Extra Care During Winter Months

As the temperature drops and the snow piles up, dog lovers need to take special precautions to protect their canine companions from winter's dangers. Bark Busters, the world's largest dog training company, has compiled winter safety tips based on the experience of the company's worldwide network of dog behavioral therapists.

Beware of ice, snow and cold temperatures. While many dogs with proper shelter can be safe in outside temperatures down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit, puppies, smaller dogs and older dogs should not be left outdoors when temperatures fall below 40 degrees. A shorthaired dog can quickly become chilled after leaving a warm house, so dress him in a sweater before heading outside. Always be sure your dog is wearing his identification tags, and keep him on leash. During a snowstorm, a dog can lose his ability to scent and thus can go astray. A loose dog can also fall through ice or get hit by a vehicle (icy roads make it harder for cars to stop). Finally, don't leave your pet in a vehicle during cold weather. A car in winter is like a refrigerator, holding in the cold and possibly causing the dog to freeze to death.

Keep older, arthritic dogs inside. These dogs should not be left outdoors under any circumstances. Escort the older dog outside for toileting. If the yard has snow or ice, use a leash since he can easily slip and hurt himself.

Watch for signs of frostbite and injury. Frostbite causes serious damage to the sensitive tissues of a dog's extremities, such as his ears, paws and tail. If you suspect your dog may be getting frostbitten, take him into a warm place right away. Soak the affected area in lukewarm water for 20 minutes and contact your veterinarian. If your dog plays on ice or hard, frozen dirt, his paws are susceptible to cuts as they slide across these rough surfaces. Watch for chewing at his paws during long walks or periods of play. Always wipe your dog's feet after a walk in the snow to remove ice, ice melt, and salt deposits from the road (salt irritates a dog's paws and can be toxic if ingested). Be sure to clean any ice balls from between his paw pads, and use only pet-safe ice melt.

Keep an eye out for hypothermia. Watch for signs that your dog may be getting overly cold when he is outdoors. If he begins to whine or you notice extreme shivering, lethargy, or low heart rate, immediately take him into a warm place, cover him with a light blanket, and call your veterinarian.

Eliminate the possibility of poisoning. Unfortunately, dogs like the sweet taste of antifreeze, which can cause sickness or death if ingested. Be sure all antifreeze containers are well out of reach of dogs, and thoroughly clean any spills immediately. If you think your pet has swallowed antifreeze, contact your vet or animal hospital right away.

Provide a protective shelter. If your dog stays outside in the winter, check that his doghouse meets minimum safety criteria. Face the house away from the weather and put a flap on the door. Be sure the house is raised several inches off the frozen ground or concrete. Place straw or cedar shavings on the floor, and change the bedding often to keep it dry. Don't use blankets, which get wet from snow and will chill your dog. The doghouse should be large enough for your dog to sit and stand, but small enough so his body heat will be retained in the house.

Supply fresh water. Hydration is important year-round. Use a plastic water bowl to ensure the dog's tongue does not get stuck to cold metal, and change the water often to keep it from freezing. Consider using a heated water bowl.

Provide an appropriate amount of food. A dog which is active in winter will burn more calories in the cold, and thus needs about 10 percent more food to compensate. If he is less active in winter, avoid allowing him to gain extra weight; decrease his food and be sure to take him out for walks and playtime.

Continue to train your dog during the winter months. Dogs that spend less time outside during the winter may become lethargic; or, in some cases, hyperactive. The best way to keep your dog active or encourage him to spend excess energy is to make him think. Provide 10-15 minutes of training daily on basics such as sit, stay, come, and walking on leash to energize the lethargic dog and tire out the hyper dog. (Doing this twice a day is even better.) Provide your dog with a treat-rewarding toy such as a Kong? or Buster Cube? to keep him busy indoors. For a less active dog, make him work for his supper by putting the food inside his toy.

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