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Winter - Cold Weather Care for Dogs

What does the winter mean for your dog?

Winter can be a time of great fun or great distress for your dog. I have always owned dogs that love the cold and playing in the snow. However, even with breeds bred for colder climates, with coats bred to repel wet and insulate the body, I have to prepare them for winter. Many of my clients have dogs not bred for cold weather. They have to take greater care with their dogs. What should you do to help prepare your dog for the coming winter?

What type of dog do you have?

A Siberian Husky is better suited for cold weather than your neighbor’s Chihuahua. Short coated, wire-coated dogs and dogs with a single coat (no undercoat) will not stay as warm in winter and a double-coated dog will. Look at the age of your dog. Very young and older dogs are less able to manage cold than dogs in the prime of their lives. Even if your breed was developed for cooler weather: age is a concern. 

Where will your dog live? Inside or Out?

If your dog is to live mainly outdoors or spend a good part of the day outdoors, you must prepare proper shelter for him. If your dog is only going out to relieve himself and then coming right back in or will be exercised by walks with you or games at a dog park, then you do not have to be as obsessed about proper shelter. The more time your dog spends outside will determine the type of preparation you need.

What to do if your dog will be outside a lot

You need to prepare proper shelter. This does not mean putting his crate in the back yard with a tarp over it, a pickup truck cover or big box. Your dog should have a house that is wood or heavy plastic. The shelter should have ventilation but not be drafty. It should be placed out of prevailing winds. A doorway, in the middle of the house without any flap will allow winds and rain to blow in. You can buy outdoor heated beds that you can put on a timer if desired. Though these beds may seem expensive at the start, if you compare the price of a heated bed to how much you would spend a winter in straw or other beddings, the investment may be worth it. If you use straw, blankets or other bedding, ensure that it is dry and clean. Check the bedding morning and evening: wet bedding will hold no heat and can freeze.

Is it possible to let your dog spend cold nights in the house?

As night falls temperatures plummet. Dogs are no different to you or I when it comes to feeling cold. Spending freezing nights outside in the cold throughout a bitter winter is a miserable existence. Many people don't realize this. They go outside in the morning and see their dog wagging it's tail and looking quite happy. Well, that's because he is happy to see you. He has no way of telling you that for the past 12 hours he has been cold, miserable and shivering.Next time you are snug and warm in your bed at night give a thought to your dog. Do you want him to suffer outside in the cold? Bad things can happen to dogs out in the cold such as hypothermia and frost bite. Dogs can also die.

If you don't want to give your dog the run of the house maybe you can find somewhere in your house where he can sleep such as a utility room, laundry or bathroom. Buy him a snug dog bed and he will probably be so comfortable, warm and contented that he will sleep the entire night and cause no problems from being inside the house. If your budget doesn't stretch to a dog bed then at least a blanket to sleep on is better than a cold floor.

What about food and water?

Make sure you change the water several times a day or use a heated bowl that helps prevent freezing. A dog can dehydrate in the winter as well as summer if adequate water is not available. If your dog has hanging ears or a “beard”, check for icicles and even frostbite. You may want to increase how much your dog eats or change the type of food. Outdoor dogs are going to expend more calories in the winter. Use plastic bowls. Tongues may stick to cold metal!

What if your dog will be out for shorter periods or just going for walks?

Most pets live indoors but spend part of the day outside or are only outside for walks. Make sure your dog has shelter or is not allowed out for long periods. Once a dog stops moving, he is going to chill faster. For safety, do not leave dog coats on your dog unless you are going to be closely monitoring play. A coat can snag and a dog can become injured during an attempt to get loose. If your dog needs a coat, do not go for the cutesy ones. Most important is function and not fashion! A coat must allow for freedom of movement and bodily functions. If the coat is to cover the legs, make sure your dog can fully extend his legs. Coats that restrict movement can build stress and make wearing the coat unpleasant. If you choose to use booties on your dog, again, think function and less fashion. 

What about winter grooming?

Continue to groom your dog regularly. Dirty and matted hair does not hold warmth. If your dog has long hair, check for ice and snow accumulation. Trim fur between the toes as ice and snow can build up there too! If your dog gets wet, dry thoroughly! If you regularly have your dog shaved, ask the groomer to keep the coat a little longer for the winter or consider using a dog coat.

What are other winter concerns?

Many chemicals used mainly in the winter can be hazardous and even deadly to a dog. Antifreeze can kill in very small amounts. Even the “pet-safe” antifreezes are not 100% safe: they are just lower toxicity. If you know or suspect your dog has ingested antifreeze, call your veterinarian or emergency vet clinic immediately! Rock salt and other de-icing agents can cause foot irritations. Wipe your dog’s feet off after walks and urban dogs or suburban dogs that regularly are walked in areas where people apply de-icers may benefits from booties. Another concern many may not think of in regards to winter safety is piled up snow. Snow piled against a fence due to your shoveling or high snowfalls can provide a great means of escape for your dog.

Winter can be a great time for our dogs. It can also be a time of discomfort and even danger. With some planning, your dog will not have to suffer through the cold. If in doubt, discuss specific winter needs for your dog with your veterinarian.

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