This week we got our first taste of winter in the midwest. While the temperature was a balmy 20 degrees, the wind chill got down to single digits. Needless to say, walks with the dog are about to get a bit shorter.
Winter brings forth a new set of challenges beyond just trying to stay warm on your walk. They can become dangerous if your pet isn’t prepared. Sure some breeds handle the cool air better than others, but damage to paws and other areas increases during this time of year. Here are some tips.
Under all that fur, your dog has skin too. But unlike us, they can’t just lather on the lotion when things get a bit dry in the house. So to prevent your dog from itching and dealing with uncomfortable flaky skin, it’s essential to take action.
A humidifier in the home can do wonders to keep dry skin away. Aim for around 50% humidity if you can. If you don’t have a humidifier, boiling some water in the kitchen works well too (especially in smaller apartments). When your dog comes in from the snow, make sure they are completely dry. That includes their paws, which can get dry and crack.
Winter is also an excellent time to cut back on baths. Washing your dog can remove their essential oils and dry out their skin. There are some moisturizing shampoos on the market that can help, but it’s best just to cut back altogether.
And maybe most importantly, keep them hydrated. Make sure their water bowl is filled, and they are getting plenty of it during the day. Just like with us, this can keep the skin moisturized.
Keep them Warm
Fur works a bit like a coat. The longer, the better when it gets cold. That’s why I recommend not shaving your dog down till Spring. That doesn’t mean to neglect their fur completely. You may need to do a slight trimming and brushing to get out any salt or other damaging elements from outside.
For the short-haired dogs in your life, you may have to add some apparel to their wardrobe. A coat built for the winter weather is a great choice. Look for something waterproof, warm, and flexible enough where they won’t feel constrained while on walks. Petsmart is a good choice for an affordable jacket in the United States. For dog jackets Canada, there are several specialty stores.
Protect the Paws
While salt can eliminate ice on sidewalks and make for a safer walk, it also can do damage to your dog’s paws. Left unchecked, they can cause the paws to crack and get irritated, making for painful walks. It’s imperative to wipe their feet when coming inside. That includes in-between the cracks in their toes.
If your dog has some patience, boots work well too. Unfortunately, I’ve never had a dog who will sit still long enough for me to put them on. Petroleum can work well to provide a protectant from de-icing chemicals. You can also purchase de-icing salts that are pet friendly, although I don’t have any experience with them.
Supersize their Meals
Well, not really, but you should be looking to feed your dog more if they are outside a lot during the winter. To keep warm, dogs will burn more calories when outside. So toss in an extra scoop of kibble every so often (or maybe provide some treats).
Dangers Lurk Outside
Besides salt messing with their skin, there are other dangers outside that are worth looking at. Antifreeze is poison to dogs (and yourself). It’s imperative to clean up any spills you have in the garage. You can also use propylene glycol instead of ethylene glycol products.
Snow and heavy winds can also be disorienting to your dog. Not only visually, but it can hide familiar scents they use to navigate. Letting them off the leash in this weather can spell a recipe for disaster. They may run out in traffic or in a direction that gets them lost. No one wants to search for their dog in the middle of the winter. So keep them on a leash and be careful with their surroundings. And make sure to collar and chip your pet as well.
This goes double for those who have cars. A car warming up can be an inviting place for your dog (or neighbors dog to hide). Before taking off, make sure to make a little noise and check underneath the vehicle.
Keep them Warm Inside Too
Older homes like mine have their share of drafts. A particular corner may see a 5-10 degree difference. If that area is where your dog sleeps, it’s a good time to move them. Or at least provide several blankets and a warm bed where they can snuggle up.
This brings up cars as well. Many people like to leave their dog in the car on cold days, thinking it’s safe. The inside of a vehicle acts will retain the cold and essentially turn your vehicle into a freezer. Make those trips incredibly short, or have a car you can leave the warm air running inside while you are gone.
Check with your Vet
As with anything, check with your veterinarian if you have any questions. If you spot your dog acting oddly after some time outside, this is especially important. The ASPCA and other sites offer useful tips as well.
Winter can be a fun time for both you and your pet. A chance to play in the snow and enjoy each other’s company in a new environment. Just be sure to play it safe until the seasons change.