The winter of 2014-2015 is already one for the record books. Snowfall by the feet instead of inches, wind chill causing sub-zero temperatures, lake effect snow, white-outs reducing visibility to less than a few feet, and blizzards causing entire states to declare emergency status and statewide travel bans for all but emergency vehicles.
Such severe winter weather is difficult for humans to handle, and the same is true for our dogs. Even with fur coats and a genuine love to go bounding through the snow, our dogs need us to take some precautions to keep them warm and safe.
Winter Weather and Your Dog
While dogs may like to go outdoors for some winter sun, a bathroom break, or some fresh air, we need to monitor their time outdoors, especially in frigid temperatures. Long exposure to winter weather affects a dog just as much as a human.
Here’s what veterinarians from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) recommend for keeping dogs safe during the winter:
- Stay up-to-date on your dog’s wellness exams, since a healthy dog can better withstand cold temperatures, particularly if the dog has arthritis or other medical conditions.
- Keep a collar and tags on your dog, and make sure your dog is micro-chipped. Then, in case your dog takes off and gets lost in a snowstorm, whoever finds your dog can let you know.
- Maintain awareness of your dog’s tolerance for cold and do what is necessary to keep your dog safe. For instance, put dog sweaters or vests on dogs with short hair or short legs (they’re closer to the ground and feel the cold earlier). Limit the amount of time or length of the walk based on your dog’s size, age, and health conditions. Remember that dogs with serious health conditions, such as heart disease or hormonal imbalances, are not able to regulate their body temperatures.
- Check your dog’s paws for signs of cracked pads or accumulation of tiny snowballs or ice chunks. Remove ice and snow, treat sore paws, and wipe down paws and bellies to remove any remnants of salt from treated roads or traces of toxic chemicals, such as antifreeze or de-icer agents.
- Stay off frozen bodies of water, in case the ice can’t bear the weight of you and your dog. You would put both of your lives in jeopardy if the ice breaks.
- Watch for signs of distress in your dog, such as shivering, burrowing into the snow, or moving very slowly, as this behavior indicates your dog may be experiencing frostbite or hypothermia. Get your dog inside right away, and if the distress continues, call your vet.
- Don’t take your dog with you on errands or visits, because a car can act as a refrigerator or freezer in the winter. Your dog could suffer hypothermia or even freeze to death if left in the car.
- Keep your dogs inside. Dogs should not be left outside for long periods of time during frigid weather. They can suffer from frostbite, hypothermia, or even die in below-zero temperatures and snowstorms.
If you keep your dog inside, the AVMA provide these suggestions to keep your dog safe:
- Feed your dog as usual, to maintain a healthy weight. Don’t overfeed under the misconception that more weight will protect your dog against the cold.
- Stock up on supplies, such as dog food, water, and any medications your dog uses, in the event of power outages.
- Provide warm places for your dog to sleep, such as a dog bed or blankets.
- Keep your dog and your family safe by pet-proofing your home and keep a watchful eye on things like space heaters.
If You Keep Your Dog Outside
Unfortunately, there are some situations where dogs must be outside. If your dog is going to be outside for some extended time during the winter months, here are some tips from the AVMA about how to safely care for your dog:
- Keep your dog on a leash or dog run so he doesn’t run away and become lost in a snowstorm.
- Don’t shave or trim your dog’s hair.
- Wipe up spills of antifreeze or other toxic chemicals so your dog doesn’t ingest them.
- Provide shelter facing away from the normal wind direction. Make sure the floor of the dog house is off the ground to prevent heat loss. Provide thick, warm bedding, and change it frequently. Make sure your dog always has unfrozen fresh water by changing it frequently.