When winter hits outside, that means cold frigid temperatures and snow everywhere. Winter weather and dogs is often overlooked as being a risk for dogs simply due to the misconception that they have fur, so they are fine.
This is a dangerous misconception, and the reality is that dogs are very affected by the cold weather. In order to make sure that our dogs are safe and protected, we need to be aware of what the risks to them really are. Once we go through all the winter weather risks, I will give you some tips of ways to ensure your dog can enjoy the wonderful weather, and yet still be safe.
If your dog is anything like my dog Fergus, who absolutely loves the snow, keeping him inside is almost impossible. He just loves to run and play in the huge snowbanks whenever he can.
To ensure that he is OK out there, I watch out for some of the most common winter weather risks that he can encounter when outside.
Two of the most common risks are:
Although hypothermia and frostbite are the most serious of winter weather issues there are also risks like:
cracked and bleeding paws, clumpy snowballs caught in their hair that can burn their skin, salt, and sand in their paws that they then lick to clean off and lastly the risk of vehicle antifreeze.
Every one of these risks has the potential to cause a serious health concern to your dog. Some are obvious, while others are things we don’t often think about as being things we need to worry about.
Hypothermia is best defined as:
“A medical emergency that occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat causing low body temperature”.
When this happens, your dog’s body is using up its stored energy quickly creating the risk for a potential life-threatening issue. The body actually goes into heat conservation mode which can cause your dog to become unresponsive. Other symptoms that are an indication of hypothermia are:
- Pale gums
- Stiff muscles
- Low heart rate and breathing rate
- Fixed and dilated pupils
- Stumbling and lack of coordination
If your dog is suffering from a mild case of hypothermia, they may exhibit shivering and become lethargic. The big concern is if these symptoms are missed then the hypothermia can escalate to a dangerous level and even become fatal.
Frostbite occurs when skin is exposed to extreme cold weather for a long period of time. The blood vessels are then constricted causing less blood flow to reach the affected area. This lack of blood flow along with the cold can cause tissue damage to the extremity. If not addressed, the area may turn black and be unsavable.
Much like people, dogs are at a significant risk of developing frostbite at a temperature of 32 F – 0 C. There are many areas of your dog’s body that are at risk.
Some of the most common areas at risk of frostbite are:
- Foot Pads
All of these areas can quickly become at risk if your dog is left outside in cold temperatures without any protection and for too long.
We often see rescue pets with missing ears or cut off tails simply because they were unable to protect themselves from the elements. Any dog left outside for extended periods of time without a warm place to go is at an extreme risk of frostbite.
Tips to protect your dog
Identifying and being aware of what the cold weather risks are to your dog is literally the first and most important thing as a dog parent. Once we know the risks, finding tips to help us is the next helpful thing we need.
Let’s take a look at some of the best tips that we can do to ensure that our dogs can stay safe and protected in the cold.
The first thing is:
What is the temperature outside?
Make sure you know what the temperature is when you are heading outside with your dog. Whether you are going out with your dog or letting them out in the yard alone, knowing how cold it is can be used as a guide for how long they can be outside for.
The temperature is also a helpful way to dress your dog accordingly. We all know that smaller dogs or dogs with thin hair are more likely to get cold faster. For this reason, if you check the temperature and it is cold, put your dog’s coat or boots on them. Dress them up to help keep them warm.
Dressing your dog will help protect your dog from the risk of hypothermia but can still leave your dog at risk of frostbite on their other areas. That leads me to my next tip!
How long should I go outside?
Time is another huge important tip when it comes to being protective of our dog in cold temperatures. Make sure that when you do go outside with your dog, or they go alone, that they aren’t outside very long.
Check the temperature first and then make sure that you adjust the amount of time your dog is outside. Obviously the colder the temperature the less time they are allowed to be out for. If it is warmer outside, then your dog can be out longer. Just make sure to use the outside temperature as a measuring stick.
What’s the best time to go outside?
When, you go outside is also a great tip to help with cold weather. If you plan to spend any length of time outside, do it at the warmest time of day. Don’t go out first thing in the morning! Wait til midday, as it is warmer than.
An even better tip is to wait til the sun comes out and is shining bright. Even in winter the sun is still wonderful at warming things up. We all know that the warmth of the sun, makes the cold so much more tolerable.
How to stop dry skin and cracking paws?
The winter months can absolutely wreak havoc on our dogs’ skin and paws. The best way to stop dry skin on our dogs, is to add a supplement on top of their food. You can buy supplements that are geared directly for a dog’s hair and skin. Even using something as simple as a bit of coconut oil on top of their food can really help.
When it comes to dry and cracking paws, keeping a keen eye on their paws is paramount to catching dry cracking paws early. If you wait to long to treat your dog’s paws, they can crack and even bleed if they are neglected.
There are some amazing dog paw balms that are wonderful at helping dry dog paws if you notice them starting to dry out. Much like us with dry cracking heels who put Vaseline on our feet before bed, dog paws require the same type of application. I know that keeping your dog from licking the balm off is tough but do what you can to apply and rub in the balm as much as possible. Just remember that if your dogs paws crack, it can have the ability to stop them from wanting to go out at all.
Don’t overfeed your dog!
We all know the saying that “a nice layer of fat will help keep you warm”. Well unfortunately as much as that maybe true, the negatives of having an overweight dog are worse then keeping them warm. A dog that is over fed and overweight, will find it harder to move and remain active. Yes, winter weight gain is a common issue even with us, so remember that our dogs are just as at risk of packing on a few pounds.
Keeping your dog at a healthy weight and active during the winter months is key to making sure your dog is overall healthy!
There are many ways that we can overall make sure that our dog is safe and protected during the cold weather. I have shared some of the biggest issues that can occur with our dogs and what to watch out for. Tips for winter weather and dogs is about making sure that we are always thinking about them first.
Simple things like where we play with our dogs. Snow can cover up areas that can be hidden and even dangerous for our dog. For this reason, play in areas that you are familiar with. You don’t want to go near an area that you aren’t familiar with. Things like frozen ponds and bodies of water are dangerous no matter how cold it is.
Playing in a safe area, also means making sure that your dog is not near any area were vehicles park, just in case there has been a vehicle that has an antifreeze leak. We all know that dogs like the sweet taste of antifreeze, and that it can be deadly even in a small amount.
Ultimately keep your dog warm when you can and after playing outside, dry them off and provide them a cozy bed or blanket to lay on while they dry off.
I live in western Canada and of course that means that it gets cold and we get a ton of snow here. For that reason, I have always made sure that I follow the tips in this post for my own dogs. I think about these tips every single day in winter.
I hope that I have helped give you some insight into how to manage cold weather with your dog and as always I would love to hear from you. Drop me a comment below to let me know how you and your dog get through the cold months.