Caring for your dog during the Winter months
Caring For Your Dog During The Winter Months
Almost all dogs are more than happy to keep going for walks in winter and many of them love to play in the snow, but they do need a little extra care when the temperature drops especially in icy, snowy and freezing conditions
Young and old dogs may not be able to cope as well in the cold. Those with health issues may struggle too as weakened immune symptoms may cause them to become ill more easily. So it’s wise to pay extra attention to their welfare during cold, snowy weather and always make sure they have a warm, dry place to sleep and rest.
Dogs with arthritis may feel the cold more acutely so you might need to take extra care of them in the cold.
Keeping your dog dry and warm is the best way to make sure they’re happy in the winter. Just like humans, dogs can suffer hypothermia and frost bite, so helping them maintain a comfortable body temperature is important.
Keeping warm in the house
Many of us are feeling the pinch with increasing fuel coasts and may have reduced the temperature of our homes or even have the heating for less time. This might mean your dog is feeling the cold at home too.
It might be worth moving your dog’s bed to a warmer part of the house and adding a nice thick blanket to keep them cozy during the coldest days. Additionally, it’s worth considering a jumper for your dog indoors for extra warmth if they’re more susceptible to the cold and there is always the option for extra cuddles together on the sofa too.
Keeping warm on walks
It may be warm indoors, but dogs need to go out regularly for exercise and toilet trips regardless of the weather.
Some breeds of dog are not bothered by the cold as having a thick coat does a great job of protecting them against the weather. Labradors, Huskies and German Shepherds generally cope well. But some dogs feel the cold more than others so you might need to think about a warm coat. Dogs with fine coats such as sight hounds, Staffies and French Bulldogs might benefit from a coat. Puppies, elderly dogs and those with medical conditions might benefit too. Fine coated dogs will still enjoy playing in the snow but you’ll want to limit their playtime to 10-20 minutes to avoid them coming to any harm.
A coat will keep them well insulated and dry. A reflective strip is a good idea if you need to walk in the darker mornings and evenings
Any coat they wear needs to be waterproof, washable and well fitting. Always check that they can still walk, run and go to the toilet whilst wearing it. If it is cold but dry weather then a jumper could be a cosy option.
For dogs with sensitive paws it may be worth considering booties. They will also keep them clean too.
If your dog loves the garden like our mad spaniel Charley then you need to keep an eye on how long they are out as if they get too cold they could develop hypothermia or frostbite.
After walks remove any ice and snow, rinse their paws and make sure they are dry. Fluffy breeds may benefit from a drying coat. Leo and Charley love their Ruff and Tumble drying coats. We put them on a warm radiator which give added warmth when we get home from any chilly wet walk. You can check them out with this link.
Stay away from frozen lakes, rivers and canals.
Keep your dog away from stretches of frozen water as it's impossible to tell how solid the surface is. Thin ice can break easily which means your dog could end up trapped underneath the ice. Keep them on a lead if you think they’ll be tempted to jump in as the freezing temperature of the water can shock their system.
Many dogs get excited when playing in the snow but the freezing conditions and a wet coat can leave them susceptible to hypothermia.
It’s also not a good idea to let your dog eat snow as too much of it can cause a stomach upset. However, if they try to eat a lot of it, it could be a sign of an underlying health issue such as kidney disease, Cushing’s disease or thyroid issues, so it’s best to speak to your vet for advice.
Hypothermia and frost bite in dogs.
Hypothermia occurs when your dog’s body heat drops to extremely low levels.
This often happens if your dog is exposed to freezing temperatures or if they get wet fur in cold, windy weather.
Look out for these symptoms:
- Shivering (but this might stop when their temperature reaches dangerously low levels).
- Pale lips and gums.
- Low energy and a loss of coordination.
Hypothermia is a medical emergency, so if you spot any of these symptoms, contact your vet immediately.
Prevention is better than cure ao the key is keeping your dog dry on winter walks. If they don’t look like they are having fun then bring them indoors.
When temperatures are really low it is possible for dogs to get frost bite.This means it is cold enough to freeze their extremities, often the tips of their ears, tail and toes. Although it isn’t usually life-threatening, it can lead to hypothermia which can be a fatal condition. It can also be painful.
Signs of frost bite are:
- Very pale skin with a blue-white hue, due to the lack of blood flow.
- Ice forming on the skin around the area.
To prevent it from getting worse apply a warm towel to the affected area.
Don’t apply heat directly via a hairdryer or radiator as this can cause burns and blistering. Instead, use tepid water to warm the area gradually and speak to your vet to make sure no extra treatment is required.
It’s a good idea to keep an eye on dog’s paws in the cold weather. Check and dry them thoroughly after every walk and whenever they've been outside. Long-haired dogs are prone to snow compacting between their toes and turning into ice balls which can prove very painful. I get our groomer to keep Charley’s fluffy toes trimmed as short as possible for this reason. She attracts mud balls too which are a nightmare to remove. If you have a calm dog and some tiny clippers you can do this job yourself.
The salt and grit used on the pavements and roads can be harmful to your dogs too.
So give then a good wash after each walk . If not removed it can get lodged between pads and they might be tempted to lick it off. The salt is toxic to dogs so is a danger to them through the winter.
Antifreeze and screen wash that drips onto roads and paths contain the toxin ethylene glycol. This can have a devastating effect on dogs if swallowed.
It is often found in puddles and on driveways from leaky radiators. A table spoonful is enough to cause acute kidney failure in dogs. Sometimes fountains and water features in public places contain antifreeze to stop them from freezing over, so these should be avoided too.
Antifreeze poisoning is often fatal, but the quicker your dog receives treatment, the better their chances of survival.
Signs to look out for are:
- Excessive thirst.
- Loss of appetite.
- Kidney failure which is fatal.
If you spot any of these signs in your dog, take them to your vet immediately.
Rock salt is often used in combination with sand or gravel to grit icy roads and pavements and this can wreak havoc on your dog’s delicate paws. Prolonged contact can lead to chemical burns, dryness, and painful cracking.
If your dog’s paws become sore, you could try applying a small amount of dog-friendly paw balm to soothe and reduce pain.
- Keep them active indoors
Some dogs may not want to venture out into the cold. If this is the case, do not force them out but make sure you provide them with enough enrichment activities to keep them occupied while indoors. This also applies if it is dangerously slippy or if they have health conditions or if you yourself cannot get out.
Nikki French an expert dog trainer, has written a great book that is full of tips and ideas for how to keep your dog active and happy indoors which is perfect for elderly, and reactive dogs and for days when the weather is too bad to go for a walk. The link is here if you'd like to have a look.
There are so many enrichment toys available these days so there is bound to be something to interest your dog. Leo and Charley love sniffing activities which is why I made them some snuffle balls. I fill them with tasty dry tripe treats and they sniff them out. It’s great fun and they find it tiring and rewarding. Here are a few ideas to get you started. Tug games are fun too!
- You can play fetch inside the home with soft toys, ensuring that you do so on carpet to avoid your dog slipping when they’re running after the toy.
- For dogs that love a game of tug, this can be a great way of not only exercising them indoors, but teaching them self-control when rules are put in place to make sure they don’t get over excited or out of control.
- Dogs love scent activities and it provides mental stimulation. You can use their food and hide it around the house and allow them to sniff it out in a scavenger hunt activity.
- Instead of putting their food in a bowl try using a licky mat or a Kong so it takes time and effort to eat their food. It’s more entertaining for them and it uses up their energy too.
- Adjust their food intake.
If you do find that your dog is less active in the winter months, it might be wise to adjust the amount of food you give them accordingly to avoid weight gain.
- Make sure your dog has good recall.
Winter often brings reduced visibility with foggy or snowy weather. If you're let your dog off the lead, make sure your dog has good recall.This could prevent them from getting lost. Sometimes dogs can wriggle out of equipment or escape from the house so make sure their microchip details are up to date with your correct contact information just in case.
- Make sure your dog is visible.
As the nights draw in earlier and the sun rises later some walks are bound to be affected by reduced light.
To make you and your dog safer make sure you can be seen when out on walks in reduced visibility. Here are some tips to help keep you safe and visible.
- Wear bright/reflective clothing so you can be seen by motorists during the dark evenings. You can also get some great reflective gear for dogs too.
- Walking in areas that are lit is safest but if like me you are in a rural area that might not be possible.
- If you walk on country roads, walk against the traffic keeping your dog on your right away from the traffic.
- A good quality flashing collar or harness could be useful if you’re worried your dog can’t be seen in the dark.
- Carry a torch with you or wear a head-lamp to leave your hands free to walk your dog. I have a really strong head lamp wihich makes life much easier for locating and picking up poo in the dark.
- Keep your dog on a lead at night as it is much safer for them.
- If you play in your garden in the dark therre are several great glow in the dark toys you can use which make playing fun.
- Never leave your dog unattended in the car.
Just as cars can become fatally hot in summer months, temperatures can drop very quickly in cold weather. Always take your dog with you rather than leaving them in the car for any length of time.
I hope this blog is useful and that it will help you care for your dog in colder weather. I learnt a lot whilst doing the researching for the blog.