by Don Anderson
It's that time of year. Old man winter is here and Jack Frost is nipping at our noses.
While we may not all the happy about the fact, many of our furry companions are looking
forward to it. If you have a dog like we do (Lab and German Shepard mix) then this weather
is heaven for them. Like many of you, I don't look forward to the winter. There always seems
to be a long list of things to get done before it gets to cold and not enough time. There
are a few things every pet owner should be aware of as we enter the winter months.
Very Sweet Not a Treat!
One thing that is on many peoples' list is to make sure their antifreeze in their car is at
the proper level; that antifreeze also attracts pets. To many animals, and not just our pets,
antifreeze is very sweet tasting. Remember that most types of antifreeze contain ethylene
glycol and can poison your dog or cat. Complications include irreversible kidney damage,
coma and death so make sure you clean up any spills and never leave any in an open container.
Many dogs love to spend hours outside romping through the snow. Although this is a very healthy
exercise for them, precautions need to be taken. Don't leave your dog outside for long periods
of time. Housedogs have a harder time with the cold even if they have heavy coats made for winter
conditions. Like you and me dogs have to get acclimated to the weather. Dogs that are always
outside have a much easier time with the change in weather because their body slowly adjusts
to the change in temperature. If your dog is a housedog and loves the outdoors, think about a
doggy coat or sweater. This is important for older dogs and puppies that may be more sensitive
to the cold. Dogs with very short coats have the least tolerance for cold.
Extremely short-coated breeds include Rat Terriers, Greyhounds, Dobermans, Boxers, Boston Terriers
and Chihuahuas. These breeds shouldn't go outside without a sweater or a coat except for short
times to relieve themselves. Small dogs with short coats (such as Toy Rat Terriers, Chihuahuas,
miniature Pinschers, and miniature Dachshunds) are especially vulnerable to cold. They may not
tolerate any outdoor exercise in extremely cold weather.
Foot (Paw) Care
Some dogs experience cracking and rawness on their pads in the winter. Usually the culprit
is the salt used for de-icing roads and sidewalks. It dries the dogs' pads and causes cracking.
To prevent this from happening, wash your dog's toes and pads with warm water after walks to
remove any salt residue and dry them thoroughly. After washing, apply baby oil, Vaseline or
Bag Balm to footpads to soothe irritated paws. Apply again just before walks or outdoor
play time to protect paws.
You may also notice that your dog gets balls of ice between his toes, which can cause pain.
Keeping the hair between your dog's toes and pads clipped short, even with the bottom of the foot.
When hair is left too long, snow sticks to it, forming ice balls that are uncomfortable and hard to
remove. Long hair between pads also reduces traction, making it easier for your dog to slip and
hurt himself on the ice.
Don't let a dog try to chew around lumps of ice collected in its paws or hanging from its fur.
Ingesting rock salt or chemical de-icing products can have a toxic effect. There are pet-safe
ice-melting products available. Use one of them instead of rock salt for de-icing sidewalks
and driveways. The National Animal Poison Control Center also suggests using sand or cat
litter as an alternative. They won't melt ice, but they'll provide added traction.
Dog booties are also available to help protect paws. Many dogs don't care to wear them, though.
For most dogs, it takes a little time to adjust to the new sensation of walking in boots. You
might want to have a camcorder ready for a funniest pet video moment... a high-stepping comedy
act... the first time a dog walks in boots. To get used to wearing them, put boots on all 4 paws
and have your dog just follow you around the house with a handful of treats for encouragement
or go on very short walks. Double-check the fit and make any adjustments if needed. Next day,
try to get your dog interested a favorite fun activity like chasing a ball or a favorite toy
for about 10 minutes while wearing boots. Again, double-check the fit and make any adjustments
if needed. Make sure the boots stay in place as they are supposed to be worn. Practice enough
to know that your dog is willing to wear them for a reasonable length of time before going on
any long walks. Whenever your dog is wearing boots, check them frequently to make sure they're
not too tight. Never leave a dog wearing boots unattended.
Good nail care is also important, too. Nails that are too long also reduce traction. They force
the dog to walk on the backs of his feet, splaying his toes - the greater the space between
his toes — the more snow that will pack between them. A good way to know if your dogs nails
are short enough is to listen to see if you can hear your dogs nails clicking as he walks on
a hard surface like hardwood floors, tile, or cement.
If your dog is always outside, then make sure you have proper shelter provided for him.
The shelter should be large enough for the dog to sit and lie down but small enough to help
retain body heat. A few important things to remember when you buy or build your doghouse.
Make sure the doghouse is up off the ground. This will keep you dog dry in summer and help
keep the cold out in the winter. The doghouse should be insulated and draft free to ensure
your dog does not freeze. Face the front of the doghouse away from the wind and place a
heavy rubber or plastic cover over the front. Your dog will need something to lie on in
the doghouse. If your dog does not chew things up you may be able to use a heavy blanket.
If your dog does chew, then look at using cedar shavings and straw.
The most important thing to remember is if the weather is going to be really severe,
bring your dog in the house for that period of time. Many dogs have frozen to death and
become lost in bad weather.