Dogs and Winter

The winter is very tough on animals, just as it is for people.  Many animals have a lot of difficulty dealing with the cold, snow, ice and slush.  We need to consider their winter needs just as we do ours.  Most of it comes down to simple common sense, but here are some particular things we need to consider.

The bitter cold that we sometimes experience also affects our pets.  Just as we wouldn’t think about going outside without a coat on, the same holds true for our pets.  Now if we are just going out briefly to pick up the mail, or bring in a package from our car, we may do so quickly without a coat.  The same is true for your pet.  A brief moment out in the cold will not be harmful.  However, if we are going for a long walk, playing with our children in the snow, shoveling our driveway and sidewalk, or just being outside for any length of time, we will always put on a warm coat, hat, and gloves.  If your pet is outside with you during these extended times, you should consider having a suitable coat or sweater for them.  It is true  that some breeds are more equipped for cold weather than others.  For example, dogs with long, thick haircoats, such as Siberian Huskies or Akitas can tolerate, and even thrive in cold weather.  Highly active dogs, such as Labrador or Golden Retrievers seem to enjoy the cold and snow, and with their boundless energy, they can handle the cold fairly well for short periods.  However, smaller dogs and dogs with shorter, finer hair coats, such as Poodles, Yorkshire Terriers, and Chihuahuas will chill very easily.  Without some form of protective coat or sweater, these little ones can suffer terribly in cold weather.

Doesn’t a fresh snowfall look like a lot of fun (unless you have to drive in it or shovel it)?   Even to this day, I love to play in the snow with my children, and I still build snowmen (do I need to say snowpersons?) and make snow angels.  Many dogs enjoy this fresh snowfall as well.  However, there can occasionally be dangers that we should be aware of.  Of course, whenever we play in the snow, we are always wearing boots to keep our feet dry and protected.  If we ever stepped on something, such as a rock or stick, we would probably never know it.  But our pets are out playing in the snow in bare feet.  They could easily step on something and injure themselves (in fact, during our recent snow storm, I treated a dog with a serious foot injury after having stepped on a hidden object).  You can purchase protective footwear (velcro booties) at many pet stores or online.  Although some dogs will tolerate them, many dogs look at them as just one more expensive thing to chew on and destroy.  Most importantly, however, is to be aware of where you are playing with your dog in the snow.  If it’s your own yard, you’re probably comfortable that the underlying ground is safe.  But if you enjoy hiking in the park or woods with your dog, it’s probably best to keep them on the trail with you, rather than letting them run freely on uneven, rocky terrain.  Or if not, it would be a good idea to get them used to their booties.

There are other concerns about protecting our dogs feet.  After a  snowfall, the snow is either very soft and powdery (geat for skiing), or sometimes very wet and heavy (great for snowball fights).  But think about what happens to the snow the next day after a cold night.  The snow becomes very hard and crusty.  When our pets walk on that hard, crusted snow, the skin on their legs and paws can become injured.  Certain dog breeds, such as Greyhounds, have very thin skin.  When they put their delicate feet through the snow, their skin easily becomes abraded and torn.  We frequently see such injuries, and sometimes they are severe enough to require stitches.

Similarly, ice can be extremely dangerous to pets.  Many of us have slipped on the ice.  Sometimes it’s because our shoes are inappropriate, sometimes we’re in a hurry and don’t take our time, but sometimes, due to black ice, we simply can’t see where ice has developed.  The same is true for our pets.  They just race across the ground, perhaps chasing a bird or a squirrel, and they don’t think about where they are running.  Although they don’t so much fall on the ice like we do (an advantage of walking on four feet), their feet often splay out to the sides, and they can easily injured their groin, their armpits, their ribs, and their back.  Not only do we need to be aware of the ice where we walk our pets, we also need to be careful while we actually are walking our pets on a leash.  Many a pet owner has been pulled to the ground, sometimes resulting in broken bones, by the rambunctious dog on the other side of the leash.  So if you walk your dog on a leash on snow and ice, be careful.  Take slow, deliberate steps.  And if your dog likes to pull on the leash, consider some serious dog training so they learn to walk at your pace.

Another hidden winter danger is the salt and slush that wash up from the streets onto the sidewalks and our lawns.  We all appreciate it when our local road crews plow and salt our streets.  (I almost enjoy being woken up at 2 am when I hear the snow plow clearing my street.)  Unfortunately, that salt and slush often gets pushed to where our animals must walk.  Salt can be very irritating to a dogs feet.  Some dogs have more web-like paws, and the salt can get buried deep in their paws and cause severe irritation.  Even dogs without webbed feet can get nasty irritations around their pads, toes, and toenails.  If you can avoid walking your dog in areas with salt accumulation, that would be best.  But if salt and slush irritation is a possibility, it’s a good idea to clean, and dry, your dogs feet when they return from a walk.  A wet paper towel or cloth works great, and even baby wipes are convenient to use.  Just remember to dry their feet when they come in, as the moisture from outside, or even from your cleaning, can also be very irritating.

As you can see, most of these recommendations are based on common sense.  Although winter can be a lot of fun, especially for kids and dogs, there are some hidden dangers.  Let them have fun outside, but make sure they are safe and protected.

And one more important thing after playing with your dog outside, whatever you do, “Don’t you eat that yellow snow!”