Does your dog love the winter months? Whether the answer is yes or no, you need to be prepared to protect your furry friend from the cruelties of cold winter days and keep him healthy.
Don’t be deceived into thinking that the coat of fur on your pet’s body is enough for him to tolerate the cold. This isn’t necessarily the case.
Like you, these fur-coated creatures are used to the warmth of indoor shelter, and cold weather can be as hard on them as it can be on you. Bitter cold, numbing wetness, or biting winds can make your dog very uncomfortable.(1)
In fact, exposure to the unforgivingly cold and arid elements of winter such as the chilly rain, sleet, and snow can make your pet vulnerable to frostbite or hypothermia and can leave him in the throes of severe illness.
While chapped paws and itchy flaking skin are the commonly reported discomforts, your pet can be subjected to even more serious forms of suffering. Every dog owner would agree that come what may, your dog’s daily walk should not be compromised.
However, during winter, the snow-clad streets and sidewalks are often cleared by covering the ground with chemical-laden ice-melting agents. Needless to say, treading on such toxic turf can spell major trouble for your canine companions.
Your dog’s paws can pick up these toxic elements and turn sore. Worse, your pet may lick off the chemicals from his bare paws, resulting in internal toxicity, so much so that the ingestion of antifreeze can trigger kidney failure and neurological symptoms in your furry four-legged friend.
Thus, the responsibility lies with pet parents to keep antifreeze equipment and chemical deicing products safely out of their dog’s reach.(9)
Dogs are like babies who need a little extra care during the winter days. Being a responsible dog owner, you need to pay special attention to your pet’s well-being during this time to ensure that you both enjoy the season to the fullest.
Groom Your Dog for this Winter
Here are 10 tips to keep your dog healthy this winter.
1. Make Sure Your Dog Gets Enough Exercise
Exercise is important for your pet’s health, irrespective of whether it is summer or winter. If your dog prefers to curl up in a cozy corner and sit doing nothing, take steps to get him moving.(2)
A sedentary lifestyle isn’t good for your furry friend. So, throw on a coat or grab an umbrella and take your pet for a walk whenever the weather is okay.
If the weather is not good for a walk, there are plenty of ways to make your dog exercise. For example, a simple game of fetch, hide and seek, or tug of war can help your dog get a daily dose of exercise.
You can also create an indoor obstacle course or make your dog run up and down the stairs from time to time.
2. Provide the Right Food to Your Dog
During the winter months, you will have to keep your dog’s diet in mind.
The increased calorie requirement to keep the body warm combined with a less active lifestyle can make your pet gain weight quickly. Being overweight is not good for your pet’s health. This is another reason why exercising your pet during the winter months is beneficial.
For dogs that are active, increase the number of calories you feed them. However, if your dog has a tendency to gain weight quickly, opt for low-calorie but healthy foods.
A high-calorie diet along with feeding small frequent meals rather than one or two large meals will help make up for the extra energy expenditure during the colder days of winter.
Outdoor pets will require more calories than indoor pets and should receive about 10% to 15% more of their recommended daily caloric intake. Ask your veterinarian about the diet that’s right for your pet, and one that will help ensure a healthy coat and a good supply of energy during the cold winter months.(1)
In addition, you can consult your vet about giving your dog certain supplements that help with digestion or joint pains that may worsen during winter.
3. Keep Your Dog Hydrated
Like healthy food, proper hydration is important for your pet, even during the winter months.
In fact, dogs can become dehydrated just as quickly in the winter as they can in the summer. The body’s response to being cold results in less feeling of thirst in our pets, causing them to voluntarily drink less water. Additionally, the body will produce a higher urine output when cold, causing them to urinate more frequently.(3)
Even if your dog loves to eat snow, it’s not an adequate substitute for fresh water. So, it is important to keep a good supply of water available to your dog at all times.
If your dog spends time outdoors in your yard, make sure he has access to a water bowl. You must check the water bowl often and break any ice that may form on top.
4. Provide Winter Wear to Your Dog
If you have puppies at home or short-or coarse-haired dogs such as Boston Terriers, Boxers, and short-coat Chihuahuas, bear in mind that they are less cold-tolerant than some of the heavier-coated dogs.
Cold tolerance is based on multiple factors including the dog’s size, hair coat type, and muscle and fat mass, which play key roles in increasing the dog’s metabolism and keeping the body warm.(1)
So, to offer protection to these pups, invest in good-quality sweaters and jackets. You can get pet winter wear for puppies and adult dogs easily in stores and online shops. Make them wear winter clothes all the time, especially when going outdoors, even when it is just to do their bathroom duty.
If you are taking your puppy outside for a walk, get him something to wear that has a waterproof nylon cover.
5. Have the Right Bedding for Your Dog
Having the right bedding is very important for your pet’s health, especially during the winter months.
If your pet is sleeping in an outside kennel, make sure it provides protection from the wind and has a raised and padded bed. This will help prevent the cold and dampness in the ground from seeping into the bedding.(4)
If your pet is staying inside, it is important to place your dog’s bed in a warm spot away from drafts, cold tile, or uncarpeted floors. You can even get a low platform bed made of light wood or an aluminum frame with canvas stretched over it to keep your pet off the cold floor.
Be cautious when providing external heating sources such as portable heaters or heated blankets. Make sure your pet has the option to move away from the heat source when they feel too hot and that the heat sources are safe and don’t burn your pet.
Along with the right bedding, warm blankets are a must to help create a toasty environment.
6. Protect Your Dog’s Paws
During the winter months, your dog’s paws or pads can get damaged from exposure to snow, ice, and salt. Hence, during this time, you need to take extra care of these body parts.
Frostbite is a large concern for dogs who are walking around in very cold environments. The toes are one of the many parts affected, along with the tail and the ears.
After a time outside, check the paws thoroughly. Look for little snow or ice balls that may get caught between his toes or in the hair on his paws. If your dog has furry feet, you can trim the hair that grows between his pads to prevent ice from building up in it.
Also, it’s important to wipe off your pet’s paws after a walk with a warm washcloth.
7. Block off Heat Sources
Dogs often love to cuddle up or take a quick nap near a fireplace or other heat sources in the home. However, you must block access to heat sources to reduce the risk of burns, as pets aren’t aware of how hot they can get.(6)
Instead of space heaters, you can install baseboard radiator covers to prevent your furry friend from getting burned. If you have a fireplace, make sure your pet can’t get too close to it.
Portable heaters should always have screens over them as well, and as stated earlier, the pet should always be able to move away from the heat source if they want to.
To keep the temperature of your house soothing for your pet, keep the humidifier on. It will also prevent your dog from suffering from dry skin. A humidifier is also very beneficial for dogs with respiratory problems. The added moisture in the air will help dogs with chronic coughs or bronchitis to breathe easily.
8. Increase Intervals Between Baths
Giving your dog daily baths can dry out the skin, which can cause a lot of discomforts. This is something you can easily avoid by lengthening the intervals between baths.(7)
There is no need to give your pet a daily bath. Cut back on the frequency of baths, and ask your vet to prescribe a shampoo that’s more moisturizing than the average ones.
After bathing, dry your dog thoroughly, especially before allowing him outside. Blow drying your pet and brushing out the coat thoroughly will help in keeping your pet warm after bathing.
You can always take your pet to a vet to learn what you can do to keep his coat clean and well groomed during the winter.
9. Provide an Outside Shelter to Your Pet
If it is not snowing outside and you want your dog to stay outside, you need to provide a good and durable outdoor shelter.(5)
Getting wet or sitting in the cold wind will make your dog prone to colds, frostbite, low body temperature (hypothermia), and other illnesses.
When the fur is kept dry, it traps a warm layer of air and helps protect your dog from getting sick.
So, it is important to provide your dog with a doghouse or other types of shelter that is dry, off the ground to prevent a wet floor, and protective against the wind and rain. This is important even during moderate temperatures. This will help your dog get used to sleeping in the doghouse and learn to take shelter whenever there is sudden wind, rain, or snow.
When making an outdoor shelter, keep the size in mind. It should be only slightly larger than the size of your dog’s body, but they should also be able to turn around inside. Also, install a light bulb overhead to help keep the inside even warmer.
10. Don’t Ignore Routine Health Care
So, during this time, you must not ignore your pet’s regular health checkup. Remember to keep up to date with vaccinations, too.
For older dogs, the aches and pains of arthritis or old injuries can be exacerbated by cold and inactivity. Medications or supplements can be important in helping prevent discomfort or pain. Consult your vet about appropriate medicines or supplements.
- Dogs stay warm by burning fuel, which refers to the food they eat. During the winter months, dogs need more calories to generate body warmth.
- To prevent dogs from developing dry skin, dull coat, and static-filled fur during the winter due to artificial heat from furnaces, give your dog fatty acid supplements. It will help counteract the drying effects of winter. Consult your vet regarding an appropriate dosage for your dog.(8)
- Always clear away the snow in your yard or walkways, and pile it away from fences to prevent your dog from climbing over them.
- Cold weather can aggravate existing medical conditions in older dogs, particularly arthritis. Be prepared to take extra care of older pets.
- When taking your dog for a walk in piles of autumn leaves or snow, be careful of hidden dangers.
- Don’t encourage your dog to jump on or run after a toy near any water that has iced over. Falling through the ice into the very cold water can cause hypothermia.
- As the visibility is poor in snowy or foggy weather, put on a LED collar on your pet to help you keep an eye on him.
- No matter what, never leave your pet alone in the car.
- Some dogs, especially small or elderly dogs, have difficulty wading through thick snow to go outside. If needed, create an indoor dog bathroom.
- Cold Weather Pet Tips. Washington State University. https://www.vetmed.wsu.edu/sitefinity/status?ReturnUrl=https://www.vetmed.wsu.edu/outreach/Pet-Health-Topics/categories/miscellaneous-health-care-topics/cold-weather-pet-tips. Published December 8, 2012.
- Dog walking – the health benefits. Better Health Channel. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/dog-walking-the-health-benefits. Published June 30, 2015.
- Cold Weather Increases Risk Of Dehydration. UNH Today. http://www.unh.edu/delete/news/news_releases/2005/january/sk_050128cold.html. Published January 28, 2005.
- Cold Weather Pet Safety. Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association. https://www.avma.org/public/PetCare/Pages/Cold-weather-pet-safety.aspx.
- 10 Winter Safety Steps for Dog Owners – American Kennel Club. American Kennel Club. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/lifestyle/10-winter-safety-steps-for-dog-owners/. Published March 12, 2015.
- Wohlsein P, Peters M, Schulze C. Thermal Injuries in Veterinary Forensic Pathology. Veterinary Pathology. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0300985816643368. Published April 22, 2016.
- Cold Weather Safety Tips. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: ASPCA. https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/general-pet-care/cold-weather-safety-tips.
- Tretter S, Mueller RS. The Influence of Topical Unsaturated Fatty Acids and Essential Oils on Normal and Atopic Dogs. American Animal Hospital Association. http://jaaha.org/doi/abs/10.5326/JAAHA-MS-5607. Published 2011.
- Frape DL. Ethylene glycol toxicity. Equine Veterinary Education Equine Veterinary Education. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.2042-3292.2002.tb00179.x. Published January 5, 2010.