As the holiday season descends upon us in many parts of the US this also marks the beginning of winter weather. If you own a dog, the winter could means playing rock-paper-scissors to determine who gets the privilege of spending 30 minutes or more out in the cold and ice, while the dog gets some exercise and does its business; or, in my house it means bribing the kids. It also means bundling up like Mikey from A Christmas Story to get the job done. But as much as we humans realize that we need to cover up in winter, we might not realize that our dogs have similar needs; after all, they all come with nice fur coats. The truth is that some dogs need just as much winter coverage as their owners.
Understand Your Dog
Some dogs are bred for winter weather and don’t really need a lot of extra coverage. Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes, and St. Bernards are good examples of dogs that were bread to thick coats and body types especially suited to arctic conditions. In fact, if you have one of these dogs you have probably noticed that they come to life in the snow, and you have a hard time getting them to come inside after one of your winter walks.
Short-haired dogs, like Dobermans, Greyhounds and Whippets aren’t so lucky. Not only is their hair short, but they have relatively thin coats that don’t provide a lot of insulation. Toy breeds also have a difficult time staying warm, as do dogs that normally have thick fur, but have been excessively groomed or clipped – like Chows Chows that have been groomed to have the traditional lion look.
If you are not sure if your dog is naturally suited for cold weather, talk to your vet.
If you dog is not particularly snow friendly, you’ll want to bundle it up before you go outside, just like you would yourself. You can find a dog sweater or snuggie for almost any size dog, even Great Danes. If you are crafty, you an even knit your own from a pattern and personalize it with your dog’s name. If sweaters aren’t your style, or you have a really large dog and can’t find or make a sweater that fits, you can also try tying a wool blanket around him.
When choosing a dog sweater, it’s best to take your dog to a pet supply story and try out different styles – you might find that some fit better than others. Once you have done that, you will have a better idea of what type of sweater fits best, and you can order them from anywhere, or make your own, knowing that they will fit well.
You dog might also need booties to protect its feet, not just from the cold but from salt and ice melters which can be toxic to your dog. Make sure the booties you choose have rubberized treads to provide traction on snow and ice.
You dog might resist wearing them at first, so you should start getting it used to the idea long before you actually need them. Start by putting a bootie on one foot for a minute each day, and then removing it. Then gradually increase until you have all feet covered, and then increase the time in which they are covered. Be sure to give you dog treats after each session so that it gets positive reinforcement, and is more likely to want to put them on the next time you bring them out.
Be Careful with Your Grooming
Your dog’s coat will naturally thicken as it gets colder; this could also mean more dog hair and dog dander around your home. Unless your dog is a show dog and has to be clipped for competition, avoid clipping too much of its furn. Instead, consider brushing and combing it more often, to remove any dead hairs and prevent matted fur, which is less efficient at keeping out the cold.
However, you should trim the hair around the paws pads to prevent ice and snow from collecting around the pads. If your dog absolutely refuses to wear booties, be sure to check is paws after each walk for cracks, cuts, and debris. You should also wipe his paws with a warm cloth to remove any salt or ice melt chemical residue, and then thoroughly dry them.
When you wash your dog, make sure you do it inside, or in a warm place, and make sure your dog is completely dry before going back outside.
Dogs are as prone to winter illnesses and frostbite as humans. Older, arthritic dogs are also as prone to getting more aches and pains during cold weather as humans.
If you notice that the tips of your dog’s ears, and tail feel cold, are dry and hard, and have turned white, red or gray, this could be a sign of frostbite. Wrap your dog in blankets or towels and see the vet immediately. If you notice that you dog has developed a cough, this could be a sign of kennel cough, and you should see the vet. You should also consult with your vet if you notice that your dog is having mobility issues, especially as the weather gets colder.