Winter Safety Tips for Dog Owners
It’s that time of year again. Break out the boots and hats and gloves! Old Man Winter is coming and if you’re a dog owner, there are certain things you need to do to make sure that your dogs are kept safe, healthy, and happy during the winter season. I have owned many dogs and I have seen many frightful winters as a dog owner. We get snow by the foot in my part of the country so I can empathize with those of you who do as well. Here are some good tips to remember as we gear up for the cold weather:
Exercise -- Use your best judgement when taking your dog for a walk in extreme temperatures. Ever walk on really cold pavement? Frostbite can happen in a matter of minutes. Why take that risk? Just because your dog is begging to go for a long walk doesn’t mean you should indulge him. My basset hound would walk in any weather and would INSIST upon on it but we couldn't let him or else he’d end up in the animal emergency room with hypothermia. It’s also a good idea to put on a reflective vest if you are walking your dog on the street and not on the sidewalk. It gets dark out pretty early. Putting on a reflective vest will help others to see you and avoid a very sad accident.
Full Pantry -- When you go to the grocery store to stock up on supplies because a storm is coming, don’t forget food for Fido! Nothing is more frustrating than to come home only to realize that you forgot the dog food. I have done that on more than one occasion and I wanted to tear my hair out. You don’t want to be snowed in with your pooch with nothing but people food for him to eat. He may love getting scraps from the table, but his belly may have other ideas. The last thing you want to deal with during a snowstorm is a dog with a case of diarrhea. Trust me on this one.
Grooming -- As a former groomer, I implore you to keep up with your grooming appointments during the winter months. The longer the hair, the more likely your dog will get ice balls that attach. Wet hair is also more likely to matt if it’s not brushed out properly. This goes for all breeds. I’ve had many owners get very upset with me in the month of February because I had to shave their dog because it was matted. I always hated to do it but it had to be done for the dog’s health and safety. Hair matts hurt and can cause some serious skin issues.
Dog Sweaters -- I love dog sweaters, but please don’t leave them on your dog 24/7 without being vigilant about brushing the dog’s fur or hair. I can’t tell you how many dogs that used to come in to be groomed and they would be matted from stem to stern where they were covered with their sweater. I would have no choice but to shave them down to a buzzcut to relieve their pain. I also have had clients who refused to have their dog shaved down because they believed the matts kept the dog warm. This could not be further from the truth. I know that I just mentioned that hair mats hurt in the last paragraph but it bears repeating. It also takes longer for the hair to fully dry because the air can’t get into the hardened mass of tangles. Ever try to wear a wet, cold, and tight sweater for hours and days on end? This is what it is like for a dog with matts.
Rock Salt -- Be sure to wipe off the dogs paws as best you can after they come inside. A good idea is to keep some old towels in a laundry basket by the door. Little snow balls can form in their pad and what often happens is that the dog licks his feet to clean them off. Yuck! Road salt and de-icer is toxic to dogs so please be aware.
Itchy Skin -- In my neck of the woods, we always seem to get our first cold snap in late October or early November. My dog’s skin would always get a bit flaky because he would lay right in front of the heater and hog all the heat. Of course it would dry out his skin! If this happens at your house, then try a nice conditioning treatment for their next grooming appointment and/or put on a humidifier. Itchy, dry patches may turn into hot spots so it’s good to avoid that at all costs.
Antifreeze -- Call the vet immediately. Do not wait. It’s that simple. Antifreeze can kill.
Shelter -- In a perfect world, all dogs would be ‘inside dogs’. If you make the decision to keep your dog outside, please provide a warm shelter. A dog can die of exposure even though they are covered in hair or fur. Ask your vet about giving extra food in the winter time. It takes a lot of energy to keep warm! Make sure your dog has access to fresh water. Oh, and use plastic bowls. Metal bowls and freezing temperatures are a bad combination. His mouth and tongue can become stuck.
Like any good blogger should, I also need to add a disclaimer. This advice, though sound, will never replace the professional opinion of your veterinarian. Dogs have individual needs and circumstances so please rely on the advice of your personal veterinarian, dog trainer, and groomer for any questions you may have. Following this advice is not a guarantee of an injury-free life for your dog. Educate yourself and use common sense. While you rely on the advice of professionals, your dog ultimately relies on you for his safety and security.