Cold weather tips for keeping your dog safe and warm this winter
Before you go and buy the hippest designer footie-pajamas for your pup, you should start by taking a quick inventory of their overall health. Has your dog been to the vet for a check-up recently? Are they a healthy weight for their breed and age? Have they been tested for common dog diseases and received all recommended vaccinations? Many of the injuries and illnesses that can show up in the winter, can be prevented by staying on top of your pet’s health and wellness regimen before outdoor temperatures dip below freezing.
Is it too cold outside for my dog?
Just like there are dogs who are more tolerant of hot temperatures than others, the same is true regarding cold weather tolerance as well. Multiple components affect a dog’s capability to endure dropping temperatures including breed, coat type and color, weight, overall health and age. For the most part, dogs are okay being outside until the temperatures start to dip below 50°F. However, once the temperature gets to the 20’s and below, no dogs should be outside for more than a couple minutes--the risks of hypothermia and other injuries are too high.
Make sure your dog is protected - 10 Winter Tips
Whether you and your pooch live in the notoriously frosty midwest or sunny southern California, here are plenty of tips to keep your pup safe and warm all winter long. The most important thing to keep in mind during the colder winter months is that if it is too cold for you, it is probably too cold for your pooch. Just like us humans, dogs are usually happier, healthier, and safer indoors during the coldest times of the year.
- Keep your dog on-leash during cold weather walks. Did you know that the snow and frigid temperatures of winter weather can dampen your dogs superpower of scent? Because of this winter is the most common time of year for dogs to get lost. Keep your pets contact information up-to-date and securely attached to their collar just in case - dogs and cats with updated ID and owner contact information are much more likely to be quickly reunited with their owners.
- Let your pup stay home while you run errands. Leaving your pet in the car is never a good idea, and the winter season is no exception! Just as an unattended car quickly becomes an oven in hot summer temperatures, the same empty car quickly cools to an icebox in the winter weather, making it an awful place to put man’s best friend. Don’t risk your animal’s health when the temperature drops; your dog loves being by your side, but they also should be kept inside during the harshest winter temperatures.
- Ensure your dog has access to clean, non-frozen water at all times whether indoors or outdoors. Hydration is extra important during winter months to prevent dry skin and keep energy levels high. If you’ve determined that it is safe for your dog to spend time outdoors, heated water bowls are available to make sure their H20 supply doesn’t freeze when the temperature does. Dogs must regularly eat a high-quality diet in order to make sure their body stays warm during colder months. If your dog does not spend long hours outdoors, it is not necessary to increase caloric intake during the winter. However, if your dog is spending much time outside, you will want to discuss any dietary increases with your veterinarian prior to making any adjustments.
- Avoid walks during the coldest part of the day. Paying attention to the temperature throughout the day as well as predicted times of snow or rain can help you preserve your dog’s daily walk routine. Regular walks provide dogs with necessary mental stimulation and outlets for their natural curiosity, so it is important to maintain even a shortened walk every day whenever possible.
- Protect the paws. If you live in a climate where salt and deicing chemicals are used on streets and sidewalks, you will need to provide your dog's Paws with lots of TLC in winter months. Use a “Pet Friendly” ice-melt on your own property if at all possible, and you should also seriously consider using dog winter boots for your pup’s daily walk. Boots keep your dog’s paws warm by preventing direct contact with the cold pavement as well as preventing salt or chemicals from getting on your dog's paws. If your dog refuses to wear booties, make sure to always wipe and clean their paws and feet when returning home. Help keep your dog s paws in good health, by carefully removing any ice balls or salt crystals. You should also look out for any cuts or cracks on their paws or redness between toes; treat these sensitive areas by gently massaging with petroleum jelly or other paw protector.
- Skip the bath. Whenever possible, skip your dog’s bath altogether. If this isn’t an option, reduce the frequency and duration of your dogs bathing. Frequent bathing removes their skins’ natural oils, and in the colder, dryer winter, this can be the difference between a healthy, happy dog and one with dry, irritated skin. Always use a moisturizing shampoo in the winter and NEVER bathe a dog in cold water during the winter -- this can cause their internal temperature to drop below a healthy range.
- Beware of antifreeze. Even in the most miniscule amounts, antifreeze is extremely poisonous and hazardous to our pets. Unfortunately, antifreeze also has a sweet taste that can encourage our pups to ingest it. Make sure not to leave your dog unattended on driveways or in garages, and always clean up any antifreeze spills immediately to prevent any exposure to your animals.
- Keep your pets bed warm and toasty. A cozy bed is extra important for our furry friends during the coldest nights of the year. It’s a good idea to add an extra layer of warm blankets/covers in the wintertime. There are a variety of pet-friendly electric blankets and heating mats available to add to your dog’s bed. If you are not comfortable with these options, you can also “pre-heat” their bed using an electric hair dryer for a few minutes or by placing a space heater near their bed for 10-15 minutes. Make sure not to exceed 15 minutes of close proximity to the heater, and always unplug and move the heater after this timeframe. Another option is to place your dog’s bed near your bed to share some body heat to keep warm or to place your dog’s bed in the warmest place in your home.
- Cut back on the haircuts. Winter dog care 101: never shave your dog during the winter. Your dog’s fur traps air inside, which acts as an insulator, warming up their body. Additionally, you should consider refraining from all haircuts that do not serve a functional purpose. If your dog likes to spend time outdoors in the winter, allow for their coat to grow as long as it will naturally. Let those long haired locks grow! However, you should trim any areas that seem to be attracting ice balls as well as the fur in between their paws in order to prevent ice and snow balling up in between their footpads.
- Dress your dog in layers. Small dogs, puppies, seniors as well as short haired dogs are especially susceptible to the chill of winter air. Consider dressing your dog in multiple lighter layers, starting with a base of a high-neck or turtleneck sweater or coat, making sure that there is coverage from the base of the tail to the belly for maximum warmth. Boots, jackets, and additional outer layers can help your dog stay warm and dry during their time in the snow.
Keep your pet warm this winter: a note on outdoor dogs
If your dog seems happy living their life 99% outdoors, you will still want to take some extra steps to ensure it doesn’t get too cold for your pet to stay in peak health. At the very least, make sure that your dog has a warm, dry, covered area of shelter -- the best options are in a garage, on a covered porch, or in a shed. Outdoor pet owners need to check the temperature and dryness of their animal’s shelter and bedding daily. Wet bedding is extremely dangerous to a pets in cold weather! As mentioned above, you will want to be sure that your dog always has access to clean, unfrozen water in order to stay well-hydrated. No matter how wonderful of an outdoor home you have created for your dog, never leave your dog outside for long periods when the temperatures are extremely cold.
Symptoms of Serious Cold Weather Illnesses
Frostbite and hypothermia are two of the most dangerous dog ailments that attack in the cold winter weather. Keep your pet safe by familiarizing yourself with these serious conditions and their symptoms. Hypothermia in dogs is an illness that happens due to an abnormally low body temperature, most commonly from a prolonged exposure to cold temperature or being submerged in very cold water. Dogs with hypothermia typically exhibit one or more of the following symptoms: tiredness, shallow breathing, muscle stiffness, and shivering. If you suspect that your dog has hypothermia, bring them inside, wrap them in warm blankets, and then contact your veterinarian immediately.