Fall is in the air and the weather will soon turn cold as winter approaches. This time of year can be especially hazardous for dogs, whether they are indoor or outdoor pets. Countless animals die or become injured because of overexposure to the elements. While some breeds are more resistant to the cold and wet, extra care must be taken to protect them from the associated dangers. It isn’t just the cold that poses risk. There are other situations that can arise out of cold weather that could create threats for the well-being of pets.
We have 20 winter safety tips for dogs, that cover winter hazards you might not have already thought about:
1. Dry your dog off
Pets need to spend some time outside for exercise and toileting, even when it’s cold, rainy or snowy. You should develop the habit of drying your dog completely when he comes back in the house. Most people do their best to keep snow and ice off walkways and porches. Rock salt and other types of ice melting products are commonly used. As your pet walks across these areas, he may pick up some of the potentially harmful chemicals that have been scattered over the ground. If he ingests them, or if it is absorbed through the skin, your pet can develop serious stomach issues. Drying your pet completely and wiping down his paws can help to remove traces of these chemicals that may have been picked up by his feet.
2. Watch for antifreeze
Most vehicles have been winterized with antifreeze. It’s a common enough practice, but there have been several reports of dogs ingesting the liquid and passing away as consequence. Antifreeze poisoning causes kidney failure and is often fatal. The biggest danger associated with this chemical is that it has a sweet taste. Dogs will lap up as much as they can find. Keep all containers and contaminated rags safely out of reach of your pets. In addition, remove any overflow that may have leaked or spilled onto your driveway or garage floor. Even in small amounts, the effects of ingesting antifreeze can be deadly for dogs. This type of poisoning is preventable, but it takes vigilance, especially in the Fall and winter time.
3. Take a break on haircuts
Your dog may enjoy his monthly haircut and grooming appointment, but winter is not the time to remove his hair. Shaving a dog in the winter time takes away the protective coat that nature has provided to keep him warm. If your dog is exposed to the elements, his coat will thicken and become woolier. This is nature’s way of adding an extra layer of warmth. It’s fine to offer weekly grooming, but shaving and sculpting is not recommended, even if your dog stays in the house most of the time. There will be times when he is obliged to be outside for toileting and other activities. Even if his new cut looks great, it puts him at risk for exposure and for developing frost bite in the exposed areas. When temperatures are below freezing, be kind to your pet and let his hair grow.
4. Consider clothing for short haired dogs
Dogs with short hair have a difficult time maintaining their core body temperature in extremely cold weather. If your dog is feeling chilly, you can help add more protective layers for his body by dressing him in a dog sweater or coat with a high collar. The most effective types will cover the dog from the base of is tail to his belly. This is where the heat escapes the quickest.
5. Give your dog a warm place to sleep
Even if you keep your indoor pet safely inside, he needs to have a comfortable and warm place to sleep during cold weather. A blanket, cozy pet bed or pillow will work the best. Sleeping on a cold floor or in a drafty room is not ideal. If possible, make a place for your pet to sleep that is elevated from the floor, and away from drafty doors or windows. Extreme temperatures can cause health conditions to develop, or it can aggravate existing conditions. This is especially true for older dogs and young puppies. They are more vulnerable to the negative effects of cold weather.
6. Keep puppy pads in stock
When weather conditions become extreme, it may be too difficult for your pet to go outside to toilet. Puppies, older dogs and those with health conditions such as arthritis or hip dysplasia may not be physically capable of making the trip into the freezing cold. The humane and safest recourse is to have elimination pads on hand. If you find yourself in a bad situation and don’t have wee pads, then old newspapers will work in their place.
7. Do not leave your pet alone in a vehicle
Winter temperatures can drop quickly. You should never leave your dog alone in a vehicle in the summer or in the winter. Temperature extremes can be deadly. The cold can lead to frost bite and the loss of body parts. Hypothermia can set in leading to illness or death. Leaving the motor running for additional warmth is one of the worst ideas. Carbon monoxide poisoning can occur in any type of parking situation, but even more quickly if the vehicle is in a parking garage. Another risk with leaving your pet in a running car is that he may accidentally put the vehicle in gear. This puts not only the dog, but also innocent bystanders at risk for serious injury or even death. The best course of action you can take is to leave your pet at home when you need to run errands. Don’t combine trips to the vet with other tasks if it means leaving your pet alone in the car.
8. Keep a Short Leash
Never let your dog off the leash on snow or ice, especially during a snowstorm as they can lose their scent and easily become lost. More dogs are lost during the winter than any other season, so make sure that your dog always wears his identification tags. It is highly recommended that all pets are outfitted with a microchipping device, which it makes available as part of a low-cost service.
9. Supervise your pet’s outdoor activities in winter
When the weather is cold, your dog may still want to go outside and play. While exercise is important, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on Fido to keep him safe. A few different dangers exist for dogs left outside alone in cold weather. If the pet wanders away, he could become lost and suffer from life threatening exposure to the elements. In addition, there are other dangers including antifreeze that has leaked from your or possibly the neighbor’s car, chemical ice melt pools which may be ingested and the risk of hypothermia. Innocent pets have also wandered onto frozen lakes, ponds and streams, and fallen through the ice into the freezing water below. There are too many dangers to leave your dog unsupervised outdoors in cold weather. Most dogs prefer to be indoors close to their families. They are happier when they are warm, comfortable and safe inside.
10. Inspect your dog’s paws for injury
When pets walk through snow, ice or the chemical treatments used to melt them, the bottoms of their paws can become injured. It’s important to inspect the pads of their paws and check for cracks, cuts, bleeding or irritation. Ice forms sharp edges which are notorious for causing cuts on the pads of their feet. If your pet is experiencing issues with this, you can purchase doggie booties to help protect their feet from injury. Snow and ice aren’t the only problems with dog paws in the winter. Walking over chemicals can lead to skin irritation or even burns on the pads. In addition to causing burns, these materials are toxic. If your dog licks it off his paws, he could become very ill.
11. Make your pet easy to find
Even the most conscientious pet owners have experienced the terror of losing their beloved pet. Dogs like to explore their environments and it is possible for them to wander off in the cold. A dog alone and exposed to the elements is at extreme risk for harm from the cold, moisture and freezing winds. Have your dog microchipped so it will be easier to locate him if he does disappear. The service is offered by most vet clinics and it is inexpensive. If your pet does become lost and then returns home, carefully inspect him to ensure that everything is okay. If he shows any signs of being injured or sick, call the vet and get him in for a checkup.
12. Know the signs of frostbite
Frostbite is not easy to detect unless you know what to look for. In the initial stages, the skin looks pale. It’s difficult to see this through a dog’s heavy coat. It starts when the dog’s body starts to get cold. The natural response of the body is to concentrate the blood flow towards the center to preserve basic life functions. This leaves extremities including ears, paws, nose and tail more vulnerable to freezing. When these body parts become so cold that ice crystals begin to form in the tissue, frostbite is setting in. In addition to becoming pale or gray in color, the skin may also become cold and hard. As the areas which have been frostbitten start to warm, intense pain is usually present. skin that is severely frostbitten will turn a black color and will slough off. If your dog has the signs of frostbite, call the vet immediately for instructions on how to treat.
13. Be aware of the signs of hypothermia
Hypothermia is another serious condition that can develop from overexposure to the cold. As with frostbite, the body begins to cool. This is especially common in older dogs with poor circulation. The mild cases present symptoms including shivering and cold ears and feet. Worse cases may cause lethargy, weakness and depression. Muscles begin to stiffen and breathing and heart rates slow. The dog cannot respond to stimulation. Severe cases are life threatening. If your dog shows signs of mild hypothermia it is time to bring them indoors to get warm. Other symptoms may include whining, anxiety, burrowing and a cessation of previous activity. Your dog cannot tell you how he feels, so it is up to you to be vigilant and watch for the signs that indicate he is getting too cold.
14. Plan outdoor play times when the sun is out
Because your dog still needs to get his daily dose of vitamin D, and exercise, it’s good to take him outside for brief rounds of play. It’s best to wait until the sun is shining whenever possible. Playing with a ball, frisbee or other safe dog toy can help him to have a little fun and stay in shape during the long winter months. You should shorter the amount of time that your pet spends outside when it’s cold though. Breathing in frigid air causes the heart and lungs to labor to perform their normal functions. Extended exposure is not recommended because it could lead to the development of health problems. Do ensure that he gets exercise, but shorten the duration of time spent performing heavy exercise. If your dog begins to cough or have trouble breathing, it’s time to take him indoors where he can warm up and recover from the activity.
15. Senior dogs need special treatment
Often, older dogs develop joint problems and they are less tolerant to temperature extremes. Extreme cold can cause an increase in stiffness and soreness. It may affect mobility. While exercise is still important for your pet, it should be done in an environment that he can tolerate. A snow or ice-covered porch or sidewalk may be difficult for him to navigate. You may need to help him going up and down the steps, or prepare an area for him to toilet that is free of snow and ice. If going outside is too taxing, consider using pet pads and allow him to go indoors until the weather improves. Older dogs have spent their lives being loyal and loving pets. When they are old and can no longer care for themselves, it is your turn to help keep them safe from harm and discomfort.
Pay attention to the physical condition of your dog. If your elder dog shows any signs of being in distress from an excursion in the cold, it may be a good idea to call the vet and schedule an appointment. There is a variety of canine joint supplement available to help lubricate the joints and relieve his pain and discomfort. Keep elder dogs in your eyesight always. This is the only way that you will know if something goes wrong while they are outside. Whimpering or any other type of strange behavior is cause for concern. When dogs get older, they are more vulnerable to cold weather and they rely upon you to keep them safe.
16. Keep your dog safe from heaters and fireplaces
Another thing to consider is the heat source that you use to keep your pet warm. If you use a space heater for outdoor dogs, he may snuggle to close to it and burn himself or start a fire. Outdoor heat lamps should be placed in a covered location that does not give the dog access to the lamp or the cord. These are common practices that are the least safe for pets.
Indoor pets also need protection from heat sources. Your dog should not have direct access to space heaters, fireplaces, baseboards or radiators. Depending on your heat source, you should develop a system for pet proofing the home to protect both the dog and the rest of the family.
17. Keep your dog hydrated
Dehydration can occur as quickly in the winter as it does during hot months. Eating snow is not a suitable substitute for fresh clean water. It’s vital to ensure that your dog always has access to water. If yours is an outdoor dog, then check frequently to make sure that his water source is not covered by a layer of ice. You may need to break the ice that forms on the top up frequently. For indoor dogs, check the water frequently because indoor heating can cause the water to evaporate out of the bowl more quickly. It’s important to make sure that your dog’s water bowl remains full. Dehydration takes a toll on the kidneys and other internal organs. When a water bowl is dry for long periods of time, dogs will go in search of alternate water sources and may attempt to drink out of the toilet bowl. If you use cleaning chemicals or water treatments in the bowl, these chemicals may be harmful. One of the best watering alternatives is a dispenser style container that automatically allows water from a reservoir to flow into the bowl, keeping it full.
18. Moisturize your dog’s skin in the winter
When the weather gets cold outside, the air becomes much drier. Indoor heating compounds the problem. Your dog’s skin can dry out and become itchy and flaky, but there are ways to prevent this. Canine skin and coat supplements which contain fish and coconut oils can make a big difference in the condition of your pet’s skin. It can prevent dryness and cracking of sensitive skin on the ears, tail and paws. The oils can also be applied topically to your pet’s skin. They are non-toxic and pose no known health risks. Hydration by drinking water is important but this alone is not enough to prevent dry skin for pets or for humans. If you notice that your dog is scratching, or has skin irritation, dry skin could be the cause. Be especially vigilant of the pads on the bottom of his paws. When these become extremely dry, they can crack and bleed. This can make it difficult for your dog to walk without pain.
19. Pile cleared snow responsibly
Most pet owners don’t think about the potential hazards that snow piles can cause. Dogs find it hard to resist climbing atop a fresh pile of snow and ice. The best action is to move all cleared snow away from fences so your dog cannot climb over the top and disappear down the road. Another danger for your pet during the winter time is the accumulation of snow and ice on the rooftop. As the sun comes out and temperatures rise above the freezing mark, large sheets of snow and ice can slide off the roof and cause injury to the unlucky dog that is sitting beneath it. Keep rooftops cleared from this hazard. A third problem is the formation of icicles. They happen as snow melts from the roof, then freezes into sharp spear like formations. Icicles should be removed from houses before it breaks off on its own. There is a risk of injury or death from falling icicles for both humans and animals.
20. Avoid overfeeding
Some well-meaning pet owners believe that giving their dogs extra food, or scraps that contain high levels of fat will help to keep them warmer. This is a practice that is very unhealthy for dogs and it can lead to serious health conditions in the future, including obesity and illness. It is always best to keep dogs in out of the cold, providing them a warm environment. There are better solutions which include using pet clothing or letting the dog’s hair grow out. When the temperatures drop, dogs usually become less active and burn even fewer calories. Increasing the caloric intake can only lead to problems later. Feed your pet a healthy and balanced diet that consists of whole foods along with a diet that is based on raw meat. This will promote the development of a healthy coat, and plenty of energy for the winter months.