or anxious than usual, consider enrolling them in doggie day care (see tip #8) to give them some stimulation during the day.
2. Consider Clothing
While it’s easy to assume that your dog’s fur coat is keeping them toasty warm, this isn’t always the case. If you wouldn’t feel comfortable standing outside in just one layer of clothing, it’s likely that your pup would feel the same way – especially if they have a thin coat. Consider investing in a sweater or coat for winter walks. A good coat should cover all the way from the neck to the base of the tail, and wrap around the whole belly.
3. Avoid Overfeeding
While you may be thinking your dog needs an extra layer during winter to protect them from the cold, this should be an extra layer of clothing, not fat. If your dog is less active during the winter months, they’re burning less calories and their total daily caloric needs will be less. Adjust food quantities accordingly to maintain their ideal body shape and avoid unnecessary winter weight gain.
4. Watch for Frostbite
Frostbite can be a serious problem for dogs exposed to low temperatures for extended periods of time. Frostbite occurs when a dog’s body gets cold and begins to pull blood from the extremities to the center of the body to keep the vital organs warm. This means your pup’s ears, paws and tail are especially susceptible – they can get so cold without proper blood flow that ice crystals form on the tissue and damage it. While sled dogs and working dogs are most at risk, it’s always smart to be aware of the risk. Frostbitten skin will eventually turn black, but it’s important to watch for early warning signs such as pale or grey skin, hard, cold and waxy skin, or blistering.
5. Avoid Antifreeze
With winter frost comes antifreeze. Antifreeze is a deadly poison that, unfortunately, dogs find delicious. The active ingredient is ethylene glycol, a sweet syrupy liquid that has a tempting aroma and sugary flavor. This is a recipe for disaster, as even a small amount of antifreeze leads to acute kidney failure in dogs. The most common hazard for antifreeze poisoning in animals is when it drips from a car radiator into a puddle on the ground, so if you use antifreeze in your car be sure to keep all animals away from the garage or driveway, and clean up any accidental spills. Also be wary of letting your pup near other parked cars on walks, just in case. Since ethylene glycol is an alcohol, early signs of antifreeze poisoning resemble drunkenness. If you notice your dog acting “drunk” or convulsing, call a vet immediately.
6. Find Salting Solutions
While winter salt on city sidewalks is certainly a convenient solution for us humans, the types of salt used to melt ice and snow and keep it from refreezing are somewhat harsh for our four-legged friends. These salts – typically calcium or sodium chloride – can irritate the pads of your dog’s feet and are toxic if ingested. Be sure to rinse or wipe your pup’s paws after walks around the neighborhood to soothe their feet and ensure they don’t lick it off. If your dog shows signs of discomfort when walking on frozen or salted surfaces, consider outfitting them with dog booties to protect their paws.
7. Get Creative with Exercise
If you’re having trouble finding the motivation to leave the warmth of the fire and instead brave the elements to play fetch outside with your pup, not to worry – there are plenty of creative ways to ensure your dog gets enough exercise without exposing themselves (or you!) to harsh weather. There are tons of indoor games you can play together, such as hide and seek. Throw a treat or toy to distract your dog, then hide and call them, letting them find you, and reward them once they do. You can also build an obstacle course for your dog out of everyday items such as chairs or sofa cushions, placing a treat at the finish line, which not only stimulates their muscles but their brains as well.
8. Look into Doggie Daycare
If you have a pup who is used to romping around outside most of the day or loves going to play at the dog park, the indoor isolation of a cold winter can cause lethargy and loneliness. Consider enrolling your pup in doggie daycare – even if it’s only once or twice a week. This will give dogs who love to socialize some much-needed interaction, ensure they get enough TLC all day long, and allows them the stimulation to play and exercise while they otherwise may not if left indoors home alone.
9. Add Omega 3s
We all know just how much winter weather can wreak havoc on our skin, and the same is true for our canine companions. Low humidity and home heating can dry out your pup’s skin and coat, and while we may apply lotions or lip balms, the best solution for your dog is to add oil to their diet. An Omega 3 supplement such as Flexerna Omega will ensure your pup’s skin and coat stay soft and beautiful all year round.
10. Pay Special Attention to Seniors
Just as humans with arthritis testify to feeling more pain when it’s cold out, older arthritic dogs will also suffer more in winter. The drop in air pressure, which can cause tissues to swell, and the uncomfortable stiffening effect that cold has on muscles can aggravate joint conditions. Winter weather can also make both you and your pup more reluctant to get up and get moving, but it’s crucial to maintain an exercise routine for arthritic dogs year-round. If not used regularly, muscles run the risk of atrophy, which means your dog will have even less strength for the activity needed to improve. If you don’t already, consider giving your pup a high quality joint supplement like GlycanAid or Flexerna to lubricate the joints and ease the discomfort of arthritis.
When it comes to winter and your dog, a good rule of thumb to remember is that if you’re cold, your canine companion probably is too. So as temperatures drop, follow these tips to keep your pup merry and bright all winter long.