9 Ways to Keep Your Dog Safe in Winter
by Jessi Larson
The days are getting shorter. The weather is getting a little crisper. Before you know it, winter will be here for those of us living in cold climates. That means snow, ice and miserably cold temperatures, which can present a number of challenges and potential health risks for our four-legged companions. Don’t stress out, though. If you follow the steps below, you can keep your dog healthy and safe during winter time.
Limit time in extreme cold
As a rule of thumb, the lower the temperature outside, the shorter the time your pup should spend outdoors. Always watch the thermometer before sending a dog outside. When it gets extremely cold, make sure they spend only a limited time outdoors.
If for some reason your dog does spend extended periods of time outside, be sure to always have to have an option for shelter that is windproof and preferably heated.
Keep your pup well fed and hydrated
Staying warm in cold weather takes a lot of energy, which in turn burns calories more quickly. If your dog plays outside in the cold, give them a little extra food to refuel, and always make sure their water bowl is full.
Project paws from ice and salt
Winter is tough on your dog’s paws. First, ice often accumulates between the pads and toes, leading to sore paws and even hypothermia or frostbite. When your dog comes back inside, check their feet for ice and remove gently with a towel.
Another issue is the salt used to melt ice on the road and sidewalks. This can lead to chemical burn on your poor pup’s paws. Worse, your dog may lick their paws and ingest the chemicals. To avoid any problems, either try to limit the time your dog spends walking on the road or quickly wipe down their feet as soon as you get home.
Dog booties can help with both problems – if your pup will keep them on.
Avoid antifreeze poisoning
Another dangerous chemical in winter in antifreeze. The substance drips from a car’s radiator and has a smell and taste that dogs are attracted to. The toxin ethylene glycol is what makes antifreeze so lethal, and only a small drop can have serious health impacts for your dog, including damage to the brain, liver and kidneys, and even death.
Signs of antifreeze poisoning include delirium, uncoordinated movement, vomiting, excess urination, rapid heart beat, weakness, diarrhea, fainting and seizures. If you think your dog ingested antifreeze, call your vet right away!
Keep up with training
Of course you always want to make sure your dog is well trained and well behaved. But in the winter months, this will be put to the test. For example, it’s annoying when your dog pulls on the leash in other seasons, but this becomes downright dangerous when there’s ice on the ground that could cause injury to one or both of you. Or say your dog runs onto a lake that is only partially froze, or they are starting to drink antifreeze. You want your dog to be familiar with commands at these perilous times.
Fur = warmth
Your dog’s fur provides warmth. Don’t shave your dog down in winter months; they need that extra protection against the cold. However, if your pup has long hair, you’ll want to trim it a bit to minimize ice and salt sticking to the fur, especially on the paw area.
For smaller dogs with short hair, you may want to get them a dog coat or sweater for extra warmth. You’ll likely get some ribbing from friends for this, but wouldn’t you rather have a warm, safe and healthy pup?
Bathe your pup less frequently
Washing your pup too often removes essential oils and can irritate the skin, especially during cold months. That’s not to say you shouldn’t bath your pup during the winter; it’s just better to do it less frequently and only when needed. To keep your dog from getting too stinky, you can always use a wet washcloth to wipe down areas like the legs and paws that get dirty more frequently. And when you do give your dog a bath, make sure he is 100% dry before going outside. You don’t want a dogsicle.
Beware of ice
As we mentioned before, ice is a tricky bugger. One false move and you, your dog, or both of you are going down. Hard. Keep your dog away from extra icy areas to prevent any serious injuries. If you have to walk on ice, make sure your dog walks at a reasonable pace and doesn’t pull.
Also, watch how much ice your dog eats. Not only could it be made up of dangerous chemicals, the cold ice may also chill your dog’s body and cause damage. Our dog Toby loves to eat ice. One time in an extremely cold bout, he grabbed a giant chunk of ice and wolfed it down before we could stop him. Moments later, he started to shake and whine. The cold was just too much for his system! We held him tight and calmed him, trying to desperately to warm him up. Thankfully this worked, but had it not, we would have taken him to the vet right away. The experience was utterly terrifying!
Watch for signs
Despite your best efforts, your dog may still do something silly in the winter time that has serious consequences. Always keep an eye out for strange, uncharacteristic behavior. If you observe anything out of the ordinary – excessive whining and shivering, slow movements, shallow breathing, etc. – call the vet right away.
Just a reminder: If you see a dog in the cold for an unreasonable amount of time, speak up. Talk to the owner if possible. If not, call authorities. Your actions could save the dog’s life.