Things to Consider
Winter is a fabulous time of year. The holidays, cold weather, snow and hopefully Santa, arrive. However, winter brings challenges and potential dangers. Here are some things to think about when preparing for the winter blast.
Cold Temperatures. In most parts of the United States, winter temperatures are colder than those of any other season. Prolonged exposure to icy temperatures causes body temperature to drop, called “hypothermia.” People can wear layers of clothes and don coats, mittens, boots, hats and scarves to keep toasty. Dogs can’t do that, nor can they seek out their own shelter from the chill. Domestic dogs rely on their owners to keep them safe, warm and dry. Dogs that are tiny, short-haired, sick, very young or very old are especially susceptible to the cold. Hypothermic dogs quickly use up stored energy and can develop low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Dogs with a temperature below 95-97 degrees Fahrenheit will shiver violently and become restless, listless, weak, lethargic and eventually comatose. Dogs exposed to the elements for a long time will develop frostbite; their footpads, feet, ear tips, tail and scrotum can actually freeze. Wind chill makes the cold even worse.
All dogs should have access to insulated shelter from bad weather. Cold, wet dogs should be dried and brought inside to warm up. Coats, blankets and sweaters can be used to keep dogs warm and dry. Warm water bottles, or bags of rice or beans that are warmed in the microwave, can be wrapped in towels and placed next to a cold dog, who itself should be wrapped in soft warm blankets. Owners should take their dog’s temperature, after it is comfortably situated inside a warm building. If the dog shows signs of hyperthermia and its temperature is below 97 degrees, call a veterinarian. If its temperature is over 97 degrees, try to warm it up slowly until it reaches at least 100 degrees.
Wet Weather. Rain, snow, sleet, fog, water and other liquids can dampen a dog’s coat. Wet fur loses its insulating properties. The wetter a dog is, the lower its body temperature becomes. Wet dogs should be brought inside and dried off thoroughly. If they are cold, they should be gently warmed.
Ice. Water often freezes during winter. Dogs can be hurt slipping on icy patches. They can fall through partially frozen ponds, lakes or streams and drown or become hypothermic. Ice can accumulate between a dog’s toes, and substances used to melt ice can irritate its paws.
Pottying. Pet dogs, especially those living mainly indoors, often resist going outside to potty in wicked weather. Owners may need to be especially vigilant during winter storms.
Coat Care. A dog’s coat insulates it against temperature extremes. Owners should groom their dogs regularly during winter, even if they don’t seem to be dirty or shedding. Brushing helps keep the coat in tip-top shape, so that it contains as much body heat as possible.
Paw Care. Paws can get sliced, punctured and abraded by ice. The hair between the toes should be trimmed on dogs living in snowy environments. Booties are available to protect dogs from these injuries. Petroleum jelly can be rubbed into the foot pads to moisturize them.
Dehydration. Dogs are just as likely to become dehydrated during cold weather as they are when it’s warm. Water bowls can freeze during the winter, even if they are inside dog houses or in the garage. Heated water bowls are available from pet supply outlets.
Diet. Frigid weather drains energy reserves. Even though some dogs are less active in winter, most need more calories to keep them healthy.
Cars. No dog should be left unattended in a closed car. Dogs left in cars with the windows up and the engine off in cold weather rapidly become hypothermic. If the engine is left on, carbon monoxide build-up can be fatal.
Antifreeze. Even small amounts of antifreeze (ethylene glycol) can kill dogs within hours. Antifreeze is increasingly accessible during winter from open containers or puddles from leaky radiators, and dogs enjoy its sweet taste. While most antifreeze poisonings are unintentional, malicious poisonings do happen. Ethylene glycol is common in windshield de-icing agents.
Heat Sources. Portable heaters, gas and wood fireplaces, candles and electrical extension cords are used most frequently during winter. They can cause fires, burns and other injuries and should be kept away from dogs.